Mothers and their children should not be separated

MAY 19 ― Unless the mother is physically, psychologically and emotionally unfit to be around her child, we should do all we can to preserve that union. Neither religion nor politics should be allowed to come in between them. Laws and policies that do, need to be changed. They simply do not have a place in a civil society.

Men who use religion to instigate a separation between a mother and her child belongs in jail. At least that is what we should expect from a civilised society.

So it makes you wonder where we are when discussing Indira Gandhi’s case. Or Shamala’s case in 2004. Or Subashini’s case in 2008.

And whatever your opinion on the matter, we have to agree that one of the main reasons the mother is deprived of her children is the interpretation of law with regard to Islam.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, cannot be right.

Shariah and civil laws

Though the Shariah court has complete juridiction when it comes to matters involving Islam, this is not about whether the conversion is valid in the “religious” sense.

We are not talking about whether or not the children and father recited the right verses, fulfilled the necessary requirements or know their obligation as Muslims.

None of that.

The issue here is whether or not a parent can unilaterally convert his/her child, without the knowledge and consent of the other parent. That is not an Islamic but a Constitutional matter that needs to be presented in a Civil Court.

The Malaysian Cabinet ― I assume ― realised this and decided in April 2009 that children of parents, where one of them opts to convert, must continue to be raised in the common religion at the time of the marriage.

Such a decision, though rare from the Cabinet, makes absolute sense. But why wasn’t it followed through?

Presenting this in Shariah Court is therefore not right. It’s similar to trying a Muslim woman in Shariah court after she is denied treatment at a government hospital for not wearing the “tudung.”

Yes, the woman may be a Muslim, but the hypothetical case has nothing to do with Islam or religion. It’s a matter of policy regarding the wearing of “tudung” when seeking treatment in public hospitals.

It’s civil. Not religious.

Where are the heroes of Islam?

The only part where religion comes in, if any, is the part where true Muslims cannot be indifferent to the fate of someone else, deny them their rights, and be dismissive of the suffering inflicted with the dissolution of a marriage just because they are non-Muslims.

And to use Islam as a means to end the marriage is unlawful and should be stopped.

I was actually hoping for a tougher, no nonsense stand from the religious authorities. Instead of fighting bogeymen and combating hysteria that only seems to afflict Muslims in religious schools, Islamic authorities need to discourage this kind of irresponsible behaviour in converts.

Use a different approach in guiding those interested to convert, perhaps? Instead of telling them what they cannot eat, wear, read, visit, maybe they should emphasise the part where Islam is a religion of peace, compassion, mercy where Muslims cannot be ignorant about the fate of someone who is of a different religion.

Unilaterally converting the children, knowing that that will deny and complicate the custody process cannot be the action of a good Muslim.

And the authorities should be held as accomplices if they allow the process to go through without first determining the convert’s real motives.

This is a multi-religious Malaysia

Because their indifference is unfair to non-Muslims.

It promotes inequality in the name of Islam. It implies, perceived or real, that a Muslim parent has more rights than a non-Muslim parent.

That is wrong. And unconstitutional.

Article 8 of the Federal Constitution guarantees our equal rights and protection before the law. It also made unlawful for the state to legislate laws that are discriminative against Malaysians on the grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender.

You may say that it is not my place to talk about it because I am not a legal expert. While that may be so, perhaps it’s good to know that the common people can understand the concept of justice.

And since we equate justice to law, laws must be just. Unjust laws, if any, are bad laws that need to be amended and buried in the annals of Malaysian history.

Unilateral religious conversion is unjust and has no place in a multi religious, civil society living in a modern, progressive and tolerant Malaysia.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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