Malaysian mum reunites with unilaterally-converted kids whose religious freedom she won back

·9-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — A Malaysian non-Muslim mother is finally back with four of her children her Muslim convert ex-husband had unlawfully taken to Indonesia for four years in defiance of a court order.

Identified only as W, the Selangor woman had to go through years of court battles, with the hardest being to annul the ex-husband’s secret unilateral conversion of their five children to Islam when they were aged three to nine.

In January 2022, W won again at the Federal Court, which meant Selangor's Islamic bodies failed in their bid to appeal two previous decisions in the lower courts which had ordered the cancellation of the five children’s registration as Muslim converts.

But even with the hard-fought win as well as past court orders granting her full custody over the children and stopping the father from taking the children out of Malaysia, W had not seen or spoken to four of her five children for four years from 2019 until 2022.

The mother and the youngest child who were in Malaysia have now been with her four other children for about six months, since their reunion in September 2022.

Here is her experience, as told to Malay Mail when contacted recently.

What happened to the four children

All five children were born to W and her then-husband L in their non-Muslim marriage, but L in 2018 converted himself and all the children to Islam without the mother’s knowledge and consent. W believes L converted as he was planning to marry an Indonesian Muslim.

After discovering that L had withdrawn the five children from school in January 2019, W managed to get an injunction from the High Court the same month to stop him from taking the children out of Malaysia and requiring him to inform her of any changes to their location.

According to the mother, the ex-husband initially tried to fly to Indonesia with the children, but had been stopped by Malaysia’s immigration authorities due to the injunction order.

However, he subsequently took the four of the children into Thailand by bus, before flying to Indonesia. To this day, W said she is puzzled why they were not stopped at the Malaysia-Thai border as the injunction prevented him from taking the children out of Malaysia.

In February 2020, the High Court issued an arrest warrant against the ex-husband after finding his removal of the children from Malaysia to be in contempt of the 2019 injunction order.

In September 2020, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur granted W sole custody, guardianship, care and control of all five children, as part of divorce proceedings. The divorce was finalised three months later. W said the ex-husband did not contest the custody order.

By then, however, four of the elder children had already been taken away, and she was left with only the youngest child.

Having been separated from her children for four years since 2019, the mother said she worried about them as she had no contact with them at all and had nightmares about losing them forever.

How did she manage to reunite?

In late August 2022, she heard that the ex-husband had returned to Malaysia with the four children as they were spotted at a school here.

When she went to the school, W said she was able to meet with two of the children briefly and for the first time in years.

While she had shown the school the court documents granting her full custody rights over the children, she was told to resolve that matter first before arranging to transfer her children to a new school.

The mother said the police also initially rejected her request for an escort to recover the four children from the ex-husband’s house on grounds that the order did not say their presence was required. She had applied to ensure her safety.

The mother then obtained a court order directing the police to accompany her for the recovery bid, which also authorised them to enter the premises to recover the children even if the ex-husband withheld permission.

Finally, on September 19, 2022, the mother went with her lawyers and the police to L’s residence, where he initially refused to open the door and sought to hide his presence.

W, L and their children were then all brought to the police station the same day, where the police explained to the father that the court order granted full custody and care of all children to the mother. All four children then followed the mother home.

Moving on

While the two elder children could recognise her after so many years apart, W said the third child had less recollection of her while the fourth had forgotten her as they had been separated while the child was at a very young age.

It took time and effort for them to bond again, after the years of being forcibly apart. Although glad to be reunited, W said she would always regret losing all those years with her children that she would never recover.

The children have adapted to living together, and W said she had previously already explained to the youngest child that the four elder siblings would be returning to stay with them to help him adjust.

W was initially worried the four children would not be able to cope in their new schools, but said they quickly made friends and settled down although they still must catch up on their studies due to the different level of education they had received in Indonesia.

Based on the court order granting her custody, the father still has visiting rights for alternate weekends. W said the fourth child, who is closest to the father, still regularly sees him but the three elder children have chosen not to do so.

Despite the previous ordeal, the mother said she did not intend to stop her ex-husband from seeing their children so long as they were willing to talk to him and the visits did not upset them and disrupt their studies.

W also said L has not made any of the maintenance payments from the divorce order including money for the children’s schooling as the ex-husband, who has a new family with other children, claimed he could not afford these.

She also questioned why L was never arrested despite the open warrant issued in 2020 after he took the four children out of the country in contempt of a court order, saying the warrant had also been meant to aid in her recovery of the four children who should be under her custody and care.

W said she was willing to let the matter go now since she has already been reunited with the children.

Why the mother challenged the unilateral conversion

The four children taken to Indonesia had studied Islam while there and continued with Islamic classes in the school the ex-husband had sent them to upon their return to Malaysia, W said.

She said they were enrolled under their names as Muslim converts even though their official names with the National Registration Department (NRD) remain their original birth names as non-Muslims.

After the successful recovery of the four children, W’s lawyers on October 11 last year wrote to the lawyers representing the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) to serve the court order which required the cancellation of all five children’s unilateral conversion to Islam.

When contacted, W’s lawyers Toh Lee Khim and Audrey Aw Yong said the council’s legal representatives on October 20 last year sent a written reply along with a confirmation letter from Mais dated October 19, 2022.

The Mais letter confirmed that all five children’s registration as Muslim converts have been stricken from its registry of Muslim converts, appending proof of the cancellation.

W said she had explained to her children that they were no longer converts as a result of the court order, and that she intended for them to have the freedom to decide their religion as adults.

“They understood. I explained that after you grow up, if you think you like Islam, Islam is suitable for you, you wish to convert to Islam, or if your girlfriend or boyfriend is a Muslim, you think it’s alright to convert to Islam, that is your freedom because you have already grown up, you can make your own choice,” she said.

“I’m not saying that Islam is not good, but I wish for the children to make their own choice when they grow up.”

She said she went through such lengths to secure her children’s freedom of choice as non-Muslims, as past cases have shown the difficulties in leaving the religion after converting to Islam in Malaysia.

W said her case, which was filed in 2019, still took years despite her series of victories and the ex-husband’s consistent absence as Islamic authorities kept contesting the decisions, requiring the matter to be argued all the way to the Federal Court.

She said her children have not been compelled to enter any religion now while living with her, and that they are also free to celebrate the many different festivals in Malaysia as a family or with their friends.

A mother’s advice

Asked if she has any advice for those in a similar situation, W urged them to be mindful of the financial costs, among others, of going to the courts for a solution.

W tried to seek legal aid from the government and a federal lawmaker’s legal team, but was unsuccessful due to the complexity of her case. In the end, she had to retain her own lawyer and was fortunate to find one that allowed her to make part payments as well as having friends who offered to lend her money if needed.

In total, W said it cost her a hefty sum in legal costs and court fees to secure her children’s return to her and their freedom to determine their own religion as adults.

“Unless you really love your child, no matter how much you need to spend in terms of money or time, you really wish to have your child to be by your side, you view your child to be more important than anything else, then you can go and do it,” she said, citing the determination, time and energy required for a parent to recover their children and also the legal costs that kept mounting.

She also said it was important to have the support of others such as friends as it would have felt insurmountable if she could only rely on herself.

W said going to news outlets was an option but that she shunned this route as she valued her and her children’s privacy, and wanted to settle the matter privately if possible, but said she would have done so as a final resort.

Click here to read more about her past court cases.