A matter of conversion

I have written several  posts in 2007 and 2008 on the need of a mechanism to regulate  the  conversion of a person’s religious belief under certain debatable circumstances.

This is from a post written in June 2007 as a letter to Malaysiakini:


            Inform the spouse when a person converts

After all the letters and views expressed recently in media such as Malaysiakini on the issue of conversion , I suggest that the government should enact a law to inform, as a matter of courtesy and an obligation under the oath of matrimony, the spouse of a person wishing to convert to Islam.

This law must specify that when a person converts to Islam, it should be made compulsory to inform his or her spouse and his/her spouse should sign a statement before an officer of law acknowledging that he or she has been informed.

There should also be a period of , say, 2 weeks between informing the spouse and the actual conversion, so that the couple can have a heart to heart discussion on the matter. This is necessary because any conversion will have a direct impact on the spouse regarding the status of children, the inheritance, the burial and so on.

This will avoid a lot of confusion or misunderstanding like in the case of the Mt Everest climber Moorthy Maniam, a Hindu by birth but buried as a Muslim in 2005.

Islamic administration officials”acquired” the body after a headline grabbing tussle for it with Moorthy’s wife Kaliammal, saying he had secretly converted to Islam.

Kaliammal disputed the claim and asked the court to declare her husband a Hindu, but the court instead said since one party is a Muslim the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

By making it compulsory to inform the spouse, at least the spouse will be given a choice whether to seek seperation from the other party or follow the partner’s path and be converted as well.

I would like to think that if you believe in a certain faith, you should let your family members know and not keep it a secret. What is there to be secretive if you really believe what you do is right?

I have also written against death bed conversion,regarding the Gan family in Seremban,  in January 2008, in an article titled : Convert someone only when he truly believes. For those who have not read this article, just click this link since I am not posting it here in order not to make this post too long.

Having written all these, I think there is also a need to have a mechanism to safeguard children from being converted when one of the parents convert without the knowledge and consent of the other parent, especially when the issues of custody has not been determined.

The latest case of Indira Gandhi ( not the late Indian PM but her namesake)  is indeed worrisome to those of us who believe in freedom of choosing one’s own faith. She has 3 children , the youngest only a few months old.

The whole thing started when there was a fallout between her and her husband, there was a quarrel/fight, the husband allegedly grabbed the youngest son and took the birth certificates of the other 2 kids, and later on the husband went to convert himself as well as all the 3 kids (using their birth certificates) , without the knowledge of the wife.  ( Read this Malaysiakini report ).

While we do not know what actually transpired between husband and wife, and we are unable to determine, as outsider, why there is a fall out between the husband and wife, and we are in no way to judge who is right and who is wrong,  a few points needed to be considered.

Point one, since the couple has not been officially divorced, , there is a need for a spouse to be informed before the other spouse could convert (see my reasoning in the above article ).

Point two, as an extension of point one, the children should not be converted, since the other spouse has not been informed prior to the conversion of the husband.

Point 3, even if the couple is now filing for divorce, there should not be any conversion of the children , unless the issue of custody has been clearly determined.

Point 4, there should never be any conversion just using the birth certificate without the physical presence o f the children or the other spouse.

I think in a multi-religious country like ours, where religious issues are highly sensitive, we must have clear cut law and guidelines to safegurad all parties, before any actual conversion can take place.

In fact, since religion is a matter of individual belief and faith, freedom to choose is of utmost importance. It is of no use, as I have oft mentioned, that to convert someone when he or she does not really believe in the real teaching of the religion.  It should really be a matter of freedom of choice..

( As a matter of respect to all religions, this blog hopes that all commentators on this topic should exercise self restraints in their comments on this case, and should not attack any religions .. We need to have sensible discussion on this matter. Thank you for your cooperation).








18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chauncey Gardener
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 13:42:05

    This is an area where an InterFaith Council made up of all the major religions being practised in Malaysia should address. This should be Step One.

    However, any directives given by such a Council needs legislative approval in order to have them enforced. Step Two would be to get Parliament to pass the requisite laws and modifications to existing laws.

    My understanding is that we can’t get to Step One yet as the InterFaith Council is having issues with some religions imposing conditions for their involvement into the Council.


  2. Dr Hsu
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 13:47:17

    Chauncey Gardener,

    I agree with your view that we should have an interfaith COuncil and interfaith dialogue. As in the case of our southern neighbour, they have this sort of mechanism where sensitive religious issues can be discussed sensibly .

    If we regard all religions as good , and we encourage all Malaysians to be religious (Rukunegara’s Belief in God), then there should not be any problems in setting up a interreligious council to discuss all these..


  3. fi-sha
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 14:55:37

    Dear Dr Hsu
    The evil is not the religion but men. As a muslim, i am all out for those who wish to convert to inform their loved ones – out of respect. Converting the young ones should never be allowed unless they are proven to understand of their decisions. I wonder why the father feel so threatened with the mother of his children that he wanted to convert them all out of force, now? I apologise to the family for this despicable act of another muslims, who have yet to understand the real teaching of Islam.


  4. Dr Hsu
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 15:26:11


    I fully agree with you that the evil is not the religion but men…

    you should not apologise as a Muslim. Islam is a great religion.

