Malaysian Buddhists lose conversion case

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A Malaysian court on Tuesday rejected a petition to have a dead man declared a Buddhist after he was buried as a Muslim in the latest interfaith dispute to rock this multiethnic but largely Muslim nation.

Relatives of the late Gan Eng Gor had asked the High Court in southern Seremban state to reverse a decision by an Islamic Shariah court that declared him a Muslim. But the High Court rejected the plea, saying it had no jurisdiction in the matter, the family's lawyer, Tan Foong Luen, told The Associated Press.

The deceased, an ethnic Chinese, was given an Islamic burial last Thursday by his eldest son, a Muslim convert, who won custody of the body after getting the Shariah Court's approval. The rest of the family insisted the man had never converted, saying he had suffered two strokes and couldn't even speak at the time of the alleged conversion.

"At least (the high court) should listen to our concerns first before making a decision," another son, Gan Hock Ming, told The Associated Press. "This will set a precedent. ... This has a big impact for non-Muslims."

Such cases are becoming common in Malaysia, straining the society's multiethnic fabric and increasing tensions between minorities and Malay Muslims.

Malaysia has a dual court system for civil matters, in which non-Muslims use secular courts and Muslims use Shariah courts. The law is unclear on how to deal with cases where jurisdiction overlaps. But non-Muslims say civil courts are becoming increasingly reluctant to challenge Islamic courts and bureaucrats.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people. A quarter of the population is ethnic Chinese, who are mostly Taoist, Buddhists and Christians. Another 8 percent are ethnic Indians, many of whom are Hindus.

Hock Ming said the family was undecided on the next step, but would probably try to seek redress in the Court of Appeals or in a Federal Court.