The Star today reports the Prime Minister's announcement of a decision requiring people who would want to convert to Islam to inform their family beforehand. Any person who wishes to convert must now fill a form or letter declaring that his or her family has been told of the decision to convert and has understood the decision. This requirement apparently is made to prevent problems of families disputing the conversion when the convert dies.
I am just amazed at the lack of understanding of the real problems behind the conversion by the Prime Minister and his government. First of all, lets all of us assume that the problem is as what is said by the PM, namely, the families disputing the conversion upon the convert's death. If that was the problem, would the production of a form or letter signed by the convert stating that his or her family has been informed of the conversion and that the family has understood the decision solve the problem? Would it prevent in any way a dispute by the family of the conversion? What if the family say that it has never been informed despite the letter or form?
This half-baked "solution" is again reflective of the Prime Minister's and his government's inability (or refusal?) to grasp the whole dynamic of the problem at hand, analyse the same and come out with a holistic solution to the problem. The so called solution is not by any stretch of imagination a solution at all. It is just another attempt at problem solving through bureaucratic process, which at the end of the day, is just a waste of time and not to mention, paper and ink!
What is the real problem Mr Prime Minister? Let me tell you if you or your advisors do not know. The problems relating to a person's conversion to Islam manifest itself into several legal issues which affect not only the converting person but also his or her family. Generally, if the person is a married man, the following issues arise:
- what would happen to his marriage;
- what would happen to his wife's rights to the assets accumulated during the marriage if the marriage is automatically dissolved by virtue of his conversion bearing in mind that his wife would, under ordinary circumstances, be entitled to the assets under the civil family law in the event of a divorce or dissolution of marriage (as opposed to Islamic rule that a Muslim's assets cannot be divided among non-Muslims);
- who would get custody of the children;
- what would be the status of the children's religion
- these issues may also arise in a case of a married woman who is converting
- if the person is not married, the only issue which may arise is the right to his or her assets upon his or her death. Under civil law, his or her immediate family is entitled to distribution of the assets in accordance with civil family law as opposed to Islamic rule that the assets cannot be distributed among non-Muslims.
Those listed above are only the first part of the real problems. The second part is even more problematic and serious. And that is the issue of re-conversion by the convert to his or her former or other religion. IN the event of a re-conversion, all the issues listed above will recur in relation to his or her Muslim marriage, spouse and children. The other obvious and very contentious issue, which this government and civil courts have done its very best to ignore is, WHETHER A MALAYSIAN HAS THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT, REGARDLESS OF HIS FAITH OR RELIGION, TO CHANGE HIS FAITH OR RELIGION? The answer to this issue, to me and to many other people, is obvious but for various socio-politico reasons, this issue has been ignored by the present government. The failure to tackle this issue - and to engage the people on this issue - is a massive display of the present administration's inability to provide a working blueprint for inter-faith and inter-race relations.
The signs of discontent over all these issues are there for all to see. The number of cases being brought to the Syariah and civil courts and the off-hand attitude being displayed by the judicial officers when faced with these issues are glaring. And this discourse has not even begun to look at the issue from the wider cultural, societal and personal emotions perspective.
All these issues cannot be solved by filling forms. If the Prime Minister and his government is not yet aware of that, than what hope is there left for all Malaysians? Are we going to wait for these issues to blow up in our face with disastrous consequences before we would act on them? These issues cannot be solved under the present legal system and set of laws. They need legal reform. There must be a strong political will to confront these issues and do what is necessary to solve them, once and for all.
Frankly, at the risk of being immodest, I do have some legal ideas of how to deal with the issues and solve them. But I don't think anybody would want to listen...