SEREMBAN, Malaysia - Muslim convert Izwan Abdullah who is at the centre of a custody battle with his Hindu ex-wife said he took his son away to "protect" the boy.
He said he was forced to do so as his ex-wife S. Deepa, 30, had wanted to challenge the boy's and that of his sister's conversion to Islam.
The couple has two children, a nine-year-old girl and the boy.
Izwan, 31, had converted the children to Islam in April last year, without telling their mother.
Izwan said he had initially instructed his lawyers to appeal the decision by the High Court to give custody of their children to Deepa last Monday but was aghast when he read the newspapers the next day quoting his wife as saying that she would challenge their children's conversion to Islam in court.
"I was most upset. This I can neither allow nor accept. When the High Court awarded her custody, she was supposed to provide for them and not challenge their conversion to Islam," he told The Star.
Izwan, or N.Viran as he was known before his conversion, said he had nothing against his ex-wife but felt she was not fit to raise their children.
"I am prepared to compromise. She can see the children every day but they must stay with me.
"If they are taken away, I am sure she would turn them against Islam," he said, adding that he had been looking after their son since being awarded custody by the Syariah court last August.
Izwan, a former lorry driver who is now a volunteer with Muslim non-governmental organisation Yayasan Kasih Sayang Negeri Sembilan, said he might call for a press conference next week to give his side of the story.
"As a Muslim, I must be patient and leave this to Allah's will. When the time comes, I will tell all," he said.
He also dismissed claims that his son was not safe with him.
"My children are my flesh and blood. I have no reason to hurt them," he said.
Barely 48 hours after the High Court here awarded custody of both children to Deepa last Monday, Izwan snatched the boy from her house in Rumah Rakyat Sg Rotan in Jelebu.
Deepa has since left her home and gone into hiding, fearing that her ex-husband would also take away their daughter.
Deepa's Muslim convert mother Siti Aishah Abdullah 50, described her daughter as a good wife.
"I was also a Hindu previously but converted when I remarried in 2009. Deepa's two other siblings from my first marriage have also converted and are married to Muslims. She has never questioned our decision to embrace Islam," she said.
Siti Aishah, who works as an administrative assistant in a school here, said she had asked Deepa to consider embracing Islam previously but she refused.
"But my children and I, including my Muslim children's in-laws, are very supportive of Deepa. We will stand by her," she said.
The Women's Aid Organisation, which has been assisting Deepa, claimed that she lodged 20 police reports on the alleged abuse she endured at the hands of her ex-husband.