Tag Archives: Malaysia

Malaysian Islamic leaders allow Buddhist to bury his wife according to Christian rites

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – After 18 harrowing days of battling with Islamic religious authorities, Ngiam Tee Kong on Friday finally won the right to bury his wife according to Christian rites. She died December 30.

 High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan made the decision to allow the Christian burial of Wong Sau Lan after Islamic religious authorities from the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) dropped the claim to her body, saying that her alleged conversion to Islam was not in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).

Zulkifli Che Yong, who represented MAIWP, told the Sun newspaper that the Council decided to drop the claim after taking into account the views of the mufti (Muslim clergy) and testimony from traditional healer Siti Aishah Ismail, from whom Wong had sought treatment. Ngiam’s tussle with Islamic religious authorities began when his wife died of kidney failure at the Malaysian National University Hospital (Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia).

Following her death, MAIWP directed the hospital through the police not to release her body to her husband unless he admitted that she had converted to Islam on December 24, 2007. The Islamic religious authority claimed that Wong had converted to Islam by reciting Arabic verses during a session with a traditional healer a week earlier. Ngiam, who is a Buddhist, challenged the claim and decided to take the matter to court. Ngiam maintained that his wife was a Christian and was baptized in November 2007.  

Following the court decision, Ngiam’s lawyer, Karpal Singh, told reporters outside the courtroom that the body would be cremated according to Christian rites after a two-day wake. Though relieved at the outcome of the court case, Ngiam has indicated that he will file a suit against MAIWP for negligence. His lawyer, Singh, underscored the seriousness of the case.

“It [MAIWP] must ascertain that any conversion is [made] according to Islamic law, not snatch a body and refuse to release it on the ground there is a conversion when there is not one, and later admitting that there was no lawful conversion,” he said. Dr. Ng Kam Weng, research director of Kairos Research Centre, called for Islamic religious authorities to be more sensitive to those in grief. “There have been too many cases where families of the deceased have felt traumatized by such hasty actions,” he told Compass.

In the last few years, there have been at least two other cases in which families of the deceased have had to battle Islamic religious authorities in court over the right to bury their loved ones. In December 2006, the widow of Rayappan Anthony was involved in a nine-day dispute with Islamic religious authorities over whether her husband was a Muslim at the point of death before she was granted the right to bury him as a Christian.  In 2005, the widow of Mount Everest climber Moorthy Maniam lost the legal battle to bury her husband as a Hindu when the civil court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over decisions made by the sharia court. Islamic religious authorities gave her husband a Muslim burial.

-Jasmine Kay, Compass Direct News

Malaysian government confiscates books

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Adding to the furor over whether non-Muslims have the right to use the word “Allah” in their publications and religious practice, on January 11 online news agency Malaysiakini reported that officials confiscated English-language Christian children’s books because they contained images of prophets. 

The government reportedly said Internal Security Ministry officials confiscated the books because their illustrations of prophets offended the sensitivities of Muslims. Islam, which shares some prophets in common with Christianity, prohibits the portrayal of prophets.  

Enforcement officials of the Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Department under the Internal Security Ministry, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, reportedly confiscated the books from three MPH bookstores in Johor Bahru, Senawang and Ipoh in mid-December.  The books have been sent to the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya for investigation. Managers of the MPH bookstores reportedly said they will wait for the Internal Security Ministry’s decision on the books. 

In a statement released yesterday (January 17) , the Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia questioned how the books could be offensive to Muslims when they were not meant for them.  

In the strongly worded statement about the seizures, Shastri said government officials “have no right and have overstepped their bounds by confiscating Christian literature.”  He urged the prime minister and his Cabinet to take immediate action to put a stop to such seizures and to “amend administrative rules and regulations especially in the Internal Security Ministry that give a free hand to enforcement officials to act at their whim and fancies.”  

At the same time, the debate over whether non-Muslims can use the word “Allah” in publications and religious practice was stoked when the Internal Security Ministry told the Sun on Wednesday (January 16) that it had confiscated a total of 163 publications comprising 18 titles from bookshops nationwide.  A ministry official told the daily that the seizures were made because the word “Allah” was used in the books. But Deputy Internal Ministry Minister Johari Baharum reportedly said that the ministry did not target Christian books. 

“We do routine checks all year long,” he said. “We don’t only seize Christian books, but other [religious] books as well.”   

The deputy minister said use of the words, “Allah” (Arabic for God), “baitullah” (mosque in Mecca), “solat” (prayer) and “kaabah” (Islamic shrine in Mecca) are exclusive to Islam, according to Gazette PU (A) 15/82 and circular KKDN S.59/3/6/A dated December 5, 1986.  In a letter to the press, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, argued that “seizing more than the needed copies for investigation while the titles are not banned, denies the right of the people to access the book and is clearly high-handed.” 

The right of non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in their publications and practice of their religion is being tested in two court cases by the publisher of the Herald, a Catholic newspaper, and the Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo).

 -Jasmine Kay, Compass Direct News  

Also see: 

http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news.php?id=203457 

 http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=11354 

Malaysian government threatens censorship

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Catholic newspaper and an evangelical church have brought lawsuits against the government after authorities ruled against use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications. The government had threatened the Herald, a 13-year-old Catholic weekly, with closure. Following protests by the Christian community, the Herald’s printing permit was renewed just two days prior to expiration. At the same time, the Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo, or SIB) has challenged a government decision to prohibit importation of Christian educational materials for children containing the word “Allah.” A court hearing on the case scheduled for December 27 was postponed until January 16 pending efforts by outside parties to resolve the matter. In its lawsuit, SIB argues that Christian use of “Allah” predates Islam, as the word is used for God in the old as well as modern Arabic Bibles.

-Compass Direct News