Malaysia

Mais loses final appeal to restore five kids' unilateral conversion to Islam, Federal Court upholds Indira decision where both parents' consent needed


Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat is pictured at the Opening of the Legal Year 2022 at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 14, 2022. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat is pictured at the Opening of the Legal Year 2022 at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 14, 2022. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — The Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) today failed in its final court bid to reinstate the 2015 conversion of five young children to Islam when they were aged in the range of around three and nine years old.

A three-judge panel in the country’s highest court chaired by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat unanimously ruled in favour of the mother and dismissed the application for leave to appeal filed by both the Mais chairman and the Mais registrar of muallaf or Muslim converts.

“This is our unanimous decision. The application does not meet the threshold of Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act for leave to be granted.

“The issue before us has been settled by the decision of this court in M. Indira Gandhi’s case. The courts below were therefore correct in following Indira Gandhi.

“Further the provision of Section 117 of the enactment is very clear that a person who is not Muslim may convert to the religion of Islam if he is of sound mind and attain 18 years or if he has not attain, the mother and father must consent to the conversion.

“The application is therefore dismissed,” Tengku Maimun said.

The Federal Court had earlier heard the submissions from Mais’ lawyer, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, and Toh Lee Khim, the lawyer for the children’s mother.

The two other judges on the Federal Court panel today were Datuk Vernon Ong Lam Kiat and Datuk Sri Hasnah Mohammed Hashim.

In Malaysia, those who wish to appeal in a lawsuit to the Federal Court would first have to seek leave to appeal.

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In this case, Mais had sought to appeal against a lower court ruling that granted the mother’s (named only as W) application to revoke the conversion of her five children to Islam, made unilaterally by her ex-husband (known as L).

The father converted the five children, aged between eight and 14, in November 2018 without W’s knowledge and consent.

She only knew that the children had become Muslims after receiving a letter from Mais in August 2019.

The case started on September 6, 2019 when the mother filed a judicial review in the High Court challenging her children’s unilateral conversion to Islam.

She named Mais, the Mais registrar of Muslim converts, the Education Ministry director-general, the government of Malaysia and the father L as the five respondents.

Both the Education Ministry director-general and the government of Malaysia did not object to the case back then.

In the judicial review, the mother sought court orders to quash the children’s conversion and their registration as Muslim converts and for the court to order both Mais and the Selangor registrar of Muslim converts to cancel the children’s registration and remove the children’s registration as Muslim converts from Mais and the registrar’s records.

On July 21, 2020, High Court judge Datuk Seri Tun Abd Majid Tun Hamzah ruled in favour of the mother, deciding that the five children’s conversion to Islam were invalid under a Selangor state law and quashed both their conversion and their registration as Muslim converts.

Among other things, the High Court judge had ruled that the Federal Court’s latest decision in 2018 in Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi’s case — where it was decided that children’s conversion to Islam need both parents’ consent — was binding.

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The case then went on to the Court of Appeal.

And on August 20 last year, an all-Muslim three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal by Mais and the Selangor registrar of muallaf, upholding the High Court decision.

In both the appeal bids to the Court of Appeal and Federal Court, only Mais and the Selangor registrar of muallaf appealed against the decision to quash the children’s unilateral conversion to Islam.

The other three whom the mother first sued — her ex-husband L, the Education Ministry director-general and the government of Malaysia — had not appealed against either the High Court or Court of Appeal decisions even though they remained part of the suit at the Federal Court level.

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