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Indian's burial sparks religious row

M Moorthy, who was born a Hindu, was buried according to Islamic rites in Malaysia against the wishes of his wife.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2005 17:43 IST

The dispute over the religious identity of a dead ethnic Indian man has prompted a Malaysian inter-faith group to demand that the Constitution be amended to give the High Court the power to decide if a person has become a Muslim convert, overriding the Islamic courts.

M Moorthy, who was born a Hindu, was buried on Wednesday according to Islamic rites against the wishes of his wife after the High Court rejected her petition saying that it had no jurisdiction to review a Islamic Shariah Court decision that the deceased had converted to Islam and should be buried as a Muslim.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism said it was wrong for the Shariah court to have "assumed jurisdiction over persons who do not profess Islam and where its orders directly affect the rights of the family members of a person, all of whom do not profess Islam," the New Straits Times reported on Thursday.

The Council called on the Government to amend an article in the Constitution, which stated that all matters pertaining to Islam should be handled by the Shariah Court.

Moorthy, 36, who was part of the Malaysian team, which scaled Mount Everest in 1997, was paralysed chest down after an army training accident in 1998. He died on December 20 after falling off his wheelchair a few weeks earlier.

However, when Moorthy's widow Kaliammal Sinnasmy, came to take the body for cremation she was told by his colleagues that her husband had converted to Islam in 2004. None of Moorthy's family attended his burial except his brother Mohd Hussin Abdullah who had converted to Islam many years ago.

Hussin said that he was not aware that Moorthy had become a Muslim, the paper reported.

Hussin had only found out about the conversion after his brother had died and that he had been surprised.

He said his brother had never told him about this. However, Hussin added that there was no point in pursuing the matter any further. "I hope they can accept the decision reached by the court," the paper quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Moorthy's widow Kaliammal and other family members burnt a small pile of wood, broke some coconuts and scattered flowers. "My husband was a Hindu. I want his soul to go to heaven. What they have taken is his body. I am now doing something for his soul," Kaliammal said.

According to her lawyer, the family was to place the symbolic ashes, the coconuts and flowers in a river.

Malaysia is a Muslim majority country where Indian Malaysians and Chinese Malaysians have full freedom to practice their religions.

First Published: Dec 29, 2005 11:24 IST