Hindu-born Woman Can Challenge Her Muslim Status

Factory worker S Banggarma has been finally given a breather to challenge those who she maintains wrongfully caused her to undergo conversion to Islam in 1989, when she was seven.

According to her lawyer Gooi Hsiao Leung, the Court of Appeal yesterday ordered the High Court to hear her application challenging the validity of her conversion to Islam when she was in an orphanage in Penang.

Her parents placed her at the Ramakrishna Orphanage when she was five, and she was there for a year-and-a-half. Banggarma's mother died in 1989, and her father in 2004.

Gooi said the three-member Court of Appeal panel led by Justice Abu Samah Nordin arrived at a unanimous decision. "They ruled that the High Court has the jurisdiction to hear the originating summons brought by Banggarma," he told Malaysiakini.

"Abu Samah reverted the case back to the High Court after ruling that there were issues concerning the status of her religion, as she was converted when she was merely a child, and did not understand what she was going through," he said.

'A good court decision'

Gooi, who is also a Kedah PKR central committee member, hailed the decision as a "good one" as it allows the court to scrutinise the action of the defendants in converting a child to Islam.

He added that one's conversion to Islam was not a mere formality, for one must take a solemn oath. This raises the  question whether Banggarma, whose Muslim name is Siti Hasnah Vangarama Abdullah, was able to do this at the age of seven.

Bernama reported yesterday that the Appeal Court panel, which included Justice Sulaiman Daud and Justice Mohd Hishamuddin Mohd Yunus,unanimously allowed Siti Hasnah's appeal to set aside the Aug 4, 2010, High Court decision.

In that decision, the High Court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear her challenge to her conversion to Islam as it was a matter exclusively for the syariah court.

Defendants list includes Mahathir

In her suit filed on Dec 23, 2009, Siti Hasnah, then 28, named as defendants former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his capacity as Muslim Welfare Organisation (Perkim) chairperson, former Perkim officer Raimi Abdullah and the Penang Islamic Religious Council.

She sought the declaration that the defendants had wrongfully caused her to undergo a religious conversion process when she was seven.

She also wants the court to instruct the National Registration Department to change her religion and her Muslim name to her original Hindu name Banggarma a/p Subramaniam in her MyKad and to omit the word 'Islam' from her identity card.

Lawyer Matthias Chang represented Mahathir while Tuan Zubaidah Tuan Muda and Zatifarahiyah A. Halim represented Raimi. The Penang Islamic Religious Council was represented by Hairuddin Othman and Noor Asyimah Ramli.

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