Sisters in Islam (SIS) views the Federal Court’s decision on the “bin Abdullah” case with mixed concerns. While we welcome the ruling by the Federal Court to remove “bin Abdullah” from a Johor-born Muslim child’s name from his birth certificate, however, we view with great distress and concern for disallowing the father’s name to be a part of the child’s name. Sisters in Islam had hoped for a decision that would have resolved this matter addressing the core issue of the stigmatisation of Muslim children born out of wedlock.
SIS is grateful that Malaysia has religious leaders such as the Mufti of Penang and the Mufti of Perlis who have provided a compassionate approach to this issue so as to take into account the welfare and best interest of the child. We also support the Children’s Commissioner in SUHAKAM who had called for the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957 to be amended and applied equally to Muslims and non-Muslims.
The usage of “bin Abdullah” for Muslim children born out of wedlock carries a social stigma as “bin Abdullah” children are often ridiculed, attacked, bullied and targeted. The Federal Court’s decision for removing “bin Abdullah” from the child’s name and disallowing him to carry the father’s name will only lead to a new kind of stigmatisation of the child and other children in a similar situation. Also, it is now an open question as to what the child’s last name should be.
The Islamic Family Law (State of Johor) Enactment 2003 only deals with the issue of paternity or nasab of a father over his child. The definition of a child born out of wedlock as well as the requirement to name these children “bin or binti Abdullah” are provided in two fatwas of the Majlis Fatwa Kebangsaan of JAKIM. Thus, it is clear that the naming as “bin Abdullah” is not prescribed by law but by a fatwa. Sisters in Islam has often criticised the far-reaching effects of a fatwa, which sometimes have even more overreaching consequences than the law itself.
The application of a fatwa in such a manner should be scrutinised and subjected to proper consultation, checks and balances, especially when it has a severe impact on the life of a child.
In Malaysia, states have issued their own fatwa on this matter. For example, the Perlis state government has gazetted a fatwa in 2013 that allows children born less than six months from the parents’ marriage date to carry the name of his/her father provided their parents and that the father acknowledges the child. However, the father does not have paternity rights over the child. The late Wahbah Zuhaili, a well-respected Islamic scholar, has stated that it is permissible for the child to be named after the father if he so agrees. This particular argument is in line with upholding the best interest of the child.
Sisters in Islam has time and again called for greater balance in the promulgation of Islamic laws and fatwas. The most important tenets of Islam – justice, compassion, harmony must be the guiding factor. It is clear that this fatwa on children born out of wedlock causes harm and is not beneficial to the welfare and best interest of the child.
Section 111 of the Islamic Family Law (State of Johor) Enactment 2003 provides: “Where a child is born to a woman who is married to a man more than six qamariah months from the date of the marriage or within four qamariah years after dissolution of the marriage either by the death of the man or by divorce, and the woman not having remarried, the nasab or paternity of the child is established in the man, but the man may, by way of li’an or imprecation, disavow or disclaim the child before the Court.”
The definition of a child born out of wedlock is provided specifically under the fatwa. In this case, we quote the fatwa issued by the Fatwa Majlis Kebangsaan (JAKIM):
Muzakarah Jawatankuasa Fatwa Majlis Kebangsaan Bagi Hal Ehwal Ugama Islam Malaysia Kali Ke-57 yang bersidang pada 10 Jun 2003 telah membincangkan mengenai Anak Tak Sah Taraf. Muzakarah telah memutuskan seperti berikut: Anak Tak Sah Taraf ialah:
1. Anak yang dilahirkan di luar nikah sama ada akibat zina atau rogol dan dia bukan daripada persetubuhan syubhah atau bukan daripada anak perhambaan.
2. Anak dilahirkan kurang dari 6 bulan 2 lahzah (saat) mengikut Takwim Qamariah daripada tarikh tamkin (setubuh). Anak tidak sah taraf tidak boleh dinasabkan kepada lelaki yang menyebabkan kelahirannya atau kepada sesiapa yang mengaku menjadi bapa kepada anak tersebut. Oleh itu mereka tidak boleh pusaka mempusakai, tidak menjadi mahram dan tidak boleh menjadi wali.
This fatwa was preceded in 1981 by a fatwa that deals directly with the naming of a child born out of wedlock. Reference is made again tp the Majlis Fatwa Kebangsaan under JAKIM: Muzakarah Jawatankuasa Fatwa Majlis Kebangsaan Bagi Hal Ehwal Ugama Islam Malaysia Kali Ke-1 yang bersidang pada 28 – 29 Januari 1981 telah membincangkan Penamaan Anak Tak Sah Taraf (Anak Luar Nikah). Muzakarah telah memutuskan bahawa anak zina atau anak di luar nikah (anak tak sah taraf) sama ada diikuti dengan perkahwinan kedua pasangan ibu bapanya atau tidak hendaklah di bin atau di bintikan kepada Abdullah.