Malaysia Court Halts Baby Hindu Boy’s Conversion to Islam

via published on April 1, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, March 31, 2007: A Malaysian court has taken the rare step of ordering a Muslim man not to go ahead with plans to convert his baby son to Islam, pending a last-ditch legal effort by the Hindu mother to take custody of the boy. The Court of Appeal, which usually defers jurisdiction in religious matters to Malaysia’s Islamic courts, granted the mother an injunction on Friday barring the father from converting their 1-year-old to Islam, local newspapers said on Saturday. Once the boy is converted to Islam, the father could seek custody of him in an Islamic court. He did this last year with the couple’s elder son, aged 3, the papers said. The legal battle highlights constitutional tensions over religion in mainly Muslim Malaysia: the charter assures freedom of religion but in practice non-Muslims have found no recourse to civil courts where questions of Islamic identity are involved.

Non-Muslims make up about 40 percent of the population and many refuse to submit to Islamic law. In 2005, the High Court ruled it could not intervene to stop state religious officials giving a man a Muslim burial against his Hindu widow’s wishes. She said he was Hindu but an Islamic court ruled he was Muslim. In the latest case, the lawyer for the Hindu mother said an Islamic court might award custody of her younger son to the father before she could exhaust all her civil legal options. “If the injunction is not granted, the wife’s right will be over-reached before the appeal is heard in the Federal Court and it will cause severe injustice,” state news agency Bernama quoted the lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, as telling the Court of Appeal. “There is also the possibility that the father will convert the second child. The threat is substantial.”

But the injunction may be only a brief legal victory for the mother, R. Subashini, who married under Hindu rites in 2001. The Court of Appeal ruled earlier this month that the father had the right to go to the Islamic court to have his marriage dissolved and to seek custody of the younger son. The injunction granted on Friday applies only until the mother can persuade the Federal Court to hear her appeal against the Court of Appeal’s March 13 ruling.

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