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The Negri 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.
FORMER CHIEF SHARIAH JUDGE of Terengganu Datuk Ismail Yahya WELCOMED the Negri Sembilan government's move to compel Muslim converts to dissolve their civil marriages before converting, saying that it will help allay the negative perceptions some quarters have of Islam.
Datuk Ismail Yahya Former said currently, there was UNFAIRNESD to the NON -converting spouse as the party that embraces Islam would try to use the shariah courts to gain his or her rights as a Muslim although the person had yet to fulfil his responsibilities in the civil marriage.
And various groups are urging other states to follow the Negri Sembilan government in introducing new laws for Muslim converts, noting that the state has now done what PUTRAJAYA FAILED TO DO to resolve problems like the unilateral conversion of children by one spouse.
DAP, MCA and Gerakan have urged that 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.
National news agency Bernama reported yesterday that several proposed new regulations will be enforced in Negri Sembilan in a move to strengthen the law on converting to Islam as stipulated in the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 2003.
Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the proposed regulations would not only strengthen the enactment, but would also avoid controversy and, most importantly, would ensure that Islam would not be ridiculed or insulted just because of a wrongdoing of a Muslim convert.
Negri Sembilan Menteri Besar Mohamad Hassan who is Mains chairperson, announced yesterday 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.
1. LAWYER KULA SEGARAN
"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 Malaysiakini when 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 (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 2003.
Kulasegaran, 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 Negri 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.
2. VELI PAARI FROM MIC
Vell Paari, son of former MIC president Samy Vellu, said menteri besars and chief ministers should take the initiative to emulate Negri 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.
3. Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAC)
Women's rights groups under the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAC) also welcomed the proposal, calling it a positive step forward in addressing long-standing problems arising from the secret conversion of a person to Islam and the ensuing pain and trauma of family members. –
4. FORMER CHIEF SHARIAH JUDGE of Terengganu Datuk Ismail Yahya
READ HERE http://tinyurl.com/kr6p3pc
Former head shariah judge of Terengganu Datuk Ismail Yahya welcomed the Negri Sembilan government's move to compel Muslim converts to dissolve their civil marriages before converting, saying that it will help allay the negative perceptions some quarters have of Islam.
"What was suggested by Negri Sembilan as reported is a good way to settle these issues arising," said Ismail, who is also former Terengganu mufti.
He added however that there was also unfairness towards the converting spouse under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, which governs civil marriages.
This is because the spouse who converts to Islam is prohibited from filing for divorce, whereas under Islamic law, when a woman from a non-Muslim marriage embraces Islam but her spouse does not follow suit, the marriage has to be dissolved.
He said that Section 51 in the Law Reform Act provides that when one party in marriage converts to Islam, the other party who has not converted may file for divorce.
The section also provides that no petition under the section shall be presented before the expiration of the period of three months from the date of the conversion.
The court upon dissolving the marriage may make provisions for the wife and husband, and for the support, care and custody of the children of the marriage, if any, and may attach any conditions to the decree of the dissolution as it deems fit.
He said this meant that if the spouse that did not embrace Islam did not file a divorce petition, the civil marriage would still be valid despite the fact that the spouse had converted while the other remained a non-Muslim.
He also highlighted the 1990 case of Pedley v Pulau Pinang Religious Council, where the wife embraced Islam and made an application to the Penang Shariah Court to dissolve the civil marriage.
The Shariah Court dissolved the marriage by giving notice to the husband that the marriage would be dissolved if he did not embrace Islam within the stipulated time frame.
The dissolution notice, however, was not accepted by the High Court of Malaya for the purpose of dissolving the union between a Muslim and non-Muslim spouse.
"Such a thing should not happen in Malaysia, so what is proposed by the Negri Sembilan religious authority will solve such issues between the parties," Ismail said.
5. . Former Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan
Datuk Ambiga also commended Negri Sembilan MB Mohamad Hasan for "presenting the case so clearly" and the state ruler for consenting to the provisions.
"This is something that the federal government had tried to do a few years ago but failed.
"There may be some issues to iron out, but this is a n important first step which will bring hope to many wives and children who have been victims of the jurisdictional divide between civil and shariah laws," she said.
6. Gerakan YOUTH
GERAKAN also hailed the move saying it would effectively solve the poser over a child's religion after one spouse converts to Islam, as the Federal Constitution states that the religion of a person under 18 shall be decided by his parent and guardian.
Gerakan deputy youth chief Andy Yong said the interpretation of the word "parent" had been disputed in the courts and created a legal problem as to whether it should mean one parent only or could be read to mean both parents.