Saturday, January 19, 2008


Husband wins battle to give dead wife Christian funeral


A Malaysian has won a battle to give his dead wife a Christian funeral after Islamic religious authorities dropped their claim to the body on the grounds of her conversion to Islam. The row over the corpse of Wong Sau Lan, a 54- year-old ethnic Chinese woman who died on Dec. 30. “It was harrowing to wait for 18 days,” said Ngiam Tee Kong, who was at his wife’s bedside when she died in a Kuala Lumpur hospital and then suffered several sleepless nights during the custody fight for the remains. “I’m definitely relieved. Hopefully it will be over in a few days.” Ngiam, 53, the manager of a snooker game centre, said his ordeal began the day his wife died of kidney failure, when police told him she had converted to Islam by reciting Arabic verses during a session with a traditional healer a week earlier. His wife had sought the help of a Muslim bomoh - a common practice among Malaysians. “My wife was made to recite some Koranic verses. When she died, the witch-doctor showed the video clip of my wife reciting to the Islamic officials, who then issued a letter saying my wife was a Muslim,” he said, adding: “But my wife does not have a Muslim name. She had never converted to Islam,” he added. Ngiam, himself a Buddhist, however challenged this version of events, maintained that his wife was a Christian baptised in November, and asked a Malaysian court to intervene. Islamic officials later admitted they were wrong in claiming she had converted to Islam. “The High Court has ordered that the body of the deceased be released to the husband forthwith,” his lawyer Karpal Singh told reporters outside the court, adding that the body would be cremated according to Christian rites after a two-day wake. “The Islamic Affairs Council has said the conversion of the deceased was not in accordance with Islamic law, and therefore they have no objections to the body being released to the husband,” he said. Race ties, always a delicate issue in multiracial Malaysia, have become increasingly sensitive as speculation grows that the Government could call for snap polls as soon as March. The spectacle of non-Muslims battling for funeral rights of relatives is not new in Malaysia. In another case in 2006 involving an ethnic Indian said to have converted to Islam, religious authorities also eventually climbed down and allowed the family of van driver Rayappan Anthony, 71, to reclaim his body for Christian burial. But in 2005, as Islamic officials prepared to bury former soldier and mountain climber M Moorthy against his Hindu widow’s wishes, the High Court said it had no jurisdiction over such religious matters, leaving non-Muslims unsure of their rights. Politically dominant ethnic Malay Muslims form about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s population of roughly 26 million, while the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities include Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. “This is a very serious case because the council should be more careful in future,” said Karpal Singh. “It must ascertain that any conversion is made according to Islamic law, not snatch a body and refuse to release it on the grounds that there is a conversion when there is not one, later admitting there was no lawful conversion.” Ngiam and his two children would seek damages from the hospital and the Islamic Affairs Council for the trauma they suffered, the lawyer added. Lawyer Zulkifli Che Yong, who represented MAIWP (Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council), said it was the council’s responsibility to investigate into Wong’s religious status following claims that she had converted to Islam. Zulkifli said the decision by MAIWP to release Wong’s remains was made after taking into account the views of the Mufti and testimony from a witness, traditional healer Siti Aishah Ismail, who used to treat Wong. — Reuter, AFP, Bernama