How To Tell A Great StoryGreat 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.!

Happy storytelling.
Aneeta Sundararaj


–> Parent or Parents? by Aneeta Sundararaj

–> How to Pick a Profitable Niche – Quickstart Guide by Dr. Rohi Shetty

–>How to Start a Blog by Robert Mening

STORY ASIA – Parent or Parents? by Aneeta Sundararaj

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.

Real life 
The story begins in 2009 when a Hindu man, K. Pathmana­than, embraced Islam and took the name Muhammad Riduan Abdullah. Without the knowledge or consent of his now ex-wife, M. Indira Gandhi, he converted their three children under the age of twelve as well. A legal tussle ensued and culminated in the Indira Gandhi decision which was delivered by the apex court, the Federal Court of Malaya, on 29 January 2018. The Federal Court questioned the method of conversion and said that, ‘the issue before the court wasn’t the conversion itself, but the process and legality thereof.’[ii] The Registrar of Muallafs, who issued the conversion certificates, hadn’t complied with the mandatory requirements for conversion of a child.

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?
In 2007, there was a similar case involving R. Subashini, her ex-husband, T. Saravanan, and their children. The apex court there stated that a unilateral conversion of a child to Islam did not violate the Federal Constitution because the word ‘parent’ in Article 12(4) of said Constitution was meant to be read in its singular form. Effectively, this meant that the consent of both parents was not required. Invariably, the non-Muslim parent had no redress.

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?”
For a start, as a non-Muslim, I cannot seek redress from the Syariah Court since ‘[i]t was trite that the Sya­riah courts did not have jurisdiction over non-Muslims and non-Muslim parties have no right to appear in the Syariah Courts.’[v] However, as a Muslim, my ex-husband is subject to the rules and regulations under Syariah Law. And Article 121 of the Federal Constitution stipulates the jurisdiction of Syariah Court should not be disputed even though they are not constituted as superior courts. So, I go to the Civil Courts and he goes to the Syariah Courts.

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

STILLNESS AND FLOW: How to Pick a Profitable Niche – Quickstart Guide by Dr. Rohi Shetty

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.

For example:

  • I help online entrepreneurs (audience) who are stressed and overwhelmed (problem) to find effective ways to relieve their stress and feel great about themselves (solution).
  • I help freelance writers (audience) who are struggling to sell their books online (problem) to publish and market their Kindle books on Amazon (solution).
  • I help online authors (audience) who are struggling to popularize their website (problem) to build a responsive email list (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:

  • What’s the biggest challenge in your life right now related to freelance writing (the problem you want to identify and solve)?
  • What is the biggest result you want to achieve in this area?
  • What would help you get this result?
  • Who do you consider to be an expert in this area?

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:


  • What are your areas of knowledge or expertise?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you love to do?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you enjoy learning about?
  • What skills have people paid you for in the past?
  • What impact do you want to have in the world?
  • What ideas do you want to share?
  • Which problems or results do you enjoy helping people with the most?


  • Make a list of all the problems you have helped your clients solve.
  • Make a list of all the problems you want to help your clients solve.
  • What problems would your audience pay the most to solve?
  • What difficulties are people with these problems experiencing?
  • What specific results would your audience be willing to pay you to get?
  • Have you found out whether people are actually paying for these results?
  • What type of problem are you well known for solving?
  • What type of problem do you want to be well known for solving?


  • Are there specific groups of people who have the problems you want to solve?
  • What kind of people do you want to serve?
  • What groups or communities do you belong to?
  • What are the specific places where your target audience hangs out online?
  • What are the specific places where your target audience hangs out offline?
  • What are some of their common characteristics: age, gender, location, occupation, family status, income, emotional status, and so on.

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.

  1. Are there specific places where your audience can be found?
    This could be online or offline. It could be networking events, associations, online forums or social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. It could be people searching for a particular solution on Google. It can even be on other people’s newsletters or blogs. You have to know where your audience hangs out so that you can communicate with them.
  2. Can you honestly say that you know, trust, and like the people in your audience?
    You’re going to spend a lot of time with these people, so it’s important to pick a group that you actually care about. Sometimes we pick our niche with our head rather than with our heart, but the heart has to be part of this equation.
  3. Do you know what result your audience is willing to pay you to get?
    You need to provide a highly desirable result for your audience. To do that, you have to identify what result they want so badly that they are willing to pay for it.
  4. Are you passionate about delivering the result your audience wants?
    You need to be passionate about your audience, but you also need to be excited about the results that they want. Without this passion, you won’t have the energy to stick with it for too long.
  5. Do you want to be known for delivering that result?
    Can you position yourself as the expert for delivering that result at any gathering of your audience?
  6. Do you have the expertise and the desire to be the best at delivering this result now or in future?
    If you already have the expertise and/or you can commit to continued mastery in what you do, you bound to be very successful in this niche.
  7. Can you identify and model other writers who are successfully serving the same audience?
    If you can find other people who have built a successful business marketing to the same audience, your niche already has a proven record of success. Most writers tend to avoid an area or niche with competition. But the opposite is true. Think of it in this way: these people are paving the way for you and making it easier for you to be successful. You can learn from their failures and successes.

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:

  • If you don’t answer “YES” to the first three questions, you will probably fail.
  • If you answer “YES” to the next two questions (Q4 and Q5), it will significantly increase your chances of success.
  • If you answer “YES” to the last two questions (Q6 and Q7), you’re definitely going to be a very successful writer.

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,

  • you will be known as an expert in your niche
  • your income will increase because you will attract the right clients
  • your ideal clients will be eager to work with you
  • you will find it easy to grow your business
  • you will get many word-of-mouth referrals and
  • you will be able to network with other influencers in your niche


Additional reading:

Join the conversation.

Do you already have a niche? What is it?
If not, do you plan to define your niche using the checklists above?
Do you need extra help?
Do you need any extra help?
Let us know in the comments below.

Note: The Great Storytelling Network/How To Tell A Great Story will not be held liable for any direct or indirect losses or damages originating from the use of any information listed on our website or in our newsletter. By using this site and newsletter you agree to indemnify and hold all owners and representative parties of the Great Storytelling Network/How To Tell A Great Story harmless from any claim or demand originating out of your use of this website. Use of our website and newsletters is an indication of your complete understanding and acceptance of these Terms of Service. Thank you.

Facebook Comments