Kuala Lumpur: In a landmark ruling, a Malaysian appeals court hearing a custody battle between a Muslim convert and his Hindu ex-wife today held that a non-Muslim marriage does not dissolve automatically when one of the parties converts to Islam.
In a written judgement, Court of Appeal president Justice Raus Sharif, who chaired a five-member panel which heard the custody battle between Izwan Abdullah and his Hindu ex-wife S Deepa,said that the civil courts continued to have jurisdiction over divorce and custody proceedings despite the conversion of a spouse to Islam.
“The ex-husband and the ex-wife were Hindus at the time of their marriage. By contracting the civil marriage under the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 they are bound by its provisions in respect of divorce as well as custody of the children of the marriage.
“The matter of dispute in this case is not within the jurisdiction of the Islamic Shariah High Court,” he said.
Justice Raus added that the Federal Constitution was not introduced to oust the jurisdiction of the civil courts, saying that it was introduced to avoid any conflict between Shariah and civil court decisions.
He said the Shariah courts only had jurisdiction over matters relating to divorce and custody when it involved a Muslim marriage solemnised according to Muslim law.
“When one of the parties is a non-Muslim, the Shariah courts do not have the jurisdiction over the case even if the subject matter falls within their jurisdiction,” added Md Raus.
The custody battle between Izwan and Deepa ended last Thursday with each getting one child.
Most of Malaysia’s roughly 29 million people are Muslim, but the country also has more than two million ethnic-Indians – most are descendants of labourers brought from ethnic Tamil areas of southern India by the British.