(Updated 28 April 2009, 7.36pm)
PETALING JAYA, 28 April 2009: Amending laws to stop the unilateral conversion of children to Islam will pave the way to resolving other thorny issues when a family member converts, the Bar Council said today.
Urging the government to move swiftly on amending laws to enforce the cabinet’s recent directive against unilateral conversions, Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said the groundbreaking move would also affect guardianship and custody, maintenance of spouse and children, inheritance of a deceased convert’s estate, burial rites, and nominations and assignments of insurance policies.
Ragunath “We are optimistic that the resolution of this thorny issue will be a precursor to the resolution of other complex issues that arise when a family member converts,” Ragunath said in a press statement today.
Until laws are amended, he said cabinet directives were merely policy statements that could not be fully realized.
Ragunath said amendments to the law would not diminish nor affect Islam, and its position under the Federal Constitution.
“The directive will go a long way towards reducing part of the acrimony within families and communities over hurried and hushed conversions of children by one parent, which often occurs following the breakdown of a marriage. As such, this initiative will clarify an area of law that is currently contested, and will promote greater harmony and respect among our multi-ethic and multi-religious society.”
He said the Bar Council was ready to support and assist the government in making the amendments.
It has been reported previously that the laws that need to be amended, according to the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), are the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act and Islamic Family Law, both to ensure that the converted spouse fulfils obligations under civil marriage; and Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution to recognise the rights of both parents in deciding the religion of a minor.
Indira Gandhi still waiting
To date, despite the cabinet directive and despite a high court order for interim custody of her children, nothing has changed for M Indira Gandhi.
The kindergarten teacher is still waiting for her husband, K Patmanathan, whose Muslim name is Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, to return her youngest child, baby Prasana Diksa.
On 24 April, the Ipoh High Court ruled that Indira Gandhi should be given interim custody of her three children the day after the cabinet decision was announced. Indira Gandhi spent that first night sleepless at a police station waiting for her husband and baby to show up, but in vain.
She has now resorted to putting up “wanted” posters of her husband with the help of the Perak DAP and the Malaysia Hindu Sangam.
Lim (File pic)What next, cabinet?
DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang today said the cabinet, after its weekly meeting tomorrow, should “send out a clear signal” that it stands by its decision.
“It is not a meaningless decision to be defied with impunity. Steps must be taken to return Prasana to her mother without delay, as well as to put the policy decision into effect with the necessary legislative and administrative follow-up actions,” Lim said in a statement today.
The cabinet had directed that children in a marital dispute should follow the common religion at the time of their parents’ marriage under civil law. It also decided that the end of civil marriages had to be settled by the civil court.
Lim noted that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic Affairs Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom had been assigned by the cabinet to meet Mohd Ridzuan to urge him to return the baby to her mother.
Indira Gandhi was still breastfeeding Prasana Diksa when the baby was taken away by her husband about three weeks ago. The two elder children are Tevi Darsiny, 12, and Karan Dinish, 11. All three were converted to Islam by the husband with only the use of their birth certificates.
Indira Gandhi and her two elder children
No basis to convert baby
Lim also highlighted a letter written to the New Straits Times today by Islamic theologian and philosophist Dr Ibrahim Abu Bakar, from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Ibrahim’s letter No religious basis to convert baby was strongly in favour of Mohd Ridzuan returning the baby to Indira Gandhi.
“Islamic theology does not impose any religious duty on the father to take away the baby girl from her Hindu mother. This baby should not be prohibited by her father from being breastfed by her mother.
“If he does, he is wrong and evil in Islamic theological view because Islam does not impose any religious duty on any baby regardless whether she was born to a Hindu or Muslim mother. Islam imposes Islamic religious duties upon mature men and women, not upon babies and children,” Ibrahim wrote.
Ibrahim had also noted that Islamic law never said that either spouse, upon conversion to Islam, had the right to convert the children.
“Patmanathan (Mohd Ridzuan) has been supported by some ignorant Muslims on the pretext of protecting the purity of Islam and his three children. These Muslims are wrong. There is no Islamic legal basis for Muslims to help someone take away a baby from her mother and then convert that baby to Islam,” he wrote.
Sisters in Islam programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi had previously told The Nut Graph that Islamic thought held that children below the age of puberty are considered free from sin. There was therefore no urgency to convert them as minors.