Thursday, April 23, 2009

M'sia sets conversion rule

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA has banned the religious conversion of children without both parents' consent, news reports said on Thursday, in a major step to ease interfaith conflicts that have strained race relations in this Muslim-majority country.

The announcement by new Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration follows a string of high-profile legal spats in which people who embraced Islam also changed their young children's religion despite protests from their estranged non-Muslim spouses.

The disputes have sparked complaints of discrimination by non-Muslims because Islamic Shariah courts typically rule in favor of Muslims, while secular courts that preside over family matters for non-Muslims say they have no jurisdiction over such cases.

Law Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said the Cabinet has decided that when couples separate, their children must be raised in what was their common religion during their marriage, the Star newspaper and Malaysian Insider news Web sites reported.

Mr Nazri and other Cabinet ministers could not immediately be reached.

The move comes just days after non-Muslim activists highlighted the case of a Hindu woman who is challenging her estranged husband's conversion of their three children to Islam.

Ethnic Malay Muslims comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's population and dominate the government. Ethnic minority Chinese and Indians, who are mainly Buddhists, Christians or Hindus, have increasingly voiced displeasure about what they consider discriminatory policies such as an affirmative action program that benefits Malays in jobs, education and business.

Malaysia has a two-tier court system for family matters - secular courts for non-Muslims and Shariah courts for Muslims. Minorities complain that in disputes involving Muslims, the Shariah courts get jurisdiction and often rule against them. -- AP

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