Thursday, January 31, 2008

Malaysian Chinese in row over conversion

Malaysian Chinese in row over conversion

Thursday, January 31, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR -- An ethnic Chinese battling Malaysian authorities who snatched the body of his father after saying he had embraced Islam before he died, said on Wednesday that non-Muslims were getting a raw deal in the country.
"What choice do we have?" said Gan Hok Ming, a 46-year-old computer technician mourning the loss of his father. "We are very unsatisfied.

"There should be a more transparent system especially on Muslim conversions," he told Reuters by telephone from his home in the southwestern state of Negeri Sembilan. The row over the body of Gan Eng Gor, a 74-year-old ethnic Chinese man who died on Jan. 20, is the latest in a series of disputes in mostly Muslim Malaysia that have upset non-Muslims, who fear authorities are trampling on their religious rights.

It also highlighted resentment among the sizable Chinese and Indian minorities against the government in the run-up to general elections, widely expected by March.

"Enough is enough," opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said in urging the government to put a stop to the so-called "body-snatching" cases to help preserve racial harmony.

In the latest case, the elder Gan had been buried as Muslim after an Islamic sharia court in Negeri Sembilan ruled that the man converted to Islam last year. But his family insisted otherwise, arguing that Gan could not have converted because he was senile and paralyzed after suffering two strokes.

They said Gan was also unable to speak after a stroke in 2006, challenging a claim that Gan made an oral declaration in Arabic to accept Islam. His conversion papers were also flawed because they were not signed, they said.His family suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when a civil court rejected their bid to declare Gan a Buddhist, saying it had no jurisdiction over Islamic cases, a lawyer said.

"We are not Muslims, why should we go to sharia court?" the son said. "The government should have a better system to deal with conversions. Otherwise the people will suffer."

The spectacle of non-Muslims battling for funeral rights of relatives is not new in Malaysia, where disputes over religious conversions and complaints about demolitions of churches and Hindu temples have fuelled fears of a surge in hardline Islam.

There have been exceptions.

In a 2006 case involving an ethnic Indian said to have converted to Islam, Islamic religious authorities eventually climbed down and allowed the family of van driver Rayappan Anthony, 71, to reclaim his body for Christian burial.

Politically dominant Malay Muslims form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, while ethnic Indian, Chinese, Sikh minorities include Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.

No comments: