Malaysia Royalty Defers Ban On Minors' Conversion

June 30, 2009

Author: Julia Zappei


Wire Service: AP

A council of Malaysia's royalty has deferred a decision on whether to ban religious conversion of minors by one parent without the spouse's consent-a source of several interfaith disputes in this Muslim-majority nation.

A meeting of Malaysia's king and state sultans decided late Monday that they would consult Islamic authorities first before deciding whether to approve a proposed amendment banning such conversions without both parents' consent.

That puts on hold proposed amendments to laws that were aimed at appeasing non-Muslim minorities, who feel their rights have come under threat and that they lose out in conversion disputes.

The hereditary monarchs have a largely ceremonial role in Malaysia but they are seen as the guardians of Islam, the official religion, and are revered by Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the country's 28 million people.

The endorsement of the monarchs is necessary before the government can push any change in religion-related laws through Parliament.

"We follow the rulers' stand," Jamil Khir Baharom, the minister in charge of religious affairs, told The Associated Press Tuesday. He said he could not say how long the monarchs would take to make a decision.

Debate over conversions of minors flared up again earlier this year when a Hindu man converted himself and his three young children to Islam and claimed custody in a Shariah court despite his Hindu wife's objection.