Why are radical religious authorities still harassing single mom Loh?

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The Perlis religious authorities should not give a bad name to Islam.

Is the tearful episode involving single mother Loh Siew Hong, whose three children were converted to Islam without her knowledge, over? It appears not, judging by the MAIPS’ (Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council) latest intervention to ensure the underage kids remain converted, despite the recent court’s decision to award Loh the full custody of her children.

Last month (Feb 21), Hindu mother Loh was finally reunited with her children after the High Court granted her a “writ of habeas corpus” for an immediate release of her three kids from “unlawful detention”. Nazirah Nanthakumari Abdullah, a senior preacher at the Hidayah Centre Foundation, was named as one of the respondents who did not allow Loh to meet her own children.

It wasn’t a difficult decision for Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah when he made the ruling for the immediate release of Loh’s children – twin girls aged 14 and a 10-year-old boy. There was already an existing court order by the High Court, dated March 31, 2021, that granted 35-year-old Loh Siew Hong the sole custody, care and control of her children.

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The Penang-born Loh lost both her parents at the age of 5 when they died of cancer, forcing her to live with her mother’s relatives in Sungai Petani, Kedah. Growing up in an Indian community, she soon learned Tamil and followed the Hindu faith. She studied as a chef at a local community college, where she met her future husband, Nagahswaran Muniandy.

Despite her family’s rejection, Loh married the man she loved. She soon discovered that her husband, an engineering technician, was a very jealous man. As Nagahswaran only paid the house rent and utility bills, she had to work to make ends meet. From working as a waitress at a food court to saving money enough to run her own economy rice business, Loh thought she could improve her life.

Her nightmare started in 2017, nine years after the birth of her twin daughters, when her husband started physically abusing her. Nagahswaran started taking “ice” – crystal methamphetamine, a recreational drug. Not only the abusive man was having an affair with an Indian Muslim woman, he demanded money from Loh and stopped paying house rent and bills.

Unemployed and addicted to drugs, the aggression became worse when her husband hit her head with a hammer and even broke her legs – again. She was hospitalized and received 27 stitches on her head. While she was recuperating in 2019, her children were taken away from her. Fearing for their safety, she filed for divorce and full custody.

In July 2019, Loh obtained interim custody of her children pending her divorce. But her case was delayed due to the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. She finally obtained full custody of her children in March 2021. By then, Nagahswaran was already arrested and sentenced to two years in jail over a drug-related offence. But all the three children were missing.

She subsequently received anonymous tips in January this year that her twin daughters were somehow at a shelter in Penang. Her son, meanwhile, managed to contact her through a friend on Facebook, revealing that he was attending a tahfiz religious school in the same state. By then, she had lodged nine police reports to locate her children. But the police was not helpful.

The single mom was told to go to the madrasah in Perlis, Malaysia most northern state, to see her children. Suspecting they were being held by religious authorities, she lodged another police report in Penang. She also received help from assemblyman Satees Muniandy and NGOs in her journey to save her children. But her nightmare had just begun.

As it turned out, all the three kids were “unilaterally” converted to Islam without her knowledge. Worse, Loh was told by the Perlis Welfare Department that her three children did not want to see her. Apparently, during the three years she spent searching for her children, the innocent kids were being brainwashed and fed with fake stories about their mother.

Loh revealed that the children were told that their father, who had converted to Islam, would commit suicide if they chose to follow their mother. She was also blamed for sending their father to prison. In February, Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul admitted that the three children were unilaterally converted to Islam in July 2020 by their father before he was imprisoned.

Amusingly, the Perlis mufti, a known racist and extremist, also admitted that the Perlis Islamic Religious Department had never enquired about the mother’s whereabouts. The best part was the children’s conversion was never registered with the National Registration Department. Meaning not only the conversion was illegal, the case could be categorized as kidnapping.

But the most despicable act was Mufti Asri’s lies that the children did not want to return to their mother and would rather remain as Muslims. A video released on social media by an NGO – Malaysian Tamiliar Kural – showed a totally different picture where the children were looking forward to being reunited with Loh Siew Hong, their mother.

Asri has even insisted that the conversion of the underage kids is legal, saying that the Perlis Islamic laws do not need both parents’ consent to do so. However, a Federal Court ruling in 2018 says that the conversion of minors to another religion can only be done if “both parents” consent to it. Therefore, all Perlis laws that contradict the ruling is simply illegal.

