Malaysian court overturns “conversion” of children by Muslim dad
Malaysia’s highest court on Monday (29 January) overturned the “conversions” of two children who were registered as Muslims when their father converted to Islam and left his Hindu wife.
The outcome gives hope for Christians facing battles in sharia courts in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Mohd Riduan Abdullah, formerly K. Pathmanathan, left his Hindu wife in 2009 after he converted to Islam. Although the two oldest children live with their Hindu mother, they have officially been considered Muslims since Abdullah’s conversion, when a sharia court declared that the children, then aged ten and eleven, had also “converted”.
State sharia courts have jurisdiction over family law in Malaysia, meaning Muslims who convert to other religions cannot legally change their religion; if they were to do so they could face a three-year jail term for apostasy.
This situation affects many Christian converts from Islam, as Muslims have the advantage in child custody cases, with sharia automatically giving custody of all children over seven to the father. Christian women who convert from Islam who have not officially changed religion are not allowed to marry a Christian man.
Malaysia has a population of more than 31 million people and is officially 61% Muslim; Christians make up around 10%, but are around half of the population of the state of Sarawak, as well as being a substantial minority in the state of Sabah.
In October 2017, a minister in the Malaysian government stated that the government had “a duty to make [the] country Islamic.”