KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — The government moved today to soothe uneasiness over Islamic conversion of minors when it decided that children should be raised in the faith of their parents while they were married even if one spouse becomes a Muslim.
The Cabinet decided this yesterday amid simmering tension over a case of three Indian children converted to Islam by their father without the mother’s consent.
Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz said Muslim converts still had to meet their marriage commitments in raising their children in their common religion at the time of their marriage.
“Religion should not be used as a tool to escape marital responsibilities. Conversion is not a ground for automatic dissolution of a marriage either,” he added.
K. Patmanathan, 40, now known as Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, had converted to Islam without the knowledge of his wife, Indira Ghandi, who claimed her husband also converted their children — aged one, 11 and 12 years — without her consent.
Indira said she was now living in fear of losing her children as her husband was seeking custody through the Syariah Court.
There has been an increase in the number of cases in which Islamic conversions have been used as a tool to gain custody of children in divorces among non-Muslims couples.
The Cabinet decided yesterday that the Attorney-General will have to look at which laws need to be amended in line with the decision to stop conversions of minors without the consent of both parents.
Nazri said that Islamic enactments may also need amendments and the matter will be discussed with state Rulers.
“Civil marriages have to be resolved according to civil laws. The conversion takes effect on the day of conversion and is not retrospective.
“The convert would have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil laws prior to the conversion,” he said.
Hindu Sangam president A. Vaithilingam described the decision as "an excellent one" and believes this could be a new beginning for Muslim and non-Muslim relations.
"But of course the government must also look into a long-term solution to this matter but I believe this decision can make the much needed dialogue on the matter an amicable one," he told The Malaysian Insider.