Yes, divorce first before conversion
In the past, there had been several controversial matrimonial cases due to the conversion to Islam by a non-Muslim spouse in civil marriages.
To this Parti Gerakan National Deputy Youth Chief Andy Yong said “this is particularly so when one spouse (usually the husband) who has converted to Islam without the knowledge of the other. The situation made complicated when the children of the marriage are also being converted to Islam without the knowledge or consent of another parent. Other related controversial issues involved the validity of divorce, maintenance, alimony, burial ceremony and court’s jurisdiction (between civil and Syariah courts) in deciding the dispute”.
It is reported recently that Negeri Sembilan Islamic Religious Council (MAINS) has proposed new regulations such as requiring a non-Muslim to obtain dissolution of marriage from his or her spouse before converting to Islam.
Andy supports the said proposal as this will resolves all previous legal complications when one spouse converted unilaterally. This is especially so in relation to section 51(1) of the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) 1976 that stipulates “when one party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the other party who has not so converted may petition for divorce” of which there is a lacunae here (which is often the case) when the converted spouse did not inform his or her spouse.
Other related law that is potentially solved too includes Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution where it states “…the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian”. “This particular provision has created legal controversy and dispute in the past as there were different thoughts on the interpretation of “parent” resulting injustice to the non-converting spouse. And if such proposal by MAINS is passed, the civil court may also decide issues involving support, care and custody of the children prior to the conversion ” added Andy.
Lastly Andy agrees that “it will be ideal if other states follow the same proposal by MAINS in order to avoid controversy and most importantly would ensure that Islam would not be ridiculed just because of a wrongdoing of a Muslim convert. This is also to protect the sanctity of Islam”.