Conversions - can PM live up to Negeri's initiative?
1:31PM Feb 6, 2015
By Nigel Aw
The Negeri Sembilan Islamic Affairs Council (Mains) has earned bi-partisan praise for proposing new rules to resolve conversion tussles but all eyes are now on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to see if he can live up to the state's much-vaunted initiative.
Both DAP and Gerakan have called for the ruling - which will require non-Muslims to resolve their civil marriage status first before converting to Islam - to be implemented in all other states.
"It will be ideal if the other states follow this proposal by Mains in order to avoid future controversy," said Gerakan National Deputy Youth chief Andy Yong.
Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Mohamad Hassan (left), who is Mains chairperson, announced Thursday that under the ruling, anyone wanting to convert to Islam but whose spouse refused must first divorce.
"This means the person who wants to convert to Islam must first sort out all civil mattters including divorce, maintenance and custody," he said.
The new rules also will require any person who converts to Islam to sign a statutory declaration making public their status as a Muslim.
Child custody tussles
"It means you can convert (to Islam) but settle your obligations first as the marriage took place under civil law," DAP's Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran told Malaysiakiniwhen contacted.
Calling the ruling 'long overdue' and 'apt', Kulasegaran said the ruling should not be merely rules but be introduced as law with amendment to the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment 2003.
Kulasegaran (right), a lawyer, is known for handling child custody tussle cases caused by one parent converting to Islam.
There has been several incidents in recent history where a spouse who married under civil law converted to Islam and received custody of the children from the syariah courts while the non-Muslim partner obtained custody from the civil courts. This resulted in a legal and constitutional quagmire.
"The challenge now is whether other states will implement the same kind of rules and this is where the prime minister must take the lead and advise all states to correspondingly implement similar rules," said Kulasegaran.
He recalled that a committee to look into the conversion issue was formed in Parliament in 2009 and another similar committee under the government was set up last year but Najib failed to effect any changes.
"In 2009, the conversion committee proposed that in the case of conversions, the child will be brought up in the faith before the conversion, but no one bothered to implement this as it was merely an advice and the committee was toothless," he said.
"Now that Negeri Sembilan has led the way by taking the right initiative to protect the sanctity of Islam and to prevent similar sufferings by non-Muslim parents from happening to others, the prime minister must not disappoint again. He should now do what ought to have been done," noted Kualsegaran.
However, Vell Paari, son of former MIC president Samy Vellu, said menteri besars and chief ministers should take the initiative to emulate Negeri Sembilan without having to wait for the prime minister.
"This is a state matter, so there is no need to wait for the prime minister," he said.
He hailed Mohamad's move as "bold", for pushing with the new rules in spite of possible opposition from conservative forces.