An ethnic Chinese man was buried as a Muslim following a court ruling, triggering angry protests yesterday from his family, who said he was a Buddhist and had never converted to Islam.
It is the latest in an increasing number of interfaith conflicts that have raised tensions in multiethnic Malaysia. About 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim Malays and most disputes that have landed in court ended against non-Muslims, who feel their religious rights are under threat.
An Islamic Shariah High Court in the central Negeri Sembilan state ruled on Thursday that Gan Eng Gor, 74, also identified as Amir Gan Abdullah, was a Muslim and should be buried under Islamic rites. The burial took place late on Thursday in Negeri Sembilan.
The man's body was seized by police on 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.
His other family members disputed the claim and the case was sent to the Shariah High Court.
Judge Mohamad Nadzri Abdul Rahman said he ruled in favor of the eldest son because Amir's wife and seven other children, who had disputed the conversion, were not in court on Thursday to present their arguments.
Gan Hock Sin, another son of the dead man, said the family did not go to the Shariah court because they felt it was unfair to hold the case 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 said.
"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 had seized the body when 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.
Malaysia has a dual court system for civil matters with secular courts for non-Muslims and Shariah courts for Muslims. In interfaith disputes, involving Muslims, the Shariah court usually gets the last word, making a decision in favor of non-Muslims less likely.
The latest case follows one earlier this month in which Islamic authorities claimed a woman's body, arguing she had converted to Islam.