A Malaysian Hindu mother has gained custody of her 3 children who were converted to Islam after a harrowing legal battle. But her request to nullify the children’s conversion was turned down. The children were converted by their father without the mother’s consent. While Malaysian Hindus rejoice the decision of the court, Islamists ‘fear’ that “hidden hands are pushing to revoke the children’s conversion”.
Loh Siew Hong, a 34 year old Chinese woman by birth, had married Nagahswaran Muniandy, and Indian-origin Hindu. A Buddhist by birth, she had embraced Hindu Dharma after marriage. She had twin girls and a boy who are 14 and 10 year old now respectively. It was an abusive marriage and Hong was abused to the point of requiring medical treatment. Muniandy had converted to Islam in 2020. Hong had filed for divorce and custodu of her children in 2019 and was undergoing treatment to nurse her injuries for a longtime. In the meanwhile Muniandy had taken their 3 children to the state of Perlis and got them converted to Islam.
Malaysian law mandates that the consent of both parents should be taken while converting minor children. After getting back on her feet, Hong tried to find her children. By then, Muniandy had been arrested in a narcotics case and lodged in jail. Hong sought the help of police who found that they were under the protection of an Islamic NGO in the state of Perlis. When Hong tried to meet them the NGO refused to allow her. The court had provided interim custody in 2019 and declared her as the sole custodian in 2021.
Hong rapped the doors of the court again to get her children in February by filing Habeas Corpus petition. the Kuala Lumpur High Court directed the children to be placed under the care of a ‘neutral’ party and they were cared for by the Perlis Welfare Department. Hong told the court the a female Islamic preacher, Nazirah Nanthakumari Abdullah kept her children at an Islamic NGO, Hidayah Centre Foundation where she was denied permission to meet them. They were transferred to a children’s home by the female preacher.
While the mother was not allowed to meet her children citing Covid-19 circumstances, the mufti of Perlis state met the twin girls and posted a video in which he can be seen asking if they “wanted to be Muslims” and if they were “coerced” into converting. The mufti, Asri Zainul Abidin, also told the girls that he would ensure that the girls continued to remain Muslims. The mother feared that they were indoctrinated by the mufti and her fears came true when the first question the girls asked her when she met them was, “Will you convert to Islam?”. Hong was pushed to the point of offering to convert to Islam if it meant she can have her children back.
But she plied on and after hearing her side, the Federal Court of Malaysia has upheld the Kuala Lumpur court’s decision to grant the sole right of custody to Hong. However it didn’t broach the subject of nullifying the conversion and left it to the decision of the Sharia court. As Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, the country has two legal systems, a judiciary for non-Muslims and the Sharia system for Muslims. The “unilateral” conversion issue has been a big headache for Hindus. Another Hindu mother Indira Gandhi had fought a similar battle and in 2018 the court ruled in her favour and nullified the conversion of her children. Hong is expected to lead another legal battle to obtain the same for her children.