Malaysia's Top Court Upholds Ruling Against Unilateral Child Conversion to Islam

Malaysia's Federal Court rejects appeal, upholding ruling that unilateral conversion of Hindu mother's three children to Islam is unconstitutional. The children will remain Hindus, reaffirming a 2018 landmark ruling that protects parental rights and religious freedom.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Malaysia's Top Court Upholds Ruling Against Unilateral Child Conversion to Islam

Malaysia's Top Court Upholds Ruling Against Unilateral Child Conversion to Islam

Mother Loh Siew Hong's three children to Islam, which was initially carried out in 2020. The appeal was filed by the Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIPs) and three other parties, but a three-person Federal Court bench, chaired by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, unanimously rejected it on May 14, 2024.

Why this matters: This landmark ruling has significant implications for religious freedom and parental rights in Malaysia, as it sets a precedent for the protection of children's religious identities from unilateral conversions. It also reinforces the importance of upholding constitutional rights and preventing the misuse of religious laws in the country.

The bench, which also included Tan Sri Nallini Pathmanathan and Datuk Abu Bakar Jais, upheld the ruling of the Court of Appeal, which had previously dismissed the conversion as unconstitutional. The Perlis government, the Registrar of Converts, and the state mufti had joined MAIPs in their bid to appeal the decision.

Loh Siew Hong, a Hindu, married Nagahswaran Muniandy in 2008 and had three children, who were all born in Kedah and registered as Hindus. However, after alleged domestic violence incidents in 2017 and 2019 that left Loh hospitalized, she was separated from her children for nearly three years. During this time, Nagahswaran converted to Islam in July 2020 and had the children converted as well, without Loh's knowledge or consent.

In March 2021, the High Court granted Loh sole guardianship and custody of the children. She then challenged the conversion of her children to Islam, but the High Court dismissed her case in May 2022. Loh appealed this decision, and on January 10, 2023, the Court of Appeal ruled in her favor, declaring the unilateral conversion unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeal granted nine orders, including declaring the children as adherents of Hinduism, quashing their conversion certificates, and compelling the Perlis authorities to remove their names from the state's registry of Muslim converts. The court also declared Section 117(b) of the state law, which allows children to be converted without both parents' consent, as unconstitutional and invalid. Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail stated, "A Perlis state law provision that allows conversion of children to Islam with just one parent's consent is unconstitutional."

The Federal Court's decision to deny the appeal means that the Court of Appeal's January 2023 verdict stands as the final ruling in this case. As a result, Loh Siew Hong's three children will remain Hindus. The landmark ruling reaffirms the Federal Court's 2018 decision in the M. Indira Gandhi case, which established that the unilateral conversion of children to Islam by one parent without the consent of the other is unconstitutional and invalid under Malaysian law.

Key Takeaways

  • Mother Loh Siew Hong's 3 children will remain Hindus after Federal Court rejects appeal.
  • Unilateral conversion of children to Islam by one parent is unconstitutional in Malaysia.
  • Court ruling upholds parental rights and religious freedom in the country.
  • Decision sets precedent for protection of children's religious identities.
  • Ruling reinforces 2018 M. Indira Gandhi case decision on unilateral conversions.