Law to bar unilateral conversion not only answer, scholar argues

Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil urged the government to take a more nuanced approach to the problem, and insisted that it could be addressed by the government without a formal legal barrier against the unilateral conversion of minors. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil urged the government to take a more nuanced approach to the problem, and insisted that it could be addressed by the government without a formal legal barrier against the unilateral conversion of minors. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

KAJANG, Feb 2 — Disputes over the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam can be solved through mediation and without resorting to a law specifically barring the practice, claimed an Islamic law expert.

Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil conceded that a proposed amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act would prevent such conflict, but asserted that such a move would create conflict with religious authorities as it was contrary to Islamic rulings.

The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies deputy chief executive officer cited the Muzakarah National Fatwa Committee Council in Islamic Affairs’ conclusion in 2009 that a minor’s conversion to Islam should be decided by the parent who embraces the religion.

Mohamed Azam urged the government to take a more nuanced approach to the problem, and insisted that it could be addressed by the government without a formal legal barrier against the unilateral conversion of minors.

“We do not have to rely on the law to solve every problem. I propose for a tribunal to be formed to be able to solve such cases amicably involving the mutual consensus of both parties.

“Sometimes, the involvement of a third party can help reduce the tension in such cases, before it needs to be brought into court. A mechanism needs to be formulated for the cases to be resolved through a third-party channel,” he said, today.

Speaking at a forum organised by the Law Faculty of the Selangor International Islamic University College (KUIS), Mohamed Azam said his suggested tribunal would include both Muslims and non-Muslims.

He further proposed a Special Family Court to be established under the civil courts, with a special panel comprising both civil and Shariah judges and legal practitioners.

“Shariah lawyers can also be lent to the civil courts when needed,” he said.

Despite his opposition to a legal amendment of the LRA, he conceded his suggestion would require even more complex amendments to the Federal Constitution and the Judicial Court Act 1964 to allow Shariah judges to sit in his proposed family court.

Mohamed Azam said the Federal Court ruling in the case Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi also showed that Shariah courts were subordinate to the superior courts, adding that this would give new impetus to calls for Islamic courts to be put on par with their civil counterparts.

“Perhaps there is a silver lining to this and would open up the eyes of the government to find means to strengthen the Shariah court.

“The government must find a solution to this matter so that this would not repeat again. There is no need to hold demonstrations or retaliations. This matter can be discussed in a civilised manner until a holistic solution is reached,” he said.

On Monday, the Federal Court voided the unilateral conversion of Indira’s three children to Islam by her Muslim convert ex-husband.

The apex court had also ruled that the consent of both parents is needed to convert a minor, explaining that the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the word “parent” to “ibu atau bapa” that allowed unilateral conversions to occur was faulty.

Following the development, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the government will consider re-introducing the amendment to the LRA.

Putrajaya withdrew the amendment last August after controversy over the move.

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