PETALING JAYA: The unilateral conversion of children is not just unconstitutional but also unethical, says a sociology professor following the recent case involving single mother Loh Siew Hong and her three children.
Islamic intellectual Syed Farid Alatas, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore, said he believed many Malaysians were tired of recurring reports of unilateral conversions.
Unilateral conversion is wrong by any standard, he said, and particularly erroneous in a multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, where there was a need to maintain cordial relations and mutual understanding among different religious communities.
“Unilateral conversion is not just wrong because it goes against the Federal Constitution, but it’s wrong by any universal standard of morality. It’s unethical because children are not in a position where they can make such decisions.
“It’s different if children are born into a particular religion, into a family that espouses a specific religion. It’s also different if you have parents belonging to different religions, and the parents discuss these differences with their children and give their children the choice.
“But to take children out of the religion that they were born into, without them having the age and the maturity to make decisions, is simply unethical,” he told FMT.
Loh’s three children were registered as Muslims by the Perlis religious authorities without her being present, Perlis mufti Asri Zainul Abidin said last week.
However, the Federal Court had ruled in 2018 that the consent of both parents was needed for the conversion of any child under 18 to another religion.
Yesterday, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur granted Loh’s habeas corpus application for the release of her three children. In response, Asri said he was looking at other measures under the law to protect the children if they wanted to remain Muslims.
He also maintained that the children had refused last week to go with their mother, whom they had not seen in three years.
Farid said it was not up to Asri to adjudicate whether the children preferred being with their father or mother, even if that was true, or whether it was appropriate for the children to be converted.
“The question of the children preferring the father over the mother is a separate matter from conversion. If it’s a matter of them wanting to be with the father rather than the mother, that is for the courts and for the authorities involved in child welfare to decide.”