Friday, December 28, 2007

Hindu woman loses Malaysia case

A Hindu woman has had her attempt to stop her estranged husband from divorcing her in an Islamic court, and converting their youngest son to Islam, thwarted by Malaysia's highest court.

Subhasini Rajasingham's husband had already converted himself and their elder son, now four, to the religion in 2006.

Subhasini also wants a divorce but says it should be decided in a civil court.

The federal court rejected her request on a technicality, leaving the option of another attempt.

But it failed to clarify the status of Malaysia's minorities in marital disputes where the spouse is a Muslim.

The court said that as a principle, marital disputes involving a converted Muslim spouse and a non-Muslim partner should only be decided in a civil court and not in the sharia court.

But at the same time, the court said Subhasini's husband has the right to approach the shariah court to seek redress.
Civil-rights groups have voiced fears that minority rights have become subordinate to Islamic jurisprudence because of a series of rulings that have gone in favour of Muslim spouses.

Nik Hashim Nik Abdul Rahman, one of the two judges who dismissed the case, said: "The civil and sharia courts cannot interfere with each other's jurisdiction."

There was one dissenter.

Controversal family law

Family law is a controversal area in Malayia's courts. Non-Muslims complain that civil courts give up their responsbilty to their Islamic counterparts too easily in cases involving a Muslim conversion.

In Malaysia marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims are forbidden.

Therefore, once a spouse converts to Islam, the union is broken in the eyes of Islamic courts.

K Shanmuga, Subashini's lawyer, said the judges' comments made it clear they recognised the husband's right, as a newly converted Muslim, to have recourse to the Islamic courts.

In summing up the ruling's significance Shanmuga said: "The high court has jurisdiction to hear matters when this is a non-Muslim marriage but the husband also has a right to sharia court under Islamic law."

In the civil court Shanmuga cited a landmark ruling by the federal court in July which stated that if one party was a non-Muslim, the sharia court had no jurisdiction.

This was a rare ruling that went against a tide of decisions granting jurisdiction to the Islamic courts.

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