Despite top court ruling, lawyer insists Indira Gandhi’s kids still Muslim

(From left) lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, UTM Law Lecturer Muhammad Fathi Yusof, lawyer Aston Paiva and lawyer Lukman Sheriff Alias at a public talk in Kuala Lumpur March 2, 2018. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
(From left) lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, UTM Law Lecturer Muhammad Fathi Yusof, lawyer Aston Paiva and lawyer Lukman Sheriff Alias at a public talk in Kuala Lumpur March 2, 2018. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — The three children of Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi are Muslim, according to lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla despite a landmark Federal Court ruling that nullified their unilateral conversion by their father.

Haniff Khatri told a forum discussing the Indira Gandhi case here last night that Tan Sri Zainun Ali — one of the five judges who made the unanimous ruling in January to nullify the muallaf or Muslim-convert certificates — did not declare the children non-Muslim when reading out the 99-page judgment.

As such, the ruling only affected the validity of their muallaf or Muslim conversion certificates, which the lawyer said was merely administrative.

“If you read the judgement, the honourable Datuk [sic] Zainun, she stated that the challenge made [by Indira] was not regarding the children’s religious status. The challenge was in relation to whether the conversion certificates issued by the authority is valid or not, in accordance with the enactment.

“So as usual, she did not touch on the hukum, you know. She touched on administrative [matters].

“In Islam, as we know it, the hukum is, they are Muslims, but from an administrative side, they have a certificate. Is having a certificate or not, what makes us Muslims? No,” Haniff Khatri said at the public talk titled “Forum Ummah: The case of Indira Gandhi — Constitutional implications” held at the Sultan Sulaiman Club.

The lawyer had previously represented another Muslim convert Izwan Abdullah who was involved in a custodial tussle in court with his Hindu ex-wife S. Deepa for their two children, then aged 11 and eight years old respectively.

To illustrate his point, Haniff Khatri then gave as example Muslim couples who flee to Thailand to marry but face difficulties once they are back here, alleging that local religious authorities do not recognise such unions.

He added that although such marriages may not be acknowledged by Malaysian authorities, they are valid under Islam until the afterlife. He argued that the same principle applied to the religious status of Indira’s children with her Muslim convert ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.

According to Haniff Khatri, the Federal Court judgment on the Indira Gandhi case was also not clearly written to distinguish between the limitations of the apex court’s jurisdiction and Islamic laws, which would lead Malaysians to believe the children were not Muslims.

“But because of the way the judgment was written, and because what is administrative and hukum was not distinguished, the consequence is that people would assume that the kids are not Muslims.

“However, from the Islamic law aspect, they are Muslims,” he said, adding that in Islam, personal rights are inferior to religious laws.

On January 29, the Federal Court ruled that consent from both parents are needed to change the religion of their children and voided the April 2, 2009 unilateral conversion of Indira’s three children by her ex-husband Muhammad Riduan who was formerly known as K. Pathmanathan.

The ruling brought clarity to an issue that had plagued Malaysia for years, but which the government and Parliament did not resolve despite pledges to the effect.

The Federal Court also ruled that the country’s civil courts are empowered to examine matters related to Islamic law, notwithstanding a constitutional amendment that precluded them from considering topics under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts. The Shariah courts only have jurisdiction over Muslims.

In a May 2016, Indira told Malay Mail that both her older children have been practising Hindus since birth, with their identity cards still carrying the names they were born with and stating their religious status as Hindu.

The youngest child, Prasana Diksa was taken away by her father as an 11-month-old nine years ago despite Indira winning full custody in the civil High Court.

Prasana Diksa was last seen in a photo wearing a tudung, the headscarf usually worn by Muslim women.

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