The Globe as you know it is changing.
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To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Faith divides us: Malaysian families are being torn apart by the secret conversion of children to Islam

By: Ana Salvá - Posted on: April 11, 2017 | Featured

Embittered spouses are secretly converting their children and using the country’s dual legal system to gain an upper hand in custody battles

Malaysian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the National mosque in Kuala Lumpur on July 6, 2016.  Photo: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana
Malaysian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the National mosque in Kuala Lumpur on July 6, 2016. Photo: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana

Indira Gandhi’s marriage started falling apart around the time she gave birth to her third child, Prasana, in 2008. Based in Ipoh, Malaysia, Indira and her husband both identified as Hindu, but he began trying to convince her to convert to Islam, threatening a divorce if she refused.

“He said we will have more advantages if we convert, like money and properties,” she explains.

Although Indira, who works as a kindergarten teacher, isn’t sure of the timeline, what she does know is that her husband converted to Islam, changing his name from Patmanathan Krishnan to Muhammad Riduan. He also converted their three children without her consent and even without their presence, using their birth certificates.

After a heated argument between the couple on 31 March 2009, he abducted Prasana, who was 11 months old at the time. In the eight years since, Indira has only caught a single glimpse of her youngest daughter.

“I saw her when she was one year old, during a trial to get custody [of her],” says Indira. “She remembered me – she even called me mum – but he refused to give [her] back to me.”

Indira Gandhi is fighting for custody of her youngest daughter, who her husband abducted and converted to Islam
Indira Gandhi is fighting for custody of her youngest daughter, who her husband abducted and converted to Islam

Indira’s story is one of the most high-profile among a string of legal cases that have become a source of tension in debates over the role of Islam in Malaysia, where about 60% of the population is Muslim, most of them ethnic Malay.

There are also sizeable populations of Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent, as well as members of indigenous groups, all of whom ascribe to a range of belief systems including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

The 1957 Constitution in theory guarantees religious freedom for non-Malays, yet Islam is the state religion. And Muslims are subject to a dual legal system that presents a major conundrum for parents such as Indira: while Islamic sharia courts handle family law cases involving Muslims, secular courts handle those involving non-Muslims.

Non-Muslims, therefore, face a legal disadvantage when their case is heard by an Islamic court, as they are not allowed to appear in any capacity, including to argue their own case. Consequently, in custody disputes between religiously mixed couples, the Muslim parent is more likely to be awarded custody – particularly if the children have been converted to Islam. And activists say that, in some cases, spouses are converting to Islam to gain an upper hand.

If you rule against the sharia court, you can be accused by the fundamentalists of being a bad Muslim

So it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Riduan won custody of the child in the sharia courts – a decision Indira challenged in the mainstream civil courts. She was granted custody of the couple’s three children in March 2010, but Riduan has not returned Prasana, nor has he faced any consequences for abducting a minor.

M. Kulasegaran, a member of parliament for Ipoh Barat who is also Indira’s lawyer, says he is aware of a number of similar cases, although no official statistics are available.

According to the lawyer, many spouses – mostly women – are unable to take legal action because “it is expensive” – at times prohibitively so. He and Indira are also awaiting the outcome of Indira’s challenge against the validity of her children’s unilateral conversion, a case that is now pending in the federal court.

Indira Ghandi's lawyer, M. Kulasegaran, is also an MP for Ipoh Barat
Indira Ghandi’s lawyer, M. Kulasegaran, is also an MP for Ipoh Barat

Critics accuse the ethnic Malay Muslim-dominated government of doing too little to intervene and ensure justice is served when the country’s dual legal systems collide. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and holds key posts including prime minister, lost voters in the last election. And since then, the party’s popularity has fallen even further, thanks in large part to a major corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib, a so called moderate Muslim, is now courting Islamist political parties and pandering to their agendas in the hopes of increasing his popularity among rural Muslim Malays.

James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, contends that discrimination against religious minorities “has thus grown rife” in recent years. For example, while Islamic groups are free to convert non-Muslims to Islam in Malaysia, it is against the law for non-Muslims to proselytise among Muslims.

Although legislation officially places the civil and sharia laws on an equal footing, even in the high court the majority of lawyers are Muslim. According to Chin: “If you rule against the sharia court, you can be accused by the fundamentalists of being a bad Muslim.”

The constitution says that the religion of a child under 18 should be decided by the parent or guardian, but this has been interpreted in different ways. For many lawyers, this means the approval of both parents is needed, while the Islamic courts have ruled that the consent of one parent is sufficient.

A number of rights groups – such as the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism – have called on the government to protect the rights of non Muslims in unilateral conversion cases and prioritise the best interests of the children involved.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality says that, in recent years, there have also been numerous cases of wives converting to Islam and then converting their children. In such cases, according to the group, “the rights of the non-converting husbands are similarly violated, and there are serious implications around custody and guardianship of children”.

Among them is Lee Chang Yong, a businessman who filed for divorce from his former wife, Teng Wai Yee, in 2015. After they were unable to reach an agreement on custody of the children, division of assets and other matters, the petition and related orders were set aside when Teng converted to Islam on 29 December 2015, changing her name to Aleena Abdullah.

On 11 May 2016, Aleena did not take the couple’s eight-year-old daughter and three year-old son to school. Instead, she took them to recite the Kalimah Shahadah (affirmation of faith) to convert them to Islam. Lee is seeking High Court orders to nullify the conversion certificates of his children and to prevent the children’s registration as Muslims.

Naijb’s government said in 2009 that conversions by one parent should be halted, but this has never been passed into law. In November 2016, they had at last tabled an amendment to the country’s marriage and divorce act that institutes legal safeguards against unilateral conversion of minors.

The amendment seeks the agreement of both parents in a civil marriage for the conversion of minors to Islam. In such cases where one of the spouses has converted to Islam after a civil marriage, the amendment says the child will remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage until the child is 18 years old and may choose his or her own religion.

According to Malaysian lawyer Fahri Azzat, there is not yet any fixed date for the amendment to be debated by parliament. He is sceptical about whether it will go ahead because he says it seems to be “an electoral carrot for the non-Muslims to support UMNO for the next elections”.

If passed, the proposed amendment would be applied retroactively for any cases still pending before the courts. “I hope they will amend it,” says Indira. “It will be a great relief for many who are suffering in a similar situation like me.”