Five ministers to tackle conversion case

KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — Five ministers have been tasked to look into the case of three Indian children converted to Islam by their father without the mother's consent — the first time the government has done this.

The sensitive issue of religious conversion involving children after one spouse becomes a Muslim has become a headache for the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.

The ministers will have to resolve the case, which surfaced recently when an Indian woman claimed her estranged husband had secretly converted their three young children to Islam in Ipoh.

The five comprise three ministers in the Prime Minister's Department — Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon (Unity), Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom (Islamic Affairs) and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz (Law) — as well as Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Shahrizat Jalil and Human Resources Minister Datuk S. Subramaniam. How they deal with the matter will reflect Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's plan to tackle this sensitive issue.

In the latest case, K. Patmanathan, 40, converted on March 11 without the knowledge of his wife, Indira Ghandi, a 35-year-old kindergarten teacher. Indira claimed her husband also converted their children — aged one, 11 and 12 years — by using their birth certificates.

The couple have been married for 16 years, but their relationship has been in trouble for a long time.

Indira said she was now living in fear of losing her children as her husband was seeking custody through the Syariah Court.

The youngest child is with him, while the two older children live with her. “I am worried about my children's studies. Their lives have been disrupted as a result of this. They can't go anywhere as I fear they will be taken from me,” Indira told reporters on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Koh urged all parties to remain calm and not to make comments in public as the matter was now with the court.

Despite the government's prompt action in this case, many were still not satisfied and wanted the ministers to come up with a solution soon.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said it would help Indira appeal to the Conference of Rulers to intervene in the case. The sultans are the heads of Islam in their respective states.

“We are appealing to the sultans as the Rulers of the people in their respective states in the country. We will appeal to them and will write to them once we have determined how to go about it,” said council president A. Vaithilingam.

During Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration, there were several cases of disputes over religious conversion, and the opposition had used the issue to attack the government.

Last year, then Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim assured the people that the government was prepared to amend marriage laws and Islamic laws to resolve the issue. However, the proposal was never brought up again after he resigned. — The Straits Times

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