Friday, February 6, 2015

The Prime Minister should take the lead and advice the respective states to enact a similar “divorce first, then convert” law proposed by Negri Sembilan government



Press Statement by M Kula Segaran, DAP National Vice Chairperson and MP for Ipoh Barat in Ipoh on 6th, February, 2015
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The Prime Minister should take the lead and advice the respective states to enact a similar “divorce first, then convert” law proposed by Negri Sembilan government 

It is most heartening to note the proposed rules that Negeri Sembilan has announced that if a non Muslim spouse wants to convert to Islam, the spouse must settle his or her divorce first before converting to Islam.

This is definitely a step in the right direction which deserves welcome, especially after the Federal government has till today failed to introduce the necessary law changes to put into effect the 2009 Cabinet decision banning unilateral conversions of minors to Islam. 

In 2009, Cabinet minister Datuk Nazri who announced the Cabinet’s decision to prohibit the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam had noted that this was being abused to escape the responsibilities of a civil union and gain custody of children .

The present situation which allows a non Muslim to embrace Islam without settling the issue of divorce, custody and maintenance in the civil court has caused a lot of pain and agony to the non converting spouse. Although a non Muslim is married under the civil law, due to ambiguity the converting spouse gets remedies on family matters in the syariah court.

Presently, the cases of converting spouse take a lot of the courts’ time and they also financially bleed all those involved in the issue. This is the situation in both the ongoing case in the civil courts in relation to Indira Gandhi and Deepa cases.

Although presently Section 51 of the law Reform Marriage Act provides that that the non converting spouse can file for divorce but this has been abused by the converting spouse like converting the children of the family without the consent or knowledge of the other non converting spouse.  Also the converting spouse conveniently uses the conversion as a method to run away from family responsibility.

Although Negeri Sembilan has announced that a statutory declaration will be required before a couple of an existing marriage converts to Islam, it would be prudent if the necessary Islamic laws are amended to make it mandatory for a couple to obtain divorce first before the conversion take place.

The challenge on this matter would be for other states to implement similar proposals like that of the Negeri Sembilan. I would urge the federal Government to introduce a bill in Parliament on this issue for the Federal Territories.

For purpose of uniformity of the law on this issue, the Prime Minister should take the lead and advice the respective states to enact a similar law to bring certainty to the ongoing endless family fights in the courts on conversion issues.

In 2009, the Cabinet had formed a Cabinet Committee to deal with conversion issues but it was a toothless and ineffective Committee. The same committee was brought to life last year. It has done nothing to assist in conversion cases or resolve the issue. 

Early last year when the conversion cases were being fought out in the courts and it was in the front pages of all papers ,  Prime Minister Datuk Najib came out with a suggestion in that the nation’s Apex court should hear the case and come out with a final solution.

 I had said that by doing so, the Prime Minister was just pushing the buck to the courts. What Najib ought to do was to introduce the necessary amendments to the Marriage Act for a final and long term solution. 

Now that the Negeri Sembilan Mentri Besar has led the way by taking the right initiative to protect the sanctity of Islam and to prevent similar sufferings by Indira Ganhdi and S Deepa from happening to others, the Prime Minister must not disappoint again. He should now do what ought to have been done.

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