Woman’s conversion to Islam at age four a nullity from the start, Federal Court heard

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 16: The Federal Court three-member bench today heard the appeal brought by a 37-year-old woman who claimed that her conversion to Islam in 1991 at the age of four by reason of her mother’s conversion to Islam was a nullity from the start.

Her lawyer Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar asserted that the woman’s conversion to Islam contravened Section 147 of the Selangor Administration of Muslim Law Enactment 1952, the relevant law in force at that material time, which prohibited the conversion of children to Islam.

He said since the state prohibited children from being converted to Islam, her conversion was a nullity and she was never a Muslim.

As such, any court orders or decisions made by the Syariah Court do not apply to her as it has no jurisdiction to hear her case in the first place, Malik told the bench comprising Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Federal Court judges Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Datuk Abu Bakar Jais today.

Malik said the woman was born to a Hindu father and a Buddhist mother who embraced Islam in order to marry a Muslim man after her divorce in 1991. He said the mother also affirmed in an affidavit that the father, who died in March 1996, never consented to their daughter’s conversion. 

Malik said his client initially went to the Syariah Court in a bid to get a declaration that she was not a Muslim after reading reports on the Federal Court’s decision in the Lina Joy case.

On Dec 12, 2013, the woman filed a summons at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court for a declaration that she was no longer a Muslim. On July 20, 2017, the Syariah High Court dismissed her summons and the Syariah Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal on Aug 1, 2017.

She then filed a lawsuit at the civil High Court seeking a declaration that she is not a person professing the religion of Islam, and named the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the Selangor state government as respondents.

On Dec 21, 2021, the High Court in Shah Alam allowed the woman’s suit and declared that she is not a Muslim but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in a 2-1 majority decision on Jan 13 last year following the appeals by Mais and the Selangor state government.

The woman was granted leave to proceed with her appeal to the Federal Court on May 23, last year on six legal questions and the Federal Court has fixed today to hear her appeal.

The court only heard Malik’s argument today and adjourned the hearing to another date to be fixed later to allow the counsels representing Mais and Selangor government to file additional written submissions and for the woman’s lawyer to reply to the additional arguments.

Lawyers Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla and Majdah Muda acted for Mais and Selangor State legal adviser Datuk Salim Soib@Hamid appeared for the Selangor state government.