    I doubt the father understand what is Islam..It is a fact that many people converted because of certain self interest, and not because they understand the religion, which is a pity since Islam is a great religion… The number of Muslims in the world is testimony to the greatness of the religion..


  5. A true Malaysian
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 21:53:40

    All sides need “wisdom” to solve such kind of problem. Losing face or pride should not be a consideration to solve such problem amicably.

    Understanding of a religion completely is an impossible task. One needs “faith” to be comfortable with a religion, so to regard yourselves as a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai or whatever. It’s all depending on your choice, not by force of law to label yourself which is your religion.

    In this case, just ask the children which religion they have faith on, Islam or Hinduism? That’s it. Simple and straight forward.


  6. Disgusted
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 22:24:45

    Religious faith is always a personal matter and until the child reaches 18 years old, the decision should be with the child.

    Until then, both spouses should have a mutual agreement. If that fails, it (the decision) should be left till the child turns 18.

    The conversion problem since Susie Teoh’s time in the 80s, largely remain unresolved today or partial solution unsatisfactory. Ever wonder, how the matter is resolve in other Muslim countries or non-Muslim countries.

    The whole problem seems centered on the “brand” and not the substance.

    When religion is politicised, it’s time to move on or away. Cilipadi, you may be the best person to understand what I mean.



  7. cilipadi
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 23:14:55


    Religion per se is “nut” if one does not practice its true teachings. Corruption is just one example like what RPK mentioned in his MT.

    Politicize of religion (you know which one) and blind faith of it are the killing point in Malaysian politics, being used very conveniently by COP, made it very sensitive, yet, religion per se is not sensitive. Every religion professes brotherhood and peaceful co-existence, why not in Bolehland? I thought everything ‘Boleh’ here?

    Just like playing card games, throw away the old smelly crumbled cards, and buy new one if you want to play a meaningful game. That’s the way to move on, if not, better move away.

    move on makan cili, rasa pedas, move away


  8. desmond
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 23:55:49


    It is unfortunate that it is Man who maketh religion as we know it. Any Man with a modicum of common sense will know that what happened in this latest episode should not have happened; or should not have been allowed to happen. What lesson, if any has been learned from the past many episodes? I am afraid, none so far.

    If such episodes is refused permission for mature discussion, I am afraid that it may never be.


  9. A true Malaysian
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 23:59:06

    Dr. Hsu and all,

    A friend prompted me to read “The Might of the Pen”. Please read this http://sjsandteam.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/malaysian-university-usim-forces-lecturer-to-pass-students/#comment-16932

    the you can appreciate the education system of Malaysia is in deep shit.

    Wonder why Malaysiakini & MI do not notice this.

    My salute to this lecturer “nor” of USIM.


  10. langchiapek
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 00:06:59

    Dr Hsu,

    can bring this case up to Unity KPI minister for him to follow up ?


  11. Hinduism Beliefs
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 05:53:40

    This is very interesting. Islam is a great religion. Indeed, I agree with many of its tenets. Many of us tend to generalize wildly about muslims


  12. klm
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 09:48:33

    I believe in God. But I dont believe in religion.

    All religions contain the basic tenets of human morality. There is nothing basically wrong with the core of any religion. But as centuries passed, Man started to add layers of bias, bigotries, greed and dogmas, the very essence of human failings.

    After centuries, what MAN put in is more important than what God gave us. Man’s rules supersede God’s rules.

    We saw this in Christianity. They tortured their brethren for religion. They colonise the “savages” for religion.

    This is what we are seeing today in Islam.

    And they blame it on God.

    No wonder, God desert us.


  13. klm
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 11:06:03

    An interesting fact on how religion and state intertwined.

    Germany was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Along the way, a rule was made that no man can be employed unless he is registered with the local church. The rule was only rescinded in Germany in the 2nd half of the 2oth century.

    Did God ordain this rule?. No. This was man made.

    So I am not surprised there are many Man made rules in Islam that perverted the basics of Islam. What is happening in Islam today is what happened to Christianity in the middle ages.

    When religion and state intertwine, it takes many centuries to undo the knots.


  14. annoyed
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 11:23:56

    Can anyone point out here that anywhere in Holy Quran which mention:

    a) compulsory conversion to Islam upon marrying a Muslim individual?

    b) any individual, upon conversion to Islam, cannot convert back to his or her original belief or religion?


  15. for nikki
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 11:27:17

    Its a shame that religion is being used as a tool to gain custody of the innocent children. Yes there must be clear cut laws in place to guard against any abuse. I hope the authorities concerned can view these issues with detachment and not clouded by religious sentiment. Any solution should always be guided by what is in the best interest of the children.


  16. Taikohtai
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 11:29:34

    He who conquers a thousand is great but he who conquers himself is the greatest.


  17. Ken
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 14:36:55

    The solution to Indira Gandhi’s case is very simple – reverse the conversion of the children as it has not been properly done with the knowledge of both parents.

    The reason why this simple solution cannot be immediately implemented is due to religious bigotry in the Umno led govt.

    Such cases are the reason why non-Malays are losing their fear of PAS. Demonizing PAS as extreme is useless when Umno has shown itself to be worse!


  18. Trackback: A matter of conversion 2 « Dr Hsu’s Forum

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