Malaysia's top court annuls unilateral conversions of minors

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2014, file photo, M. Indira Gandhi shows photos of her youngest daughter Prasana Diksa during an interview at her house in Ipoh, Perak state, Malaysia. Malaysia's top court in a landmark decision says both parents must consent to the religious conversion of a minor, ruling in favor of Hindu woman Gandhi whose ex-husband converted their three children to Islam. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin, File)

Malaysia's top court in a landmark decision says both parents must consent to the religious conversion of a minor, ruling in favor of a Hindu woman whose ex-husband converted their three children to Islam

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's top court said in a landmark decision Monday that both parents must consent to the religious conversion of a minor, ruling unanimously in favor of a Hindu woman whose ex-husband converted their three children to Islam without telling her.

The ruling ended a nine-year legal battle for M. Indira Gandhi, whose former husband became a Muslim and converted their three children in 2009. He also snatched one of the children, then 11 months old, from the family home.

She won custody of the three children and challenged their conversions in civil courts in Malaysia's dual-court system. A lower court annulled them, but the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling, saying civil courts had no jurisdiction over Islamic conversions. The ruling was appealed to the nation's highest court.

The case has been closely followed by large Chinese and Indian minorities who fear their rights are increasingly being trampled by Islamic jurisprudence.

The five-member panel in the Federal Court found the children's conversions unlawful because they were done without Gandhi's consent.

"This is a landmark decision and a victory for all Malaysians," said M. Kulasegaran, Gandhi's lawyer.

He said the ruling clearly showed civil courts are the paramount courts and can hear matters related to Islamic affairs even if there is a contradictory Shariah court decision. There are many similar disputes involving the unilateral conversion of children to Islam and the ruling meant that non-Muslims can now seek redress in civil courts, he added.

Muslims, who are 60 percent of Malaysia's 31 million people, are governed by Islamic courts while non-Muslims go to civil courts to settle family, marriage and other personal disputes. But the law is vague on which court has authority over disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially within a family.

Civil courts have generally avoided taking a position in such cases, allowing Shariah courts to lead. This has raised questions about freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution, and strained racial relations in the multiethnic country, which has enjoyed largely peaceful race relations for nearly five decades.

Critics accuse the ethnic Malay Muslim-dominated government of doing too little to resolve the problems. The government has become increasingly reliant on support from Islamist and right-wing pressure groups as other constituencies flock to the opposition. Last year, the government withdrew a proposed law that sought to end unilateral conversions of children ahead of general elections due in the next few months.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman said the move to drop the proposed law to end unilateral conversion was to ensure it doesn't clash with the constitution. Following Monday's ruling by the Federal Court, she said she will raise the matter in the Cabinet but stopped short of saying if the proposed law will be revived.

An emotional Gandhi said she was thankful for the decision and there is "no more excuse" for police not to find her former husband, who has refused to comply with court rulings to hand her youngest daughter back to her. He has gone missing and police earlier said they couldn't act on the civil court's order.

"But my daughter is still missing. I want to see her. I really need to hold her. It has been nine years. When is she going to come back?" she said.

Related News

Malaysia wins 145 golds to become SEA Games champions

Aug 31, 2017

Host Malaysia has won 145 gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games to emerge as overall champions for the first time in 16 years, making it a double celebration in conjunction with its 60th anniversary of its independence from British rule

The Latest: Official says school applied for safety approval

Sep 14, 2017

A fire department official says the initial investigation into a fatal dormitory fire in Malaysia showed the school had just applied for building safety approval

Malaysia fire blocks lone exit to Islamic dormitory; 23 dead

Sep 14, 2017

A fire that blocked the only exit to an Islamic school dormitory has killed 23 people who were trapped behind barred windows on the outskirts of Malaysia's largest city

Stomp The City brings to you the latest trending news in Malaysia. Along with our daily active audiences and the efficient editorial team here in Stomp The City, we’re able to make things go viral in almost no time. Together, we are stronger.

Contact us: sales@stompthecity.com