The root cause of the protracted legal battle on unilateral conversion of children to Islam stems from a myopic and legalised understanding of marriage, writes Ronald Benjamin.
I was quite puzzled to read a letter by a Professor Dr Asgar of International Islamic University Malaysia in the media (NST, 19 August 2017), describing marriage as a social contract in the context of Islamic family law in the country.
He said that Islam does not merely regard marriage as a union for the gratification of sexual lust, but it is also a social contract with wide and varied responsibilities and duties. A husband is fully responsible for the family, such as providing maintenance and protecting his spouse and children.
The root cause of the protracted legal battle on unilateral conversion of children to Islam stems from a myopic and legalised understanding of marriage that does not take into consideration the intangible bond of marriage between husband and wife where love, oneness, mutual consent and commitment characterise the culture and soul of a marriage.
If there is a universal understanding of marriage as described, every marriage whether it is solemnised by Islam, Christian or Buddhist rites would be regarded as sacred and respected.
Laws come into the picture only when the bonds of marriage are broken and every avenue to reconcile a marriage has failed. In the Indira Gandhi case, her marriage bond was terminated by a spouse who broke his commitment of marriage, besides unilaterally converting his children to Islam, which broke the principle of mutual consent. Worse, religion was used to justify such an irresponsible act.
In any progressive society, universal principles come first before policies and laws are formulated.
Unfortunately, in Malaysia a sectarian religious ideology and laws related to it appear to be taking hold. These transgress the principles of oneness, mutual consent, and commitment in important institutions such as marriage. They also violate article 8 of the federal constitution on equality.
Unless marriage is seen as a bond of oneness and mutual commitment instead of a social contract that can be easily ended in the name of religion, there will not be concrete solutions that would meet the shared principles of marriage in a multiethnic and religious society in Malaysia.