Sisters In Islam (SIS) calls on the Government to prohibit the unilateral conversion of minors. The recent report on JAIS’ disruption of a Hindu wedding is just one incident in a string of reports that have shown how the lives of citizens are being destroyed by silent conversions.
At the root of this case is unilateral conversion – when one spouse silently converts his children to Islam without the knowledge or consent of the non-converting spouse. Zarena Abdul Majid, the ‘Muslim’ bride, is not alone. She is accompanied by the children of Shamala Sathiyaseelan, R. Subashini, Indira Gandhi and more recently S. Deepa, whose fathers all unilaterally converted them to Islam in secret.
The impact is not just felt by the converted children, but by their mothers. In one fell swoop, these women lost the rights guaranteed to them under civil law – specifically, the Guardianship of Infants Act (amended in 1999) – where non-Muslims have equal rights to the guardianship of their children and thus equal rights to decide which religion they would adopt.
Legal recourse for the non-converting spouse often becomes an issue. Under powers vested by the Constitution, the civil High Court has the authority to rule on matters concerning a marriage in which one party had converted to Islam. Yet, there have been cases where the High Court has abdicated its jurisdiction to quash the conversion of the children to the Syariah Court, as in the case of Shamala S. Given that the Syariah Court has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims, she was trapped in a legal no-man’s land with no way out. Her rights might have been violated, but she had absolutely no recourse to any legal remedy.
This jurisdictional limbo also extends to law enforcement. The reluctance of police to take action against Deepa’s ex-husband, Izwan Abdullah, after he abducted their youngest son is a case in point. While the Syariah Court had granted Izwan custody, the Seremban High Court later granted Deepa custody of their two children and a recovery order. Despite this, the police have yet to enforce the recovery order, claiming it could not act due to conflicting orders from the syariah and civil courts.
What is abundantly clear is that none of these cases would have come about if unilateral conversions were prohibited. For as long as the courts, the police and law-makers continue to shift responsibility and delay addressing the crux of the problem, more lives will be destroyed.
Sisters in Islam
3 June 2014