In its 100-page judgment in February 2018, the Federal Court ruled that both the mother and father must be present before a certificate of conversion to Islam can be issued. The ruling followed a suit initiated by Indira Gandhi, a kindergarten teacher, after her ex-husband left in 2009 and took their three children (aged 11 years, 10 years and 11 months) with him before converting them to Islam.

The landmark judgment also concluded that the Federal Court’s decision was superior to that of other courts, including the Syariah Court, as it was enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Essentially, Mufti Asri and the Perlis religious authorities have committed multiple offences. They have acted as the prosecutor, judge and executor without any respect for the rules of law.

First, they didn’t bother to locate Loh, the mother of the underage children who were unilaterally converted. It’s hard to believe that Asri was clueless about the Federal Court’s 2018 ruling when he could argue like an expert about the Perlis Islamic laws. Second, the disgraced mufti conveniently claimed they were unaware that Loh had legal custody of the children.

But Loh obtained the interim custody as early as July 2019. How hard is it for the Perlis Islamic Religious Department to check with the relevant authority? Third, the fact that the children’s conversion was not registered with the National Registration Department suggests that they actually knew it was illegal to convert the children as a certificate of conversion cannot be issued, but they did it anyway.

Fine, let’s assume Mufti Asri and the Perlis Islamic Religious Department were incredibly stupid, gullible, illiterate and ignorant. Now that they are aware of the circumstances after the court’s verdicts which attracted wide public attention, why are they still harassing the Loh family, insisting that the small kids must remain as Muslims even when the conversion has been illegal from the beginning?

The three underage kids were converted to Islam two years ago (July 2020) – “after” Loh Siew Hong received her interim custody in July 2019. It means the father, Nagahswaran, did not have the right to convert his children. How could Asri claim that the conversion is still legal and valid when the father was not even the legal custodian at the time of the conversion?

Remember, the 2018 Federal Court ruling also said the Syariah Court does not have jurisdiction over non-Muslims or decisions taken in civil courts. Even though Nagahswaran has converted to Islam, the legal custodian is Loh Siew Hong, who is still a Hindu. Therefore, it’s laughable that MAIPS now wanted the children to be provided Islamic education, as if the conversion is still valid.

The extremists in Perlis just wanted the Islamisation of the three Hindu children to continue by hook or by crook, even after their shameful illegal conversion is exposed. Why are those radical Malay Muslims so cruel that not only they were happy to lie in order to separate a caring mother from her own child, but forcefully shove Islam down the throats of the children who are too young to make their own decisions?

Conversion should be done based on sincerity and love for Islam. The Perlis religious authorities should not behave like a terrorist group and give a bad name to Islam. In most cases, people like Nagahswaran deliberately chose to convert to Islam with the selfish purpose to have custody of the children, because in Malaysia, the Muslim law always favour such people.

Perhaps the religious authorities were proud to have scored another convert called Muhammad Nagahswaran Muniandy, who turned out to be a drug addict. What’s the point of having the quantity, but not the quality? Thanks to the politicization of religion, unilateral conversion of children to Islam is not the only problem that creates tensions among multireligious, multiethnic and multicultural Malaysians.

There were plenty of cases of body-snatching – Islamic authorities along with police seized bodies and buried them the Muslim way, even with dubious claims that the deceased were Muslim converts. In 2008, for example, the body of 74-year-old Gan Eng For was snatched when Islamic authorities claimed he had recited some Islamic words, despite the fact that he could not talk or move – he was senile and paralysed.

There was also the battle for the corpse of Wong Sau Lan, a Christian whom the police claimed had converted to Islam by reciting Arabic verses during a session with a traditional healer. Eventually, the Islamic affairs council admitted that the conversion was not in accordance with Islamic law and agreed to return the body to be given a Christian funeral.

In another case in 2006, the religious authorities backpedalled and allowed the family of Rayappan Anthony, 71, to reclaim his body for Christian burial after falsely claiming he had converted to Islam. In 2009, the body of Mohan Singh, a 41-year-old film director, was snatched and buried as a Muslim, although his family said he was a practicing Sikh when he died, not to mention his religion was marked as “Sikh” on his identity card.

In 2014, the Penang Religious Affairs Department rudely interrupted the funeral of Teoh Cheng Cheng and seized her body, claiming that the 38-year-old had converted to Islam. The Penang Syariah Court later ordered the body to be returned after finding discrepancies in her conversion documents. Testimonies also proved Teoh was born and raised a Buddhist. – Finance Twitter