KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — The High Court has today dismissed the Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council's (MAIPs) legal bid to intervene in a divorce petition between single mother Loh Siew Hong and her ex-husband who unilaterally converted their three children to Islam.
In dismissing MAIP's leave application, Judge Evrol Mariette Peters said MAIPs, as the proposed intervener, failed to show it was an interested party to be involved in the lives of Loh's children when it applied for a variation on the terms of the sole custody order granted to the mother.
"The application is dismissed. The decision for this court is not based on which religion the children should embrace, remain in or renounce. It is not about choosing one religion or another and definitely not about which religion should prevail," the judge said.
"The decision of this court must be and is about the exercise of the rights of children and as such whether the proposed intervener has the right to involve in the children's lives by intervening by varying the order granted by this court in March 2021 which should be for the betterment of the children."
She said that if one were to assume the children do indeed profess the Islamic faith, the application for leave would still have been disallowed with a resounding "no".
"My decision is even if children are in fact Muslims, this application would fail as the proposed intervener has failed to show it's an interested person," she added.
Peters said the children were not shown to be orphans and they do not belong to the Perlis state community. She added that the children's connection to the state is "fleeting" as they currently reside in Selangor with their mother.
Loh's children were taken away from her in 2019 by her ex-husband who has since converted to Islam and then secretly converted the couple’s children in Perlis.
Peters also drew an analogy where a leave application was akin to asking a dinner host — in this case, the court — to enter their home and eventually sit down for dinner with the family, of which caution must be taken since there are children that it needs to protect.
"If this court is sure the guest that is knocking on the door is not on the guest list, then there is no point unlocking the door to allow them to enter, then it would be a waste of time not like the guest but the host as well," she said.
During the hearing of the application for leave in April, MAIPs' lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla argued that MAIPs has a statutory duty to look after the wellbeing, education and guidance of Muslim converts.
According to Mohamed Haniff, he said Perlis’ state enactment empowered MAIPs with jurisdiction to provide for the religious education of any Muslim converts registered in the state.
In her decision, Peters also said MAIPs failed to convince the court on whether its involvement is required as it failed to show whether Loh was incapable of bringing up her children as Muslims.
“In my view that is premature because there is no proof before this court,” Peters added.
Peters also awarded RM8,000 in cost to Loh.
When met outside the courtroom, Loh’s lawyer A Srimurugan said his client was pleased and expressed joy following the decision as she had "gone through a lot".
However, he said he would be taking instructions from Loh on the matter of allowing the children to meet with their father who is currently serving time at the Machang Moral Rehabilitation Centre for a drug offence.
Earlier, the court was informed by lawyer Malcolm Fernandez who was appearing for Muhammad Nagashwaran Muniandy – Loh’s ex-husband – relayed the father’s wish to speak to his three children.
Nagashwaran, who is slated for release this year, made a request to the court to be given access to communicate with his children once weekly.
The court fixed July 4 for case management.
On March 7, MAIPs filed the intervention application so that the religious authority would have locus standi to apply for a variation on the terms of the sole custody order granted to Loh.
In the divorce petition, Loh, 34, has been granted sole custody, care and control over the three children.
On February 21, the three siblings who were under the care of the Social Welfare Department were released to Loh after the High Court allowed her habeas corpus application.