Muslim-Born Woman Seeks Life As Hindu

Shah Alam, Malaysia - A Muslim-born woman who was forced to spend six months in an Islamic rehabilitation center because she wants to live as a Hindu said Friday after her release that she will never return to her original faith.

Revathi Masoosai, 29, said officials at the center tried to make her pray as a Muslim, wear a head scarf and eat beef, a practice sacrilege to Hindus.

"Because of their behavior, I loathe Islam even more now," she told reporters. "They say it's a school, but it's actually a prison."

Her case is one of a growing number of conflicts in Malaysia between religious freedom and state policies that favor Islam, the official faith of this southeast Asian nation. The battles have strained ethnic relations in the multicultural nation.

Malaysia is considered one of the world's most relaxed Muslim countries, having enjoyed racial peace for nearly four decades. But it follows a dual justice system. Islamic, Shariah, courts administer the personal affairs of Muslims, while civil courts govern Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other religious minorities.

Under Islamic law, a person who is born Muslim cannot convert to another religion.

The Islamic Religious Department in southern Malacca state detained Revathi, an ethnic Indian, in January and sent her for religious counseling after officials discovered she had married a Hindu man.

Revathi was released from the rehabilitation center Thursday, and she appeared in a High Court on Friday in an attempt to have her detention declared illegal. Though she already has served the time, her lawyers said they wanted to bring the case to court as a matter of principle and to possibly set a precedent for future cases.

Tuah Atan, a lawyer representing the Islamic department, said officials remain hopeful that Revathi might still return to Islam.

"From the facts of the case, the authorities still strongly feel she can reform," Tuah said.

Revathi was born to Indian Muslim parents who gave her a Muslim name, Siti Fatimah. She was raised as a Hindu by her grandmother and changed her name in 2001, but her official papers still say she is Muslim.

Revathi married Suresh Veerappan in 2004 according to Hindu rites and gave birth to a daughter in December 2005. But the marriage was not legally registered because under Malaysian law Suresh would have had to convert to Islam first.

Islamic officials seized the couple's 18-month-old daughter from her Hindu father in March and handed the child to Revathi's Muslim mother.

Revathi said officials have ordered her to live with her mother for now and to continue undergoing counseling.

Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said Friday that moderate Muslims must be concerned by such cases because they could hurt Malaysia's image by showing "a narrow and intolerant face of Islam."