Religious conversion — heaving under heaven’s door

The cabinet decision to have a blanket, “You (the minor) will be raised in the faith of your parents at point of marriage, if a dispute arises over you following the conversion of one parent to Islam”, justifiably provides solace to some and raises ire in others.
It does resolve some problems while at the same time inevitably creates a few new ones.
The cabinet has let the nation down, and it is not the first time in recent times.
The real issue of the matter, or unintended realisation from it is that answers that come from any cabinet, from 29 persons stacked in a room in our case, advised by the few will always exclude various factors or permutations.
You can’t expect 29 people to think on behalf of 26 million people and do it well. This nation must start to trust its people to debate and discuss the issues that affect them, because it is becoming more and more apparent that there is no other way.
This country’s administrators historically have come from the western educated, those who frolicked with each other in their younger years and remained friends. Their education they believe keeps them above the flock they lead. They go their separate way when they have to manage the masses, because the masses are fairly unexposed to the vagaries of the world, and therefore only recognise primordial elements like race.
They will fan and douse the energy of the simpletons when need be, and after they are done, through a process of power-sharing, collaboration, information exchange, compromise and consensus arrive at a resolution that fits the situation.
They manage their population, not lead them.
However the demographics have shifted, and the weightier preoccupation brought on by cable TV and the internet renders any decision that is carried requiring societal reflection.
People have to be persuaded to an outcome, and even then the outcome, its shape and form may have taken twists and turn and become an altered outcome thanks to participatory democracy.
These are the days where everyone gets a voice, whether you like it or not. Ignoring that voice only precipitates your own demise.
So the question is, with religious conversion firmly in central examination, not to mention 1 Malaysia, do the people who run this country actually wants its inhabitants to debate their needs, wants and conflicts?
Religious conversion
The issue is not religion, it is about child custody. Divorce numbers are piling, and its contributing puzzle is custody of the children from that failed marriage.
Malaysia, like most countries is likelier to pass custody mothers than fathers, more so with pre-pubescent children.
The fathers are rushing the kids into Islam after their own conversion, to both remove the case from civil courts and reduce the status of the mothers through forced mediation in the Syariah courts.
It is the hijacking of process that gives the sense of helplessness amongst non-muslims.
The cabinet ruling sounds nice, but likely to be unenforceable.
The Syariah administrators and state religious authorities are not going to be flattered to have new converts have a cabinet promise that they will not have custody of their children upon conversion.
If the child is to remain in the faith both parents held at marriage, then the parent who still keeps the old faith is likelier to provide a stable home for the child — if by cabinet edict the child must remain in that faith until adulthood.
It becomes a disincentive for those in marriages with kids to veer to Islam, as they are likelier to lose children from that consummation, in theory if the cabinet edict holds.
So what was comprehensively unfair to Muslims, is now theoretically unfair to the newly Muslim parent.
Let’s give them something to talk about
The answer has to be in enabling family courts in this country to be more well “family” oriented and less “religious” driven.
Child custody is about the raising of a child, not the winning of souls for the afterlife. If it is a discussion of the latter, then there will be a stalemate, and nothing can be achieved.
The people with these issues have to talk. However, family courts have to consider the merits of parenting, not religiosity, and there needs to be legal recourse, fair legal recourse for all.
There are various religious considerations, and interests of communities external to the immediate family — but those are secondary considerations.
Which leads to the final requirement, just mediation. The existence of two separate family courts and estranged partners seeking recourse in separate forums, will lead to jurisdictional debate, not family ones. And it gets heavily politicised.
My preference is for a single court, but if Malaysia’s realpolitik dictates then there has to be joint committees, and no default custody based on religion.
The answer is about getting theology take a backseat and parenting moving to the fore.
The answer is not in 29 cabinet members deliberating, but a nation debating.
The answer is in those adjudicating looking at the welfare of the children, not their own political and religious affiliations.

One thought on “Religious conversion — heaving under heaven’s door

  1. Praba,

    The angle of the family court taking raising the child as 1st priority is the correct way to move forward.

    I would support that 101%. However, given the country we are living in Bolehland, EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING will be politicized.

    So the chances of this Family Court ever making its presence in Bolehland will have to wait till we change its name back to Malaysia. 2013???

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