This post refers to the recent news that the Parliament has decided on the issue of religious conversion of children as well as dissolution of marriages between converts and their spouses. The decision centers around the case of Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, a Hindu who converted to Islam, who then converted his 3 children. His wife Indira Ghandi, who is still a Hindu devotee challenged her husband’s actions. The news story can be read here.
The issue of a child’s religion when one of his/her parents converts to a different religion has long been debated in this country. The effects of conversion to the rest of the convert’s family is also an issue that has been highlighted by the media. It is a sensitive issue as it involves different religions.
The Cabinet’s efforts to solve these issues have decided that a child’s religion must be the religion of the parent’s at the time of marriage and that the dissolution of a convert’s civil marriage shall be decided in a civil court. That’s the simple way of looking at things but I’m sure that complex implications will arise.
The decision has so far drawn criticism from the Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association. Click here for the article.
Personally, as a Muslim I welcome Ridzuan’s conversion into Islam, but at the same time, I understand the difficulty and the anguish caused to Indira. The same can be said of other similar cases like this. How do we find a balance in upholding the rights of religion and saving families from being torn apart and heartbroken? For now I am stumped, but I’m sure together we can find a solution. Perhaps its all about tolerancy and reciprocity. Your input on this matter is most appreciated.
EDIT: I just realized that I was mistaken. It was not the Parliament that decided on the issue. It was in fact made by the Cabinet without the matter being discussed in Parliament. The issue here now is that whether the Cabinet decision can overrule the Federal Constitution, in particular Article 121A i.e. the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court over Islamic matters. To me the answer here is a resounding No. Any alteration to the FC must be made in Parliament and with a 2/3rd majority. Furthermore, another issue escaped me: the case of Mohd Ridzuan and Indira Ghandi was still pending at the courts. The decision of the Cabinet can be said to be subjudice. How should the Courts respond to the decision of the Cabinet? For now Indira Ghandi has interim custody of the kids pending the disposal of the case proper. But with the decision of the Cabinet, it may be a foregone conclusion. The Cabinet and the Parliament needs to think long and hard on this issue as do all of us. Balancing rights of diferrent religious groups is never easy, but I hope our nation’s leaders know what they are doing.