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LETTER | Unilateral conversion of child’s religion

LETTER | Unilateral conversion of children to Islam by the father against the consent of the mother has once again resurfaced despite the recent ruling of the Federal Court in M Indira Gandhi’s case that requires, inter alia, the consent of both the parents in the conversion of a minor.

Further, the then-Supreme Court in Teoh Eng Huat v Kadhi of Pasir Mas Kelantan, also known as the Susie Teoh case, decided inter alia that the parent or guardian will determine the religion of the child until he or she attains the age of 18.

It is obvious therefore that the father or mother of such minor children cannot unilaterally make the decision involving the religion of the children.

A ‘child’ refers to a person under the age of 18 and this is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Meanwhile, the word ‘infant’ or ‘minor’ is defined as a person who has not attained the age of majority which, in this country, is upon attaining the age of 18 years.

Undeniably, the stability in the child’s upbringing during the tender years is vital to their development and hence, the law-making bodies around the world have tried to address every angle when it comes to their protection and welfare while safeguarding the interest of society.

In the unfortunate event of divorce, who gets custody of the children is determined by the principle of child’s welfare and this is not limited only to material welfare but includes moral welfare.

It is the child’s general well-being that must be considered and not merely whether the child would be happier in one place compared to another.

Naturally, the custody of a child of tender age is commonly granted to the mother mainly because of her natural motherly instinct and capability of providing the child with love and affection.

In relation to conversion, it is inaccurate to dictate that when the father converts to Islam, the religious status of the child must automatically be changed to Islam.

Generally, the child’s religion would follow that of the custodian whom the child is living with, and this would have followed a decision of the court based on the best interest of the child.

If there is joint custody, the child should remain in the religion of both the parents until the child is 18 years of age, after which they may choose their religion.

This means both the parents would have access to the child and as such, the child would be exposed to the religions of the parents and when they turn 18, they would have the choice of their preferred religion.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution and hence, a person cannot be compelled to accept a certain religion.

Likewise, in Islam, there is no compulsion in religion. A person may embrace Islam when they are convinced of the religion besides its acceptance must be voluntary and without inducement, threat, or promise.

When faced with the issue of the choice of religion for children when either parent reverts to Islam, it is best left for the child to decide when they attain the age of majority.

A person will only have the ability to decide for themselves once they have reached a certain age of understanding that will allow them to appreciate the religion.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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