February 4, 2018
The Malaysian government’s recent announcement that it may reintroduce a clause preventing the conversion of children to Islam by one parent has sparked debate in the country.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said on Jan 30 that the government is considering reintroducing clause 88A to the Marriage and Divorce Act, according to reports in the Star Newspaper.
The clause, known also as 88A, states that the religion of a child “shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion” although the child can, with the consent of both parents, choose to convert to Islam at the age of 18.
Najib’s statement came a day after the Federal Court ruled that the unilateral conversion of Hindu kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi’s three children to Islam by her ex-husband was invalid, according to the Star.
Indira, 42, had separated from her husband following his conversion from Hinduism to Islam, but he had then converted all three of their children – then 12 years, 11 years and 11 months old – to Islam without her knowledge.
The court’s decision was based in part on its interpretation of Article 12(4) of the constitution, which states that the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.
The Federal Court decided that the word “parent” in fact refers to both parents, and the use of the singular form is intended to cover cases where only one parent is alive, according to The Star.
Commenting on the ruling, Najib said that the government was looking into the matter and urged all parties to respect the decision.
However, the government’s decision to reconsider introducing Clause 88A has gotten mixed reactions.
Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), Malaysia’s main Islamist party, voiced its objection to the latest development, with the party’s Information chief, Nasrudin Hassan, warning that any attempts to include the clause could cause tension.
The Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association also urged the government not to be too hasty in introducing Clause 88A.
“We respect the ruling of the Federal Court … but we also want to stress that this issue needs a long-term solution which is more comprehensive in order to create harmony,” the association’s president, Musa Awang, is quoted saying in The Star.
“An amendment would only raise current tensions and can inflame the anger of Muslims,” he said.