SEREMBAN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Any married person wanting to embrace Islam will first have to divorce his or her spouse under a law to be introduced in Negri Sembilan, a move which could potentially prevent ugly child custody rows when Syariah and civil courts' rulings clash.
The convert would then have to make a statutory declaration that he or she was now a Muslim.
Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the move was to safeguard the sanctity of the religion.
The state Islamic council (Mains) was incorporating these provisions into the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 2003, he said.
He said this would also ensure that there were no aggrieved parties in the event that an individual converted before dissolving his or her civil marriage.
"There have been too many controversies regarding this and it must stop.
"We cannot allow people to mock Islam or criticise Islamic authorities because of the actions of a certain individual," he said.
He added that the controversies had to a certain extent tainted the image of Islam.
The Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz had consented to the provisions, said Mohamad.
"It is only proper that a non-Muslim individual who wishes to embrace Islam have his or her civil marriage dissolved first as it would not mean anything to him or her anymore.
"It is even more so if the spouse has refused to embrace Islam," he said.
The Mentri Besar had earlier attended a briefing by Mains for the state Ruler on the matter.
Mohamad, who is also Mains chairman, said there had been many squabbles involving Muslim converts and their former spouses arising from their failure to dissolve their civil marriage first.
"According to Islam, once you convert you can no longer live with a spouse who is a non-Muslim.
"So, if you are keen to convert, it makes sense for you to do so the correct and legal way," he said.
Also, Mohamad said, it was important for a convert to make a statutory declaration after embracing Islam so that the rightful party would be able to claim his or her body after death.
"There have been cases where the non-Muslim families of the deceased convert were involved in unnecessary fights with Islamic authorities over the remains.
"So we need to prevent such fights and to achieve this, we need to ensure that all the legal paperwork is done," he said.
According to him, there was no need to table the provisions in the state assembly.
"It has received the consent of the state Ruler and we will now get the state exco to approve it," he said, adding that this would be done soon.
He said if these procedures were followed, the conversions could no longer be challenged in civil courts.
Mohamad said it was important for those who wanted to embrace Islam to know that the provisions were not meant to make it difficult for them to convert.
"It is important that we safeguard the image of Islam," he said.
He did not mention it but one such case that has gripped the nation involved a 32-year-old Hindu father and husband who embraced Islam two years ago.
The man allegedly converted without telling his wife and then converted their two children, again without her knowledge.
His action resulted in a custody battle for the children.
Both he and the wife have been granted custody by the Syariah High Court and the High Court, respectively.
The case is now before the Federal Court.