KUALA LUMPUR - In an unprecedented ruling, a Malaysian court ruled on Thursday, July 25, dismissed the 2009 conversion of three Hindu children to Islam without their mother's consent.
"Under the Perak Islamic Administration Enactment, the three children must have the intention to embrace Islam without force, Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng in the High court said in the ruling cited by Bernama News Agency.
"In this case, the three children cannot be proved to have recited the shahada (declaration of faith) and they, as well as their mother, were not present at the Islamic Religious Office for the conversion purposes," he said when delivering his judgment which lasted one hour and 40 minutes.
The judge added that the conversion of three Hindu children to Islam was null and void as they were not present to recite the shahada before the religious officer.
The case came to light after Indira Gandhi challenged the conversion of her children, now aged five, 15 and 16, by their father in 2009 without her knowledge.
Under Malaysian Islamic law, which governs civil matters for Muslims, a non-Muslim parent cannot share custody of converted children.
Facing the possibility of losing custody of her children, she filed a lawsuit at the high court demanding the nullification of their conversion to Islam.
The ruling follows a decision by the Malaysian government to withdraw a controversial bill on child conversion that caused uneasiness among non-Muslims.
The decision followed criticism to the bill which would have allowed parents to convert a minor child to Islam without the consent of the other.
The court ruling won plaudits from Malaysian religious groups.
"We are very happy about that decision," Mohan Shan, an official with the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
But it must be accepted by all the Islamic and other government agencies.
Indira's lawyer K. Shanmuga also welcomed the rare verdict in the multiracial but Muslim-majority nation.
"It is the first time ever that a child's conversion certificate has been quashed by a high court," he told AFP.
Usually dubbed the "melting pot" of Asia for its potpourri of cultures, Malaysia has long been held up as a model of peaceful co-existence among its races and religions.
Malaysia has a population of nearly 26 millions, with Malays, mostly Muslims, making up nearly 60 percent.
Under Malaysia's two-tier judicial system, Shari`ah courts handle family law cases involving Muslims, while secular courts handle those involving non-Muslims.
Malaysia's Constitution says that the religion of a child under 18 should be decided by the parent or guardian.
Some lawyers have argued that this should be interpreted to mean both parents, but the courts have not agreed, ruling that the consent of one parent is sufficient to convert a child to Islam.