Take family permission for conversion, Malaysia tells non-Muslims

April 11th, 2008 - 6:12 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, April 11 (IANS) The Malaysian government will introduce a regulation requiring non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam to inform their family before doing so. Announcing the move Thursday, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said: “We will have a regulation. When a person wants to convert to Islam, we have to ask him whether his wife knows about it. If people want to convert, there is nothing wrong, why must they hide? Tell them (the family).”

Noting that there was no such regulation at present, Badawi advised non-Muslims wanting to convert to inform their families to “make things easier for everyone”, The Star quoted him as saying Friday.

“We don’t want problems later when the man converts and converts the children also, when the wife has rights too,” he said after chairing a meeting of the National Council on Islamic Religious Affairs here.

Religious bodies and the Malaysian Bar Council have welcomed Badawi’s announcement, the newspaper said.

Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan lauded the measure but said details of its implementation must be worked out.

She said Islamic authorities must be satisfied that the family of the person wanting to convert had been informed before allowing the non-Muslim to proceed with his or her intention.

“This is only one of the issues that faces a non-converting spouse and there are many others that need to be looked into, but this is an important step,” she said.

Conversion is allowed under the Malaysian constitution. However, there have been many cases of families of non-Muslims challenging the decision in courts, especially when it comes to the question of the faith the children should follow.

Court rulings asking the complainant to go to the Islamic Sharia court have been resented.

One such case was of a former army commando, a Hindu, whose family pursued the case before law after he died. They disputed his decision and wanted to cremate him as per Hindu rights.

Badawi said he told those at the meeting that religious issues were “very sensitive” and should be tackled wisely to avoid racial tension.

Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary Hermen Shastri said the council had repeatedly made such a proposal to prevent problems when a spouse discovered that his or her partner had converted in secret.

“But we should go further in ensuring that should the non-converting spouse not want to follow the converted spouse (in converting to Islam), all matters regarding the dissolution of the marriage must be handled in the civil court,” he said.

Shastri suggested that converting non-Muslims should be required to provide documented proof that they had informed their families.

“This is to avoid conflicts arising within the family when the converted spouse makes claims, legal or otherwise, which the non-converting spouse is kept in the dark about, for example, on the conversion and custody of children and property rights,” he said.

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