All non Muslims are presently government by the Law Reform and Marriage Act 1976 as regards reliefs in cases of marriage, divorce, custody of children and the maintenance of the children etc.
As regards those who profess Islam they are governed by the respective Islamic state enactments (laws).
Although the Act has been working reasonably well to settle conflicts among married couples, the issue becomes blur, weak and ambiguous when one of the parent converts to Islam, like in the 2009 Ipoh case where one Patmanathan, without the knowledge of his wife Indira Gandhi, converted into Islam and took the name Riduan Abdullah.
Riduan subsequently went further and converted his three children (all minors) without the children’s presence and a certificate of conversion was issued by the Perak Islamic authorities.
As much as one has the right to convert to Islam, the misery that ensues is unacceptable, painful and one which should be avoided. In Indira’s case her last child who was only 8 months old when she was snatched away by the convert father. It is already more than 5 years and the mother has not seen or spoken to her daughter.
In 2009, the father after conversion got custody of the children in the Syariah court. The mother got custody in the Civil Court after a lengthy fight where the convert father was present with his lawyers. As the Syaria court has jurisdiction exclusively for Muslims, Indira was not able to be present to argue her case.
After the matter of interfaith was raised by me in Parliament in 2009, the government announced banning unilateral religious conversion of minors and also formed a Cabinet Committee to do the necessary follow up.
But the Committee only issued a directive/advice that parents who do convert into Islam the child shall be raised in the religion prior to the conversion. Till today, the promised laws to clear this confusing situation have never been tabled in Parliament.
It was reported in April this year that a new similar committee was formed with two co-chairs namely, YB Nancy Sukri and Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom .So far nothing satisfactory with a lasting solution has been done by this Committee. Why form another lame duck, toothless and ineffective Committee?
Thus we the MPs of PR namely, YB R Sivarasa ( PKR MP for Subang) , YB Hanipah Maidin ( PAS MP for Sepang ) and I are formally proposing that if Section 51 is further strengthened with amendments, it will bring about a “win win position to all”
In our country, we have the non Muslims to be governed by the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 and the Muslims to be under the Jurisdiction by the Syariah law of each respective state Muslim enactment.
Dissolution on ground of conversion to Islam
51. (1) Where one party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the other party who has not so converted may petition for divorce: Provided that no petition under this section shall be presented before the expiration of the period of three months from the date of the conversion.
(2) The Court upon dissolving the marriage may make provision for the wife or husband, and for the support, care and custody of the children of the marriage, if any, and may attach any conditions to the decree of the dissolution as it thinks fit.
(3) Section 50 shall not apply to any petition for divorce under this section.
This section is the only law which mentions the inter faith couple situation when one converts to Islam. Thus the section must spell out clearly and unambiguously that notwithstanding the conversion in all respect of custody and maintenance shall be dealt ONLY by the civil court. This is fair as the marriage was so conducted under the Law reform.
We realize this is a thorny issue but a finality to address this issue must be done harmoniously. The Government is not taking the lead and worse still dragging its feet. A clear example of lack of leadership and vision for the people and community much affected by inter faith squabbles.
But very deviously in the inter faiths matters which are private matter have become bigger sensitive issues of concern and debate for religious and political leaders and the community at large.
The delay has been far too long and it is time that the government must introduce the necessary amendments. If necessary, the defacto law minister Nancy Sukri should call for an all political party meeting to iron out this overdue and unattended saga.
Without a doubt, many families are suffering due to these anomalies. Amend the law and curb all these inter faith converts who are hiding behind religious laws for their own personal protection and benefit. An urgent and long term permanent solution is a must.