Malaysian Woman Fights Against the Islamic Conversion of Her Kids

A new but controversial landmark case has been created in Malaysia after a woman filed a lawsuit contesting the conversion of her three children to Islam, sparking a tense situation in a country sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines.

The case started when Loh Siew Hong, a Malaysian Hindu of Indian and Chinese descent, finally found her three children, a son, and twin daughters, three years after she divorced her abusive ex-husband. He had taken their children with him and refused to tell Loh their whereabouts.

Loh found her children last year, ages 11 to 15. But she then discovered that her ex-husband converted from Hinduism to Islam, and he had their kids converted to the religion as well. Malaysia forbids non-Muslims to raise Muslim children without converting first or marrying Muslims.

For now, Loh was able to gain custody of her three children, but she is fighting to have their conversion to Islam overturned. A judge already ruled against her last May, but she didn’t give up and filed an appeal. Malaysian secular courts are currently hearing her case in a country that uses a dual-track Sharia and secular case system.

Her appeal comes at a rather sensitive time, as Malaysia will head to the polls this August, and the rhetoric of protecting the rights of Malaysian Muslims and the Bumiputera, consisting of ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups, reaches its highest point.

"People respond to this issue in a very emotional way because it's not just about the children," Rozana Isa, the director of Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian group that advocates for gender equality and reinterprets Islamic teachings from a feminist perspective, said regarding the case. "What comes into play is about how then Islam must be protected at all costs."

Because of the extremely sensitive and identity-focused nature of the incident, what was supposed to be a private and personal case of parental rights and custody dispute turned into a closely watched national spectacle, with Loh receiving harassment and abuse from pro-Malay and pro-Islam groups and individuals for allegedly taking Muslim children away from their faith.

"My children cannot even go to playground. People take pictures of them and post them on Facebook, saying children go to playground wearing shorts and never wearing the tudung [a headscarf]," Loh lamented.

Religion in Malaysia remains a highly intimate and sensitive topic, as the Muslim-majority South East Asian nation officially considers Islam its state religion. This setup, along with historical tensions between the historically Muslim, ethnic Malays, and other racial groups such as the Chinese and Indians, made Loh’s case even more contentious, and Malaysian authorities, both religious and secular, are caught between a rock and a hard place in this scenario.

"The religious authorities feel that by giving in to Madam Loh, we are sacrificing our might of Islam. It's just a battle of egos," Srimurugan Alagan, a lawyer on Loh’s legal team, said.

"There's no federal law that stops one parent from converting a child without the consent of the other, and there is no political will to do it because the moment they pass such law, it is viewed as anti-Islam, and the government in power will not get the Malay Muslim majority support," Alagan added.

A state court in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, will decide whether the conversion of Loh’s children to Islam is legitimate, with the case currently in its first appeal and is expected to conclude by the end of this year.

For now, Loh insists that her ex-husband forced their children to take Islamic lessons and wear Islamic dresses while they were with their father, but that doesn’t mean they are truly Muslim. Loh and her children follow Hindu religious customs while under her care, and she says she will quietly fade into obscurity with her children if she wins her appeal.

If you like our posts, subscribe to the Atheist Republic newsletter to get exclusive content delivered weekly to your inbox. Also, get the book "Why There is No God" for free.

Click Here to Subscribe

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.