Court allows mother’s appeal, rules children’s unilateral conversion unlawful

PUTRAJAYA – The Court of Appeal has set aside the unilateral conversion of single mother Loh Siew Hong’s (picture) three children to Islam after ruling that the unilateral conversion by her ex-husband is unlawful.

In a unanimous decision, Justice Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail, who chaired the three-member bench, said on the issue of unilateral conversion, the court was bound by the decision of Indira Gandhi’s case which held that consent of both parents must be obtained before the minor children can be converted to other religion.

“Therefore, we allowed the appeal by the applicant (Loh) and set aside the High Court’s decision,” said Justice Hadhariah, who sat with Justices Datuk Hashim Hamzah and Datuk Azhahari Kamal Ramli.

Justice Hadhariah also allowed the single mother judicial relief that, among others, declares that her three children are Hindus.

On May 11 last year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh rejected Loh’s bid to challenge the unilateral conversion of her children to Islam after ruling that there was no evidence the three children had stopped professing the religion of Islam when they are under the care of their mother.

Justice Hadhariah in her brief judgment said the High Court did not address two pertaining issues in the judicial review proceedings brought by Loh.

She said these two issues were whether the unilateral conversion was lawful and whether Section 117(b) of the Perlis Administration of Islam Enactment (Amended) 2006 was unconstitutional as it contradicted Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution.

“The failure of the High Court judge to answer these two issues is a clear misdirection that is tantamount to error of law,” she said.

On the issue of unilateral conversion, Justice Hadhariah said the court was bound by the decision in Indira Gandhi’s case which held that the consent of both parents must be obtained before minor children can be converted to another religion.

“In this case, it is not disputed that the appellant (Loh) did not consent to the three children’s conversion to Islam,” she added.

Loh, 37, led the application on March 25, 2022, and named the Perlis State Registrar of Converts, Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIPs), Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, and the Perlis state government as the rst to the fourth respondents.

The single mother is seeking a declaration that her three children are Hindus and that her Muslim-convert ex-husband, M. Nagahswaran, did not have the legal capacity to allow the Perlis State Registrar of Converts to register their children as converts without her consent.

The woman is also seeking a declaration that her three children, as children, do not have the legal capacity to convert to Islam without her consent.

She is also seeking a certiorari order to revoke the Declaration of Conversion to Islam, dated July 7, 2020, issued by the Registrar of Converts of Perlis in the name of her three children, and also other cards on their conversion to Islam issued by other parties, and also prevent any party from issuing such a card.

The three children, a pair of 16-year-old twin girls and a 13-year-old boy, who were placed under the care of the Social Welfare Department, were released to Loh on Feb 21, 2022, after the High Court allowed her habeas corpus application.

Loh was represented by lawyers A. Srimurugan and J. Gunamalar while MAIPs was represented by lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla and Perlis state legal adviser Mohd Radhi Abas acted for Perlis State Registrar of Converts, Mohd Asri and the Perlis state government.

Mohamed Haniff Khatri also told reporters that he had instructions to le an appeal over today’s decision to the Federal Court. – BERNAMA / pic credit: MEDIA MULIA