IT’S a tragedy, really. Common sense, compassion, legality and fair play all seem to be absent in the recent alleged conversion of three children to Islam.
The children – a pair of twin girls aged 14 and their brother aged 10 – are minors. Their father, who is in jail for a drug offence, had purportedly taken them to an Islamic religious office and had them converted.
Apparently, the children agreed to the conversion even though they are minors.
Their father had told officials that he wasn’t aware of their mother’s whereabouts, and amazingly, they were immediately converted.
The children were then placed in a welfare home because their father was about to begin a jail term for drug abuse.
To be fair to the officials, here was a father who needed his children to be cared for and he didn’t know where their mother was.
They did what they felt was right – ensure the three had food and a roof over their heads at a children’s home. This could just be an instinctive reaction of plain compassion and attending to an urgent need.
But the mother, Loh Siew Hong, has now showed up and has told the media alleging that she has been prevented from seeing her children. And in a likely act of desperation, she has conceded to converting to Islam if that’s the only way for her to reunite with her kids.
Here’s where the confusion and suspicion begin. The father claimed he had no idea where his ex-wife was, and this was taken at face value. It would have helped if some form of investigation was done to trace the mother.
It appears the welfare department was unaware the court had granted custody of the kids to the mum.
The religious council now arguably looks like it was in a rush to convert the minors.
But to be clearer, it is the religious office – and not the National Registration Department – that registered them as Muslims. So, there are no legal implications yet.
It has been reported that after converting to Islam, their father handed his children over to an Islamic study centre and then went to prison.
Let’s put it this way – the 35-year-old mother was not consulted and the impression we’re getting now is that she was denied all rights to her own children.
The Islamic centre, which is taking care of the children, seems to have more authority than the mother. Loh has now, supposedly, ended up having to seek permission from Rumah Sinar Harapan children’s home in Jitra, Kedah, to see her children.
With them being minors, it seems unusual for the mother to accept the claim that the kids had agreed to convert without her knowing the circumstances – emotional or otherwise – to their decisions.
Last week, after days of painstakingly waiting, Loh finally got to see her children for the second time in three years.
According to her, she was denied meeting her children for days, apparently over Covid-19 fears.
She had, in fact, won custody of her children in the High Court last year, and saw them for the first time in three years outside the Kangar district police headquarters.
Perlis has a state Constitution allowing either the father or mother to convert the child. The question is: do the state laws override the court decision?
Any form of natural justice would have clearly adhered to the overwhelming circumstances that Loh should be taking care of her children as the biological mother.
She earns a steady income as a chef in Genting Highlands. Her ex-husband, Nagashwaran Muniandy, is serving a jail term, and that says enough of him.
Instead, the High Court’s decision has been over-ridden by Nagashwaran’s simple act of unilaterally converting the children into Muslims.
This echoes the case of M. Indira Gandhi, who has not seen her daughter Prasana Diksa for 11 years. She has no idea where her 12-year-old daughter is.
Nothing has changed despite the Federal Court ordering the police in 2018 to find and return Prasana, who was taken by her ex-husband just before he converted to Islam in 2009. The High Court had also issued an arrest warrant in 2014 for the Muslim convert, who now goes by the name Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.
The High Court ruling in 2010 had granted full custody of all three children from their marriage to Indira.
Islam is a compassionate religion. There’s no coercion or obligation in Islam, but only ignorant people who manipulate it in the name of the religion.
Likewise, most of us non-Muslims would also object if our children embraced Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism or other faiths, without knowledge or consent if they’re still minors. When they become adults, it’s their right to embrace any religion they choose.
Faith is between a person and God. It must be respected and not used as a tool to win custody of a child, especially after the law has decided otherwise.
It’s a travesty when there are parties who support such an act. Let’s not allow religion to cloud common sense and fair justice.
It’s more important for Islamic officials to ask this question – are these opportunistic husbands using Islam to gain custody of their children because of their marital squabbles and ignoring court decisions?
Likewise, politicians shouldn’t come into the picture to score political points, especially since that won’t help the mother or children.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.