Let Indira’s ruling light the way

FEBRUARY 4 — It should have been a simple and straightforward case.

A man — formerly a Hindu — converted to Islam and abducted his youngest daughter, who was barely one-year-old at the time. By virtue of his now being a Muslim, he had converted all three children to Islam as well, without obtaining consent from their mother.

And simply by virtue of him now being a Muslim, and his children now suddenly Muslim, he had been granted permanent custody by the Shariah court.

There is little need to speculate why Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, born K. Pathmanathan, took this drastic route. He did it because he could, and because he can — even up until now — get away with it.

Then, the Federal court — in a shock decision — unanimously ruled the unilateral conversions of the three children null and void.

The court decided that the consent of both parents are needed before a conversion can take place, and that the Registrar of Muslim Converts in this case had acted beyond his powers in registering the three children as Muslims, even when they were not present to recite the proclamation of faith and fulfil the legal requirements for such a conversion.

The case took nine years, complicated by the tangle that arose from the clash of jurisdiction between the civil court and the Shariah court.

M. Indira Gandhi (right) with her mother after the Federal Court annulled the unilateral conversion of her three children in Putrajaya on January 29, 2018. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
M. Indira Gandhi (right) with her mother after the Federal Court annulled the unilateral conversion of her three children in Putrajaya on January 29, 2018. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

Finally, the ruling brought clarity. And most importantly, it did what Parliament had failed to do when the latter backed off from inserting Section 88A in the amendment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act that would have banned unilateral conversion once and for all.

Back then, Islamist party PAS had even ransomed the public to stop opposing its Shariah Bill that would have opened doors to the Islamic penal law of hudud, failing which it would sabotage any attempt to pass a ban against unilateral conversion.

With this ruling, PAS’ blackmail effectively has no power over us. And Putrajaya would do well to finally table this amendment in Parliament’s next sitting.

The child in this landmark case, Prasana Diksa, was just 11 months old when she was abducted. She would turn 10 later this year, with her mother M. Indira Gandhi not being able to hug or hold her since because the police had previously refused to carry out several court orders to arrest Riduan and return Prasana to Indira — claiming a clash between the two courts.

Imagine that, a federal security enforcement agency had failed to act because it deferred to the state courts, even when a federal court had decided otherwise.

The previous inspector-general of police failed in his duty to protect and serve the public, and his successor in this regard has outdone him by promising to finally find the two.

And now, the Muslim Scholars Association of Malaysia (PUM) has the gall to disrespect the decision by demanding that the police refrain from hunting Riduan and Prasana “until a solution is found.” When in fact, the solution has been found, and there is no question about it.

Reading between the lines, what the Muslim scholars and their supporters meant was that any child who has been converted to Islam, even without consent, even against their will, and even unlawfully, must be forced to stay Muslim no matter what.

Even when the two other children of Indira’s told Malay Mail that they are firmly Hindu, and have been since their birth. With the ruling, they can finally affirm their identity instead of being mistakenly labelled Muslim.

The PUM warned that religious sectarian violence may erupt in this country if the police goes ahead to recover Prasana and her conversion is voided.

But desperados like PUM cannot see the point, blinded by their compulsion to force Islam down others’ throats — that Indira had merely wished to see her daughter again. In fact, Indira told Malay Mail that she could not care less what Prasana’s religion is now.

We should never take PUM’s threat lightly though as it could be the impetus that sparks some zealot into committing terrorism on our home soil. There is no excuse to suggest violence, and the authorities must act swiftly and decisively against groups such as PUM so no such threats can surface ever again — no matter how respected they may be when it comes to theology.

Indira’s ruling has brought hope to many, especially non-Muslims, whose rights have long been trampled, especially when it clashes with the interests of Muslims here.

Already, another Hindu mother S. Deepa whose son was abducted by her ex-husband who converted to Islam and unilaterally converted his children is looking into a similar suit to void that conversion.

There have been several similar cases; it is hard to believe that such a malicious method to gain custody is just coincidence. We can only hope that it ends from now on.

There have been claims that the ruling was “Islamophobic”, and the judge had failed to act properly since they lack Islamic guidance.

As the saying goes, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

However, the most important part of the Indira ruling is the final say that the civil courts can review matters involving Islam as well, and the Shariah court does not have exclusive jurisdiction just because it involves Islam.

We must take this forward, and use this ruling as not only a legal precedent. It must be a shining light to guide our way to push back rampant Islamisation and ensure justice for all.

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