Need for more stringent rules of conversion to prevent abuse, say Shariah lawyers


(TMI) – Recent protracted custody battles involving Malaysians who have converted to Islam and the conversion of children highlight the need to tighten the rules of conversion to ensure they are not misused, say Shariah lawyers.

They said more stringent rules were needed for conversion to Islam, including when a person wants to convert for marriage. Those wanting to marry Muslims in Malaysia must convert to the faith, which is the country’s official religion.

Shariah lawyer Zaini Zainol urged the government and religious authorities not to get over-excited when individuals of other faiths convert to Islam as many were merely conversions of convenience.

He warned that this would only result in some of these individuals wanting out of the religion at some point as their reasons for embracing Islam were not sincere in the first place.

He said that many were converting to Islam because their marriages ran into trouble and they wanted to have custody of the children.

“I appeal to the religious authorities to recognise these issues before they get over-excited about conversions to Islam.

“Let us not allow Islam to be used as a game for certain individuals who want to use it for their unfair advantage,” Zaini said, adding that it would only give the religion a bad name.

His advice comes in the wake of the Court of Appeal’s rejection on Wednesday of a Muslim convert’s bid to get custody of his children from his ex-wife, S. Deepa, a Hindu.

In December last year, Deepa had applied to get custody of their children – Sharmila, 9 years old, and Mithran, 6 – who were converted to Islam by Izwan Abdullah without informing her after he had embraced Islam in 2012.

She also sought to quash the order by the Shariah Court which had given him custody of the children.

On April 7, the civil High Court ordered that custody of the children be handed over to Deepa.

The next day, Izwan abducted his son from Deepa’s home in Jelebu, Negri Sembilan.

Citing this case and others involving the unilateral conversion of children, such as that of S. Syamala and M. Indira Gandhi, Zaini said it was imperative that the rules of conversion be tightened to prevent abuse.

In November 2010, a  five-man bench led by then chief justice Tun Zaki Azmi had unanimously dismissed Syamala’s bid to raise her two young children in the religion they grew up in after being converted to Islam by her estranged Hindu-turned-Muslim husband.

Zaki had ruled that Syamala must return to the country if she wants the court’s protection.

She had fled the country with her two sons in 2004 and their whereabouts were unknown.

In Indira’s case, the kindergarten teacher had obtained custody of her three children but her husband, Muhammad Ridzuan Abdullah, has been keeping their daughter, Prasana Diksa, and refused to hand her over throughout their four-year battle over the children’s faith.

The custody battle came about after all her three children, who were Hindus by birth, were converted to Islam by her ex-husband in 2009. The Syariah court then granted him custody of the three children.

The couple separated and Ridzuan, formerly known as K. Patmanathan, took Prasana with him, when she was only 11 months old.

Indira mounted a legal challenge and managed to quash the decision of the Shariah court. The High Court also quashed the children’s conversion to Islam. But until today, he has yet to return Prasana, now 5, to Indira.

Zaini also said that in cases of forced conversions, especially those involving children, there will always be the possibility that they would grow up and seek to convert out of Islam.

Zaini, who has represented individuals who wanted to convert out of Islam in  the Shariah court, said that there were also many converts who did so just to collect their “duit zakat” before Hari Raya but would then go to temples to pray.

“I had a client who admitted that he converted to get financial aid but when his luck ran out, he wanted to convert out of Islam,” he said.

He said many of his cases involved individuals whose parents were Muslims, but only in name.

“In reality, the whole family is practising another faith.

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