Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) urges all parties to put humanity and familial love in keluarga Malaysia (the Malaysian Family) before any misplaced sentiment of communal pride and allow the three children of domestic violence victim Loh Siew Hong to be returned to her with full custody including on their faith.
GBM urges all parties to refrain from seeing this as a communal contest to determine one’s faith to the extent that both the harmonious inter-ethnic relation and the image of Islam are undermined.
Loh’s children returning to their mother does not close the door to them becoming Muslims as adults.
As Islam is a compassionate and just faith, it sees faith – hidayah (for embracing Islam) – as the absolute right of Allah. If Allah so wishes, then no one can prevent anyone from embracing Islam under free will.
Islam does not condone inhumane acts like Australia’s past policy (1905-1967), which took away aboriginal children to be placed under government agencies and churches to assimilate them.
Islam also emphasises familial ties notwithstanding religious differences, [as seen in the example of] Prophet Mohamad’s unwavering love for his uncle Abu Talib, who protected the Prophet from harms but remained a non-believer till his death.
GBM calls upon all parties to consider and accept the informed opinion of emeritus professor Shad Saleem Faruqi on the Federal Constitution, the cornerstone of the nation’s integrity, and laws on this matter, among others:
- A custody order from the courts is binding on all persons and any defiance of the judicial order may amount to contempt of court. Nobody is immune from this law
- The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any state law that violates the Federal Constitution can be struck down by the superior civil courts
- The 2018 M Indira Gandhi Federal Court decision is a binding authority for the proposition that the unilateral conversion of minors to another religion without the consent of both parents is unconstitutional
GBM expresses total sympathy with Loh, who suffered physical abuse by her ex-husband Nagahswaran Muniandy and separation of her husband. GBM urges all parties to consider these facts when forming their opinion on the issue:
- Deprived of financial support beyond rental utilities by Nagahswaran, Loh had to work to support her family since 2014, when her youngest son was three years old
- Beginning 2017, Nagahswaran started to take crystal methamphetamine (ice) and became jealous and abusive, and she learned that he even had an affair
- Between 2017 and 2019, she was severely assaulted twice. After the first assault, he broke her legs and arms. She was in plaster for six months and placed in an old folk’s home for a month by the Welfare Department. He was released on RM10,000 bail. In the second assault, Nagahswaran hit her head with a hammer and broke her legs again. She was hospitalised and received 27 stitches on her head
- During the recovery of her broken legs in the second assault, Loh sought refuge in a shelter at the Women’s Center for Change in Penang and eventually found a job as chef in Genting Highland
- In July 2019, she obtained interim custody of her children and subsequently filed for divorce. By then, Nagahswaran was sentenced to a two-year jail term in Kelantan over a drug-related offence
- Loh could not find her children until recently, when she discovered her twin daughters, 14, with an Islamic NGO and her son, 10, at a tahfiz in Penang. All three were converted to Islam without her knowledge and consent. Her search for them in 2020 and 2021 was made difficult by the restriction of cross-state travel under the movement control order
GBM calls on all Malaysians, regardless of religious, ethnic, cultural and political background, to come together to defend mothers and children suffering from domestic violence, and refrain from framing human suffering from communal angles for socio-political mileage.
In particular, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ‘keluarga Malaysia’ government must give 100% commitment to support families, abused parents and children.
GBM registers its confidence that Malaysians can find a just and reasonable solution to the plight of Loh and her children. Muslim Malaysians should not buy into fear-mongering that the non-Muslims are out to reduce the number of Muslims.
Lest we forget, Malaysia never runs short of heartening stories of Malay kids being raised as Muslims by their non-Muslim adopted parent, including retired kindergarten teacher Connie Wong in Kota Kinabalu who raised at least four Muslims kids in the past 20 years, retired businessman Lim Peng Chik (74 in 2019) in Ipoh who raised four Malay teenagers as his own, and most recently, retired kindergarten teacher Chee Hoi Lam who has raised Rohana Abdullah.
GBM urges Malaysians to see that we are made into different ethnicities and faiths, when God could have made us homogenous if he so wishes, so that we recognise and love each other. Let us not let our differences separate us or aim to eliminate the diversity out of fear.
Badlishah Sham Baharin is chair of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia. He issued this statement on behalf of the executive council of GBM