KUALA LUMPUR: The Cabinet has decided that children of parents where one of them opts to convert must be raised in the common religion at the time of marriage.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri said it was decided in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that a spouse who has converted into Islam would also have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil marriage laws.
“Religion should not be used as a tool to escape marriage responsibilities. Conversion is not a grounds for the automatic dissolution of a marriage,” he said at a press conference at Parliament building Thursday.
“The children should be brought up in the common religion. For the spouse who intends to convert into Islam, he or she would also have to come clean,” he said.
Nazri said religious conversion must come with the innocent party being protected from being victimised, as well as protection being affored to the new religion of the converted person.
“Civil marriages have to be resolved according to civil laws. The conversion takes effect on the day of conversion and is not restropective.
“The convert would have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil laws prior to the conversion,” he added.
Nazri also said the Cabinet has instructed the Attorney-General to look at all relevant laws which needed to be amended in line with what has been decided on civil marriage laws and others.
For Islamic enactment, he said the matters have to be brought up with the respective Sultans as they are the heads of religion in their respective states.
The religious conversion issue came to the Cabinet’s attention on April 15 involving a specific case.
Indra Ghandhi, 35, had sought the help of the Hindu Sangam branch in Ipoh after her husband K. Patmanathan, now Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, converted their three children without their presence and without informing her.
He allegedly used the children’s birth certificates to get them converted. The youngest child is said to be in the father's custody.
Ridzuan has since been trying to take custody of the other two children, Tevi Darsiny, 12, and Karan Dinish, 11, with a Syariah court order being served on the children’s school.
Indira said Thursday that she was definitely happy with the announcement.
“But I will continue to worry because the children have already had their names changed.
“I’m not 100% sure what was announced will work. I won’t believe it until their names are changed back to what it used to be and they are declared Hindus.”
In the case of Indira and Patmanathan, Nazri said the Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Mej-Gen (R) Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom would meet the man now known as Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah.
“The minister will counsel the convert and talk to him to settle the matter amicably in accordance to what we have decided.
“When the youngest child, who was still being breast fed by the mother, was taken away from her, it is definitely trauma for the mother.
“This is not about religion conversion but being humane,’’ he said, adding that the baby should be returned immediately to the mother.
However, Jamil was not given a time frame to sort out the tussle between the couple, said Nazri.
“We can immediately do what we have decided to do in areas where we are in control. When it involves the Perak Islamic Affairs, it is beyond us.
“It is our hope that common sense will prevail,’’ he said.
Asked whether the tussle between Indira and Ridzuan may still drag on for some time, Nazri said : “ It can end tomorrow if common sense prevails.”
The same applied to several outstanding cases where Nazri said the Cabinet had decided to have a long term solution on this and not to discuss it case by case in the Cabinet.
“We would also like to hear from the public if they feel that there are loopholes or weaknesses in these cases.
“We welcome feedback and are open to any suggestion. We are not afraid to enhance or reverse our position,’’ he said.
Nazri said the Government forsaw that Malaysia, being a multi-racial society, would see more conversion cases in the future.
Ministers who have been tasked to look into conversion were Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon (Unity), Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil, Jamil and Nazri.
Meanwhile, the Bar Council commended the government on its bold move to deal with issues relating to what happens before conversion to Islam.
Council president K. Ragunath said that amendments to the law ought to be done as soon as possible.
“Islamic groups we had spoken to also hold the same view that these issues needed to be sorted out,” he said when contacted.
“We are not talking about stopping conversion but just trying to sort out the issues relating to pre-conversion. We do not envisage polemics coming out of this.”
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