Malaysia Hindu Sangam's Statement: Majlis Agama Islam Perak Should Respect Federal Constitution And Federal Court

We refer to the report in the Malaysia Nanban on Tuesday, 24th June 2008 (page 3) regarding the turmoil faced by the family of the late Elangesvaran.

We understand that the late Elangesvaran allegedly converted to Islam at some point. He has now committed suicide, and his body is at the hospital. The Islamic authorities say he died a Muslim, but his family members and friends say that Elangesvaran continued to profess and practise Hinduism all the way through until his untimely death.

The Malaysia Hindu Sangam extends our deepest condolences to his family in their time of grief on the untimely and early demise of Elangesvaran.. We are also saddened that yet again a grieving family is being put through torment because Islamic religious authorities are threatening to snatch away the body of their loved one away.

We have today written to the Menteri Besar of Perak urging him to ensure that the civil courts are allowed to determine the religious status of the late Elangesvaran. Therefore, we urge the Islamic authorities not to prosecute claims in the Syariah court for the bodies of the dead who are in the custody of non Muslim next of kin. If a non-Muslim is a party to the dispute, the Syariah courts should not deal with the matter.

We also urge the Perak State Government to recognise the constitutional right of a non Muslim who may have converted to Islam for some reason to revert to his original religion, or to some other religion. A person’s right to profess and practice the religion of his choice should not be unnecessarily interfered with by the State.

It is our view that the issue of whether the late Elangesvaran was a ”person professing the religion of Islam” (quoting the words used by the Federal Constitution) must be determined by the civil courts.

We point out in our letter that it is clear from the unanimous decision of the Federal Court in the case of Latifah bte Mat Zin v Rosmawati bte Sharibun & Anor [2007] 5 MLJ 101, FC that the Syariah courts do not have jurisdiction at all to determine any dispute where a party to the dispute does not profess Islam. The comments of the learned Federal Court judges in latest case of Subashini a/p Rajasingam v Saravanan a/l Thangathoray (2007) also reinforce this proposition already entrenched in Item 1, List II, 9th Schedule to the Federal Constitution.

In our letter, we state our expectation that as a statutory body responsible to advise His Royal Highness the Ruler of Perak on Islamic affairs, MAIP has a responsibility to respect the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of this country and these decisions of our highest court.

The non Muslim family members of the Elangesvaran must have an opportunity for proper access to justice. The crucial question is whether at the time of his death, Elangesvaran professed (or acknowledged) himself to be a Muslim. This must be determined based on the civil law, and the Hindu family members of Elangevaran must be given full access to justice in order to determine this question.

Dated 24th June 2008

Datuk A Vaithilingam
Malaysia Hindu Sangam

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