Court to rule on baptism : Unmarried Muslim father fights to stop baby being christened

THE HIGH COURT is to decide whether an unmarried Muslim father can prevent his five-month-old daughter being given a Christian baptism, writes Anne Dixey.

The test case has opened up a huge debate on the rights of unmarried parents of different religions. The 27-year-old father, who wants the child brought up as a Muslim, was granted an injunction to stop the christening.

Yesterday a judge at Swindon County Court, Wiltshire, took three hours to rule that the matter should be heard by the High Court. He also said the child and her parents should not be identified. It is believed to be the first time that an unmarried father has stopped a christening in a Christian country.

The father was granted the interim injunction under the 1989 Children Act, even though the 21-year-old mother, a Christian, has custody of the child.

She had planned to have her daughter baptised into the Church of England last Sunday. But 48 hours before the event an injunction was served on the parish priest.

Dr Zaki Badawi, a Muslim theologian and principal of the Muslim College, based at Ealing in west London, yesterday questioned the father's actions.

'If he is not married to the mother then he has no legal claim on the child in Muslim law,' he said, adding that if the couple were married the child would have to follow the father's Muslim faith, but if single it was the mother's religion which counted.

Other religions have differing attitudes on the issue: The Church of England wants everyone to have the right to baptism in their church but essentially leaves it up to the couple.

The Catholic Church would expect the Catholic partner in a mixed-religion marriage to do his or her best to make sure that the child was brought up in the faith. But the non-Catholic partner did not have to agree to it.

The view of the Jewish religion differs between its liberal and orthodox sections. Liberal Jews believe a child is Jewish when born if either parent is Jewish.

Orthodox Jews believe it is only Jewish if the mother is.