KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria urged Putrajaya today to withdraw from tabling the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 Bill due to a controversial provision banning unilateral conversion of minors.
The Perak mufti was reported by news outlet Astro Awani on its website as claiming that the proposed amendments will deny the rights of a Muslim convert, in addition to sidelining the powers of the Shariah courts.
The marriage and divorce law is also known as Act 164.
“I am informed that the Bill on Act 164 regarding married couples where a convert weds a Muslim and there is a divorce, then their children or children cannot be registered as Muslim either by the mother or father except by the consent of both after the child reaches 18,” Harussani was quoted saying.
“This is a very serious matter, a matter that is against the Constitution and furthermore against Islam, and it is opposed to the rules set by the Shariah,” he added, referring to the Islamic code.
Harussani claimed that any law that is against Islam is a direct opposition to God and would constitute idolatry.
The mufti also claimed the laws would belittle and insult Islam if it is tabled and passed.
“Therefore, it is my job as a mufti to suggest that the government retract the proposal to amend the Act and not table it at this time,” he said.
Contrary to Harussani’s claim, Malaysia’s Parliament has no obligation to obey the opinion of a state mufti.
Putrajaya is expected to table the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 for second reading in Parliament this sitting, the highlight being the inclusion of a new Section 88A that explicitly states that “both parties” in a civil marriage must agree for the conversion of a minor into Islam.
Specifically addressing the “Religion of a Child” in civil marriages where one spouse has converted to Islam, the amendment also said that the child will remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage until the child is 18 years old, when he may choose his own religion.
Custodial tussles in cases of unilateral child conversions have been a growing concern over the years and provide a high-profile glimpse of the concerns of Malaysia’s religious minorities over the perceived dominance of Islam in the country.
It also highlights the complications of Malaysia’s dual legal systems where Muslims are bound by both civil and Shariah laws, but where only civil court rulings apply to non-Muslims.