In a landmark decision today, the High Court sitting in Ipoh overturned the conversion of three minors, the children of M Indira Gandhi, whose father converted them to Islam without her knowledge.
The decision comes after the predicament of Indira Gandhi ( right ) entered into the fourth year since the conversion of her children, after another bench of the High Court in Ipoh ruled that her matter cannot be heard until several similar cases of conversion of minors, such as the S Shamala case, are disposed of by the Federal Court.
Shamala's Federal Court case did not come to a conculsion as she left the country with her two converted children before the matter came up.
In today's decision, Justice Lee Swee Seng ruled that Indira's children had not been converted as the 'dua kalimah syahadah' (pronouncement to embrace Islam) was not performed on them and therefore, such an act was unconstitutional.
"It is against the right of natural justice because the conversion was made without hearing from the mother or the children," Justice Lee said.
He also said it was unlawful as syariah law in Perak states that the children must be present to utter the 'syahadah'.
'Conversion goes against UN convention'
The judge also ruled that the alleged conversion attempt went against the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
"This decision is no victory for anyone, but we have to learn to live in harmony," Justice Lee said in reading his one-hour-40-minute judgment.
There were no orders made on costs. This decision of the civil court means that the three will remain as Hindus.
According to tweets from PusatRakyatLB, who was present when the judgment was read out, Justice Lee said the interpretation of the Federal Constitution says parents have equal rights as this would be consistent with the international norm.
There have been a lot of arguments on this issue alone, following several laws being introduced in several states allowing unilateral conversion to Islam by one converting parent.
The Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act Amendment Bill 2013, was tabled in Parliament for its first reading but it was withdrawn following an uproar over it from varuious groups.
Children were reportedly converted in 2009
Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran, who represented Indira (right) and her children, took to Twitter to express his delight with the decision. The other lawyer representing them was K Shanmuga.
When contacted Kulasegaran ( right ) and Shanmuga confirmed the landmark decision made by Justice Lee.
Kulasegaran, had tweeted his concern that there could be an appeal over this matter following the landmark decision.
Malaysia has a dual court system, civil and syariah courts, which govern matters pertaining to Islam.
Indira's three children were converted in April 2009 by her estranged husband, Mohd Riduan Abdullah, without her knowledge.
She filed the civil case against the state registrar of conversions, the Perak Religious Department director, the state and federal governments, the Education Ministry and her husband K Patmanathan (now known as Riduan).
She has two daughters, now aged 16 and five years, and a 15-year-old son.
Patmanathan @ Mohd Riduan, who is said to be in Kelantan, has the five year-old daughter with him, despite a court order instructing him to return the child to the mother.
Shanmuga said today's decision covers the religious status of all three children, including the one held by the father.
In Negri Sembilan last month, the state's Islamic Affairs Department ruled that consent of only one parent who has embraced Islam is needed to have their children converted to the faith.
The department took this position after a mother from Jelubu, aged 29, complained that her estranged husband had secretly converted their two children, aged five and eight, to Islam in April this year.
Negeri Sembilan Islamic Affairs Department director Johani Hassan said the woman's only remedy was to appeal to the syariah court, but this may pose a problem as she is not a Muslim and is therefore not subject to syariah jurisdiction.