Malaysian woman fails to reverse Muslim conversion
AP - Wednesday, August 4
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Malaysian woman lost a court battle Wednesday to nullify her conversion to Islam when she was a child, but vowed to fight on to be recognized as a Hindu.
The interfaith dispute could further anger non-Muslims who have long complained that their religious rights are being sidelined in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and may erode minority support for the government.
Malaysia's secular High Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to hear the case as Banggarma Subramaniam is a Muslim and should refer to the Islamic Shariah court, said her lawyer Gooi Hsiao Leung.
Banggarma has said she and her three siblings were under the care of a government orphanage in northern Penang state when she was converted to Islam by welfare officials in 1989 when she was seven years old.
She ran away when she was 16 and got married two years later in 2001 in a traditional Hindu ceremony. When she returned to the home to collect her identity card and other documents, she was given the Muslim conversion certificate which listed her name as Siti Hasnah Vanga-rama Abdullah.
She has been unable to register her marriage or name her husband as the father of their two children in their birth certificates as she is listed a Muslim. Banggarma's husband must convert to Islam to legally wed her as marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is not allowed in the country.
Banggarma said she was disappointed with the court ruling and planned to take the case to the Appeals Court.
"Why must I be forced to accept Islam?" Banggarma said. "I was born an Indian, a Hindu and I remain so until I die. They have no rights over me."
The welfare department claims Banggarma was converted in 1983 by her father and that she must go to the Shariah court to verify her status.
Gooi, however, said her conversion certificate was dated 1989 and that under Penang Islamic laws, minors below 18 cannot be converted to Islam without the consent of their parents.
Malaysia has a dual court system with civil courts for non-Muslims and Shariah courts for Muslims. In interfaith disputes involving Islam, the Shariah courts typically get the last word, which has upset non-Muslims who fear they cannot get justice in such courts.
If she renounces Islam, Banggarma risks being charged with apostasy, which in Malaysia _ as in many Islamic nations _ is regarded as a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.
Minorities are increasingly becoming worried that their rights have become subordinate to those of ethnic Malay Muslims, who form nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people.
The unhappiness over racial discrimination erupted in an unprecedented street protest three years ago by tens of thousands of ethnic Indians. The demonstration emboldened the minorities into voting against the government, which returned to power with its worst performance ever in the March 2008 general elections
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