During my extensive travels in the heartland of Islam (the Middle-East lah!), I would listen to all kinds of stories and incidents told to me by the locals I met.
Once, I was at a church (which used to be a mosque which used to be a church!) by the River Jordan where John (Yahya) baptised Jesus (Isa), when it’s caretaker struck a conversation with me.
We were talking about marriage (I was single then) and I mentioned that in Malaysia, it was a law for non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they were to marry a Muslim.
The caretaker looked at me in surprise and said that that wasn’t the case in Jordan. Anyone who believed in any of the Abrahamic faiths (People of the Book) could marry without converting.
This incident was reminded to me by yesterday’s fiasco regarding the issue of conversion during marriage causing problems for the nation.
(The issue of the Attorney-General being misquoted is beside the point, the issue is still a relevant one)
With numerous cases here of non-Muslim parents try to take custody of their Muslim children becoming controversies and unsolvable, it is a valid issue to be discussed.
And all these conversion issues are close to my heart because among my family members, there are dozens who have married outside of the race and religion.
Unfortunately, it seems like the problematic relationship between the civil court and syariah court in Malaysia is really the cause of all the confusion.
The laws are vague and can’t provide a systematic solution for society to solve their problems. The solution really isn’t for individuals who are converting to come up with a ‘pre-nuptial’ agreement.
What really needs to be done is a study of the legal system, both the civil and syariah, in order to set in place a proper system which will be efficient in dealing with cases like these. Simple as that.
I was also reminded of another story that was told to me in Egypt by an acquaintance of mine (a Malaysian living and studying syariah law at the Al-Azhar University).
He said that in Egypt, similarly to Jordan, it was not necessary for non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they wanted to marry a Muslim (in cases of People of the Book).
And, in fact, the children of these inter-faith couples could be brought up being taught the beliefs of both parents so they would have a better understanding of religion.
And, here’s the punch line. Get ready fellow Malaysians for the shock of your life - these children could then choose which faith they wanted to adhere to when they came of age.
Now I’m feeling pressured to come to a conclusion for this piece I’m writing, as if there is some kind of solution to be obtained from what I have just written.
But there really isn’t. Although I have been to Al-Azhar University and different Islamic, Christian and Jewish holy sites, I’m really no religious scholar.
I’m just a regular, average Muslim-Malaysian who is trying to keep an open mind and always striving to understand my religion better every single day.