Raja Kamarul, from ‘lawbreaker’ to lawmaker


Yiswaree Palansamy, TMI

First-term Member of Parliament for Kuala Terengganu, Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, is a picture of calmness. But beneath the cool and collected persona lies a passionate lawmaker, a consummate architect with a penchant for structure linked to the Malay heritage, and a loving father who recently became a doting grandfather.

This member of the Terengganu royal family was best known for his custody battle with his ex-wife, Jacqueline Pascarl-Gillespie in Australia. In 1992, having lost custody of his two children, Raja Shahirah and her brother Raja Mohamad Baharuddin (Iddin), he kidnapped them and brought them to Malaysia, a story which made headlines back then.

Raja Kamarul resorted to such drastic action after being “tired of being ostracised by the draconian rulings of the Australian Family Court”.

Now happily married to local jazz artiste Datin Noryn Aziz, the 58 year old renowned architect never once regretted his actions.

For Raja Kamarul, it was this tumultous experience 20 years ago which helped him understand the difficulties of being labelled a minority.

“It was a tiring experience, the journey I chartered to rescue my two children after being unable to contend with the pain of separation from them,” he recalled his adventurous journey from Australia in 1992.

“What was more unbearable was the way the Australian court had ruled in the custody battle for my children.

“I tried, I tried to adapt having to be away from my children for seven years. I would go to Australia every year for that entire period to see my kids.”

Raja Kamarul said the fact that he was a Muslim made his custody battle for his children in the Australian court all the more difficult.

“The 80’s was a time where the revolution in Iran took place, and being a Muslim did not help as Malaysians were treated like Iranians at that time,” he told The Malaysian Insider who met him recently.

Soon after his divorce in 1986, the Australian court ordered Pascarl-Gillespie to return their children to Malaysia and for Raja Bahrin to pursue custody at the Malaysian High Court.

Later, the decision was reversed by the Australian Full Family Court, granting Pascarl-Gillespie sole custody.

“The odds were against me and I had to surrender my passport, credit cards and identification everytime I want to see my children. It was difficult to reach out to what was rightfully mine. The problem was not with my ex-wife, but the system.”

He said he was prevented from bringing his children to the mosque to teach them basic Islamic prayers.

“Even a prisoner with good behaviour gets better compassion than me. The rules I was forced to abide by were regressive,” he added.