Associate Prof: Use tribunal to resolve custody wrangles

mohamed-azam-parenting-nonmuslim1KUALA LUMPUR: A professor of an Islamic institute has proposed the formation of a special tribunal, comprising judges from both the civil and shariah courts, to handle child custody issues between Muslim and non-Muslim parents.

A tribunal, separate from the civil and shariah court system, is more likely to deliver justice to the claimants of both sides and end the polemics in such cases, said Associate Prof Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil of the International Islamic Institute of Higher Studies (IAIS).

“Right now, the Muslim claimant wants to bring the custody case to the shariah court while the non-Muslim claimant seeks a verdict in the civil court.

“However, a tribunal represented by both Muslims and non-Muslims can reduce the polemical wrangling, which is detrimental to the interests of the children involved,” added Azam, who is also the deputy CEO of IAIS.

He said the use of mediation through the tribunal could avoid conflicts between the civil and shariah courts.

He was asked to comment on the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, which was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat at its last meeting. The debate was postponed to the next sitting.

The amendment seeks to enact legal safeguards against the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam.

It also seeks to enable disputes arising from the dissolution of a civil marriage, after the conversion of one party to Islam, by providing for the couple to petition for divorce in a civil court and not in a shariah court.

The move to amend the law followed the controversy in the cases of M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa, whose Muslim convert ex-husbands had unilaterally converted their children to Islam.

Azam said members of the panel making up the tribunal must be experts in the relevant civil and shariah laws, including sitting judges from the two courts, if necessary.

“The tribunal will require the effort and agreement of the government and the Conference of Rulers. It may be difficult to resolve conflicts totally but it will succeed in reducing them.”

Azam made his proposal when presenting a working paper at a conference on the harmonisation of laws. It was sponsored by the Institute for Islamic Understanding of Malaysia (Ikim) here.