The Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the Selangor Muallaf (new converts to Islam) Department chief registrar are appealing to reinstate the Islamic conversion of three children.
The two state religious agencies’ appeal is over the 2020 Shah Alam High Court ruling which allowed a civil action by the children’s non-Muslim mother to invalidate the conversion initiated by their Muslim convert father.
This was revealed during proceedings of the appeal before a three-person Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Suraya Othman. The other members are Azizah Nawawi and Hashim Hamzah.
Through the mother’s successful legal action, she contended that the conversion of the three children, done in 2015 with the consent of the Muslim father, was invalid as she did not give her consent for it.
She had relied on the landmark 2018 Federal Court decision of M Indira Gandhi against Perak Islamic Religious Department Director and several others.
The apex court ruling then held that in the issue of Islamic conversion of children - where the parents were both initially non-Muslims married under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (LRA) but one of the parents later converted to Islam - then the consent of both parents is required before the children could be converted to Islam.
The 2018 landmark verdict basically empowered the civil courts to review the decision of religious bodies such as state muallaf registries to register the Islamic conversion of individuals.
Malaysia practices a dual-tier legal system, whereby the civil courts generally do not have jurisdiction over religious issues that fall under the powers of the syariah courts.
In the present appeal arising from the 2020 Shah Alam High Court ruling, the parents initially married on March 10, 2001, under the LRA, leading to the birth of the three children on Sept 12, 2002; Aug 27, 2004; and Sept 24, 2007 respectively.
However, on March 16, 2015, the father brought the children to Masjid Saidina Hamzah, Batu Muda, Selangor, whereby he and the three children converted to Islam. The kids were then aged 13, 11 and eight, respectively.
The next day, the father brought the children before the Hidayah Foundation Centre at Taman Melawati, Selangor, whereby all four were registered as muallaf.
The father and mother divorced on March 11, 2019, with custody of the three children given to the mother while the father was granted visitation rights.
However, during today’s Court of Appeal proceedings conducted online via Zoom, counsel Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who acted for Mais and the Selangor Muallaf chief registrar, applied for the hearing to be postponed.
The lawyer said this is because the main issues in the matter would come up for hearing in a separate appeal before the Federal Court tomorrow.
BM version of the Federal Constitution
Among the main issues at the heart of the appeal by Mais and the Selangor Muallaf chief registrar is whether the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution supersedes the English version.
This is because if the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution supersedes the English version, then the constitutional provisions would allow the consent of one parent as sufficient to facilitate the conversion of his or her child to Islam.
The 2018 Indira Gandhi Federal Court decision was made in part due to the opposing parties being unable to prove that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had ever launched the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution
On Sept 30, 2003, it was reported that the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution would supersede the English version when it receives royal assent from the Agong.
During proceedings before the Court of Appeal today, Haniff said the postponement is necessary as the issue of the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Federal Constitution will come up in a separate appeal before the Federal Court tomorrow.
“We wish to postpone this matter until the (Federal Court) hearing of (the separate appeal involving conversion as well) tomorrow, or until we get confirmation from the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) on the launch (by the Agong of the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution),” Haniff said.
When the legal team for the mother raised no objections, Suraya then adjourned the hearing today with later case management to fix the next hearing date of the appeal against the 2020 ruling.