A Malaysian Hindu mother who won custody of her children after her ex-husband took them and unilaterally converted to Islam is now challenging her children’s forced conversion to Islam. Loh Siew Hong, a 35-year-old Chinese Hindu in Malaysia, won custody of her children on February 21 this year after a three-year legal battle.
However, Loh’s ordeal is far from over, with his lawyers compete that the conversion of children to Islam was illegal. Some traditionalist Muslims argue that now that young people have converted, there is no turning back. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, an Islamist group that is part of the national government, advised Loh not to challenge the conversion. The punishment for apostasy in Islam is death.
“If we can meet her, we will persuade her to allow children to practice Islam,” the group’s information officer, Khairil Nizam Khirudin, told AFP. Loh encounters hostility in his efforts to convert his children back to their original faith. Loh’s case is similar to several others in which the wife is tortured before her children are unilaterally converted by the husband.
Background to the case
Loh Siew Hong filed for divorce and separated in March 2019 from her husband after years of domestic abuse at the hands of her Indian-born spouse Nagahswaran Muniandy. Loh was then hospitalized for an extended period following injuries inflicted by her ex-husband. Her children were taken away by her ex-husband, who had by then converted to Islam.
While in hospital, her ex-husband Muniandy moved her 10-year-old son and 14-year-old twin daughters to Perlis State where he converted them to Islam with the help of an Islamic NGO. As the children were minors and Loh Siew Hong’s consent was not sought, the conversion was considered “unilateral”.
Hong failed to find her children and asked for help from the police. “In December 2019, she was granted interim custody of her children pending divorce, but her trial was delayed when Malaysia was locked down by Covid-19 in March 2020; she finally got an order granting him full and sole custody in March 2021,” reported Malay Mail.
Meanwhile, her ex-husband Muniandy has been arrested and sentenced to Kelantan Jail for a drug-related offence. The NGO refused Loh Siew Hong’s request to meet her children. The youngsters were then transferred to a children’s home in Kedah.
The legal battle
Loh Siew Hong filed a habeas corpus petition in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 13 this year. Following the filing of the application, the children were entrusted to a “neutral” party, the Perlis Welfare Department.
Hong said in her application that an Islamic preacher named Nazirah Nanthakumari Abdullah confined her children to the Hidayah Center Foundation in Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia and would not allow her to meet them. The Islamic NGO instead transferred its children to a children’s home.
In the court order, Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah noted that Loh was granted custody of his 3 minor children by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in December 2019 (interim ex parte order) and March 2021 ( final order). He declared, “Judicial decisions should not be treated with impunity. I accept the request pursuant to the first attachment (writ of habeas corpus)…The three children are to be released immediately into the sole custody, care and control of the applicant. »
Difficult unilateral conversions
Although Loh has been united with her children, her struggle continues as she faces opposition from Islamic society to have her children’s conversion overturned. The topic has become another flashpoint between increasingly vocal Islamist extremists and those who defend minority rights.
Decades of Malay-friendly policies, critics say, have strained ties, with the country’s generally moderate Islam losing momentum to growing radicalism. According to human rights organizations, most cases of unilateral conversion go unreported and only come to light when a parent takes legal action. The case of Loh is an example.