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Malaysian Buddhist Buried As Muslim After Dispute

By JULIA ZAPPEI, AP, Jan 25, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- An ethnic Chinese man received a Muslim burial after a court ruled against the wishes of most of his family members, who maintained Friday he never converted to Islam.

An Islamic Shariah High Court in the central Negeri Sembilan state ruled Thursday that Gan Eng Gor, 74, also identified in court
documents as Amir Gan Abdullah, was a Muslim and should be
buried according to Islamic rites. The burial took place late
Thursday.

The dispute was the latest in an increasing number of interfaith conflicts that have raised tensions in multiethnic Malaysia, where minority non-Muslims feel their religious rights are under threat.

About 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are Malay Muslim.

A quarter is ethnic Chinese, who are mostly Taoist, Buddhists and Christians. Another 8 percent are ethnic Indians, many of whom are
Hindus.

The dead man's body was seized by police after a complaint by his eldest son, Abdul Rahman Gan, a Muslim convert. He claimed his
father had changed his religion from Buddhism to Islam last July.

The rest of the family claimed otherwise, and the case was sent to the Shariah High Court.

The court's judge, Mohamad Nadzri Abdul Rahman, told The Associated Press he ruled in favor of the eldest son because the father's wife and seven other children, who had disputed the conversion, were not in court Thursday and he couldn't hear their arguments.

Gan Hock Sin, one of the sons of the dead man, said the family didn't go to the Shariah court because they felt it was unfair that the case was heard there.

"It's not fair for us. I don't know how they say he converted. My father
couldn't even talk (before his death)," Gan told the AP.

"Unfortunately we feel the way they do (these conversions) is not fair
for non-Muslim people. The government should be more transparent,"
he said.

He said the police seized the body as the family was carrying out Buddhist rites in a Chinese funeral parlor.

The family had asked the state's civil High Court to hear the case, but a judge ruled he had no jurisdiction in the matter as the Shariah court had already made a decision, said a court official, who declined to be named citing protocol.

Malaysia has a dual court system for civil matters, in which Muslims are governed by Islamic courts and non-Muslims go to secular courts. But non-Muslims complain that civil courts have been more than willing to cede authority to the Islamic courts in cases involving conversions, and that this makes favorable decisions for them less likely.

Tensions about religious conversions emerged in late 2005 when a court ordered that a member of Malaysia's Mount Everest expedition be buried as a Muslim, although his Hindu wife maintained he never converted.

About 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are Malay Muslim.

A quarter is ethnic Chinese, who are mostly Taoist, Buddhists and Christians. Another 8 percent are ethnic Indians, many of whom are Hindus.


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