Malaysian Hindu gets custody of children from Muslim wife

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A Malaysian Hindu man forcibly separated from his Muslim wife by Islamic authorities because they are of different religions was yesterday granted custody of their children in a milestone case.

The children will be raised as Hindus in central Selangor state despite having one Muslim parent — which lawyers said was unprecedented in mainly Muslim Malaysia.

Selangor Islamic authorities last month forcibly separated ethnic Indian P Marimuthu from his ethnic Indian Muslim wife of 21 years, Raimah Bibi Noordin and six of their seven children.

During a high court hearing west of Kuala Lumpur, Raimah, 39, clad in traditional Malay floor-length attire with a Muslim headscarf, told the judge she was voluntarily giving up custody of her children. “I agree to hand over the custody of my children to my husband to be raised as Hindus,” Raimah said, before she broke down in tears.

Under Malaysian law, a non-Muslim must convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim, and children born to Muslims must be raised as followers of that religion.

Government legal advisor Zauyah Be Loth Khan said Selangor’s Islamic Affairs Department did not object to the children being raised as Hindus. “She is still entitled to visiting rights at any time,” Zauyah told reporters.

“It sets a new precedent,” said Marimuthu’s lawyer Karpal Singh, also a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP). Marimuthu, 43, applied for custody of the children after they were placed with Raimah in an ethnic Malay Muslim village. Islamic authorities said they separated the couple after they recently found out she was a Muslim.

“I have had discussions with my husband ... with regard to the predicament facing the both of us, and I hereby state that I was born a Muslim and I wish to continue professing the Islamic faith,” Raimah said in an affidavit to the court.

Marimuthu has said that Raimah, an ethnic Indian, was adopted by an Indian Muslim family but was a practising Hindu. They were married 21 years ago according to Hindu rites and raised their seven children, aged 14 to 4, as Hindus, he said.

Raimah’s case comes amid growing sensitivities over the rights of non-Muslims in Malaysia. Rights groups have condemned the actions of the Islamic authorities, saying freedom of religious practice is guaranteed in Malaysia’s constitution.

“Relationships should not be broken up by religion, which is supposed to foster family love and unity,” said DAP parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang.