04/02/2007, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Catholic bishop wants constitution respected, Christians protected from Islamic Law

by Joseph Masilamany
Mgr Tan, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, talks to AsiaNews about the case of an indo-Malaysian woman forced to go before an Islamic court after her husband filed for divorce following his conversion to Islam. Minorities are very worried; for them the constitution is the supreme law of the land, not Islamic Law.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – In an appeal made via AsiaNews to Malaysia’s lawmakers, Mgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), said that every means should be used to uphold “the constitution and the rights of non Muslims,” insisting that “matters involving civil liberties and the family should come under the jurisdiction of civil courts rather than Islamic tribunals.”

Bishop Tan’s made the appeal at a time when Malaysia’s dual legal system, one civil and one Islamic, is causing profound social cleavages, generating a heated debate in the general public over the actual existence of religious freedom in the country.

His action is part of a wider protest movement by religious minorities against the role of Islamic Courts in the country, a situation best illustrated by the case of a young woman of Indian origin, R Subshini, who is fighting for custody of her two children against her husband, Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah, who converted to Islam a year ago and filed for a divorce before an Islamic court.

In an attempt to gain custody of her two children, aged three and one, Ms Subshini turned to the Court of Appeal to have the divorce case heard by a civil court. Her request was rejected however and for the first time a non Muslim will go before an Islamic court. Should her husband get custody the children will be automatically considered Muslim.

For the CFM the Subshini case is “clearly unconstitutional” since ethnic minorities like the Chinese and Indians come under the jurisdiction of civil courts.

“It is troubling to note, and is indeed of great concern to all Malaysians, that what is clearly stated in the Federal Constitution, namely that Sharia courts shall have jurisdiction only over persons professing the religion of Islam, is now being extended, by a court decision, to include non-Muslims,” Bishop Tan said.

The CFM is not alone in its protest. The Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism has expressed its support for the appeal.

This week the CFM has also organised a national prayer campaign in favour of minority rights.

“Non Muslim communities are not prepared to accept the ‘cajoling’ of the civil courts, forcing people to go before Sharia courts,” the prelate said.

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