| Great StoryTelling Network Newsletter
Volume 14, Issue 12 – 15 December 2018
This is the last edition of the newsletter for this year. How fast time flies!
My piece explains the current legal position of what happens in Malaysia when one party to a marriage converts to Islam and, without the consent or knowledge of the other party, converts their children as well. Do share the story. Of course, I’d love to know what you think.
Rohi shares his ideas on how to pick a profitable niche.
For those of you who are inspired to start something new, I’ve shared a link to a story by Robert Mening. He explains how to start a blog.
On that note, Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.!
In Malaysia, both parents must consent to the conversion of their child to Islam. For now.
Many years ago, in a provincial court, I began to panic. The judge had refused my request for an adjournment. I wanted to wait for my boss to arrive so that he could start cross-examining the witness who was an engineer. No doubt, everyone in that courtroom with mould-stained walls and creaky furniture was aware that I knew next to nothing about construction law. My opponent smiled, certain of success.
I took a deep breath then summoned every ounce of optimism and courage in my being. In the next few hours, I asked the engineer basic questions to determine if he’d followed procedure. As his face became redder by the minute, it soon became clear that he had cut corners and caused damage to our client’s property. The matter was settled out of court.
I recalled this whole episode on the morning of 29 January 2018 when I opened the Malaysian newspapers and read about a high-profile case involving the unilateral conversion of a child to Islam and the jurisdiction of the courts in Malaysia (the ‘Indira Gandhi decision’). And once again on 30 October 2018, when The Star reported that Datuk Seri Dr. Mujahid Yusof had said that efforts were being made by the government to streamline and coordinate Syariah laws nationwide.[i]
Why are these issues such a big deal in the first place? Quite simply, under Malaysian law, once you embrace Islam, there is no going back. You are Muslim for life and your identity changes seemingly forever. You retain the right to seek redress in the Civil Courts, but you’re subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts.
Confusing? To understand how all this works, let’s look at this real-life case from the Indira Gandhi decision.
What generated sensational headlines like Unilateral Conversion ‘Null and Void’[iii] was that henceforth, in a civil marriage, the consent of both parents must be obtained before a Certificate of Conversion to Islam can be issued for a child. This wasn’t always the case.
Parent or Parents?
Things continued in this fashion for a long while and I used the legal uncertainties in all these cases to craft my novel called The Age of Smiling Secrets. It explores the heartache that comes when families are torn apart in this manner. Incidentally, one of the chapters from this novel, The Legend of Nagakanna, was accepted in an anthology called, We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture published by the School of Advanced Studies, the University of London in 2018.
An attempt was made to address the issue when the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2017 (LRA) was first drafted. The idea was to include a clause called ‘Clause 88A’ which stated that the religion of a child ‘shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion’. After the child turns 18, he or she can, with the consent of both parents, convert to Islam. Clause 88A was subsequently withdrawn for contravening the Federal Constitution since, once again, the word ‘parent’ must be read in its singular form.
With the Indira Gandhi decision, there was a clear statement by the Federal Court that Article 12(4) requires the consent of both parents for the conversion of a child. Indeed, the Federal Court endorsed an extra-judicial comment by a former Lord President of the Federal Court made in 1982 who said: ‘In a multiracial and multi-religious society … we strive not to be too identified with any particular race or religion … so that the various communities especially minority communities are assured that we will not allow their rights to be trampled underfoot.’[iv]
There is now talk to reintroduce Clause 88A. Should this happen, the effect may be to ban unilateral conversion of a child to Islam altogether. Not everyone is happy. Some argue that even though the apex court is not bound by its previous decision, with the Indira Gandhi decision comes inconsistency. What shape or form such inconsistency takes remains unexplained.
Perhaps, a hypothetical situation will give some perspective. In future, if my ex-husband converts my child to Islam in Malaysia without my consent or knowledge, the first question I should ask is, “Where should I go for help?”
“Where should I go for help?”
To solve such issues of jurisdiction, the idea was conceived to urge state governments to amend their state’s constitutional laws so that Syariah Courts are on part with Civil Courts. Now, Datuk Seri Dr. Mujahid Yusof has confirmed this. In actual fact, this is already the case in the eastern state of Terengganu, but only Muslims are allowed to seek redress there.
The problem is that even if we make both the courts equal and allow non-Muslims to seek redress in the Syariah Courts, what happens to the Civil Courts? Do they become superfluous? If both courts are equal, it is possible that I can seek redress in both courts and so can my ex-husband. We may have four different decisions. Which one prevails? And how on earth will we reconcile all this with our Federal Constitution?
Perhaps, it isn’t wise to be so pessimistic. Instead, let’s forget what may happen in the future and enjoy the present. Today, no longer will a child in Malaysia have something as monumental as his religion changed without the consent of both his parents. The Indira Gandhi decision has ended the unnecessary suffering of families torn apart prior to this. It is a triumph. For now.
The Age of Smiling Secrets, a novel by Aneeta Sundararaj, was published in August 2018. It explores the heartache when a family is torn apart because a man converts to Islam and, without the consent or knowledge of his wife, converts their child as well. It is available in all MPH Bookstores and mphonline.com
Most freelance writers struggle to find their niche. Either we procrastinate or we choose a niche that isn’t profitable. When we don’t have a clearly defined niche, it’s hard to communicate what we do and to find potential clients. Whether we are new or experienced writers, we need to choose our niche and to choose it wisely.
What is a niche?
A niche is a specific group of people who have a clear and compelling problem and are seeking a solution to it.
Most writers resist choosing a niche because they don’t know which audience to focus on. However, you will be surprised to know that picking a target audience is not so important. It’s more important to discover a problem that people have and then offer a specific solution to them. So your first step is to identify a pressing need and to build your freelance writing business around a specific solution.
Connect with your community to discover your niche
We tend to assume we know what our clients really want. However, we are more often wrong than right. Instead of guessing what our audience wants, we need to get in touch with them and ask them.
Here are some questions to find out what your audience wants:
You can ask one or more of the above questions to your offline readers, email subscribers or followers on social media. Then depending on their responses, choose about ten or more of them for a 15-minute consultation online, by phone or in person. Ask questions and then just listen. Be sure to write down the specific words they use that relate to their problems and emotions. You can use them in your future posts for a deeper connection with them.
When you’ve discovered the most pressing problems of your audience, you can offer them a specific solution to their problems, instead of what you think they want.
How to find a niche that is best for you?
A successful niche has to fulfill three criteria. It has to solve a specific problem for a well-defined group of people who are willing to pay for the solution to this problem. We have already discussed these factors. However, it is equally important for us to have a passion or abiding interest in solving the problem for others.
If you miss any of these three factors, your choice of niche is likely to fail. Use this checklist to help you discover a successful niche:
Seven characteristics of an ideal business niche
Once you have identified a niche, use this niche assessment checklist to evaluate it objectively. It will help you to determine whether you can be successful with your niche. Remember, your niche is not just your audience; it is the people you serve as well as what you do for them.
The best way to use this checklist is to NOT go on to the next question until you replied “YES” to the previous question. It has three levels:
So use this checklist to see whether you have a niche that will allow you to have a successful online writing business in the long run.
Once you find the right niche,
Join the conversation.
Do you already have a niche? What is it?
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