Converting children unilaterally is un-Islamic, court told in Indira Gandhi case

File photo of Indira (centre) showing photos of Ridzuan and Prasana to reporters at her counsel’s office. — The Malay Mail pic
File photo of Indira (centre) showing photos of Ridzuan and Prasana to reporters at her counsel’s office. — The Malay Mail pic

PUTRAJAYA, May 26 — Muslim convert Muhammad Riduan Abdullah’s conversion of his three Hindu children to Islam without obtaining their mother’s consent was invalid as it did not comply with Islamic law requirements, the Court of Appeal heard today.

The three children’s Hindu mother, M. Indira Gandhi, had in 2013 managed to get the civil Ipoh High Court to quash the unilateral religious conversion, but the Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIPk) and other bodies appealed against the verdict.

Today, Indira’s lawyer Fahri Azzat pointed out that the conversion certificate for the estranged couple’s three children was not issued by a Registrar of Converts as required under the procedures of a Perak Islamic law.

“This so-called certificate is only issued by the Jabatan Agama Islam Perak (JAIPk)...This certificate should emanate from the Registrar, not Jabatan,” the lawyer told the court, pointing out that the April 2, 2009 document was signed by the department’s assistant director of ukhuwah (brotherhood) instead of the registrar.

Section 101 of Administration of the Religion of Islam (Perak) Enactment 2004 states that the Registrar shall furnish a certificate of conversion to each person who is registered as having converted to Islam.

Fahri also argued that the conversion had failed to meet the requirements under both Section 96 and Section 106 of the same state law, which he said must be read together as rules for those wishing to be Muslims.

Section 96 requires an individual to be aware of the meaning of the Muslim affirmation of faith when uttering it in Arabic and to do so at their own free will, while Section 106 states that a person may convert to Islam if he is of mind and is aged 18, while those under 18 have to obtain written consent from a guardian or parent.

Indira was also not given a right to be heard when the conversion took place, Fahri argued.

Despite conceding that Section 96 was not fulfilled, Perak legal adviser and JAIPk lawyer Rohana Abd Malek insisted that the children’s conversion to Islam was valid as it had allegedly fulfilled the Section 106 requirements. She claimed that the right authority to decide on religious conversion is the Shariah courts instead of the civil courts.

Fahri had earlier pointed out that the conversion was not carried out by the Shariah court, but by a public body — the Registrar — whose actions would be subject to judicial review by the civil courts.

All three children — then aged 12 years old, 11 years old, and 11 months old — were still minors when Muhammad Riduan converted them without their presence and without Indira’s knowledge.

The eldest daughter Tevi Darsiny has already turned 18 — where she can decide on her religious status — amid the protracted legal dispute, while her brother Karan Dinish is over 17 and her sister Prasana Diksa is now seven. Prasana Diksa was snatched away by Muhammad Riduan about six years ago and has since been separated from her mother.

The decision will be delivered at a later date by a Court of Appeal three-man panel headed by Datuk Balia Yusof Haji Wahi, with members Datuk Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer and Dr Badariah Sahamid.

Rohana and Suhaila Haron represented the JAIPk director, Perak government, Registrar of converts; while Hatim Musa acted for Muhammad Riduan. Senior Federal Counsels Shamsul Bolhassan and Khairul Fazli Kamaruddin acted for the federal government and the Education Ministry, which wanted to determine if the children should go for moral or Islamic studies. Aston Paiva and M. Kulasegaran also represented Indira today.

Muhammad Riduan had converted the three children just six days before he obtained a custody order for all three in the Shariah court on April 8, 2009.

In the long drawn-out child custody battle, Indira subsequently won full custody of her three children in the Ipoh High Court on March 11, 2010, with the same civil court issuing a recovery order in her favour. Muhammad Riduan has failed to challenge the custody order at the Federal Court.