Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The Federal Constitution of Malaysia guarantees freedom of religion where every person is granted the right to profess and practise, and, subject to certain restrictions, to propagate his or her religion. Though not Unilateral Conversion of a Child’s (2012) 24 SAcLJ Religion and Parental Rights in Malaysia 93 expressly stated, it may be implied that such right shall include the right to change one’s religion or belief. Otherwise, it will render the freedom of religion as enshrined in Art 11 of the Federal Constitution illusory or ineffective and fall short of the international human rights standards. However, the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his or her parent or guardian. or belief of his choice. In Malaysia, Syariah Courts only have jurisdiction over persons professing the religion of Islam. See Second List, Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. 8 Ahmad Ibrahim, “The Amendment to Article 121 of the Federal Constitution: Its Effect on Administration of Islamic Law” 1989 2 MLJ xvii at xxi. The late 94 Singapore Academy of Law Journal (2012) 24 SAcLJ Questions arise as to what extent a non-Muslim parent has the right to determine the religion of the child if the spouse embraces Islam and the impact of the child’s conversion to Islam on the custody dispute between the parents. Such questions, if left unattended, will lead to social tension and disintegrate the religious cohesion in the country, which is detrimental to the national unity. Non-Muslim marriages in Malaysia are governed by the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (“LRA”). The LRA specifically excludes its application to Muslims, except where a petition for divorce is filed by the non-converting spouse against the converted spouse on the ground of conversion to Islam as provided in s 51 of the LRA. Hence, conversion to Islam of one spouse can be a ground for the non-converting spouse to petition for divorce and seek ancillary relief. However, it is observed that the Islamic law as contained in the various state enactments and the federal statute have distinguished the parental right over a child’s religion based on the religion of the parents, particularly the converted parent, at the time the child is born. It seems that the non-converting parent has no right to determine the child’s religion if such child is born after another spouse embraces Islam and Professor Ahmad Ibrahim was described as the prime mover behind the amendment to Art 121 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which included the insertion of Art 121(1A). Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution provides that the two High Courts referred to in Art 121(1) shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts. 9 Section 3(3) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164) provides that the Act shall not apply to a Muslim or any person who is married under Muslim law except s 51 whereby the court may grant a decree of divorce on the petition of one party to a marriage where the other party has converted to Islam. A child who is born after one of his or her parents converts to Islam will automatically be a Muslim within the meaning of the relevant state enactments and the federal statute. It operates by way of law and not by the personal choice of the parents especially the non-Muslim parent

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