Malaysia's Islamic officials seize baby from mother who sought a Hindu life
April 6, 2007
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Islamic authorities took away the baby of a Muslim woman who is living as a Hindu in defiance of the law in the latest case of religious conflict straining ties in multiethnic Malaysia, officials said Friday.
Revathi Masoosai's 15-month-old daughter was taken by the Islamic Religious Department in southern Malacca state on March 26 and handed to Revathi's Muslim mother, said department enforcement officer Mohamad Imran Ahmad.
"The baby's grandmother has custody of her for now," Mohamad Imran told The Associated Press.
Revathi, an ethnic Indian, is being held in a rehabilitation center run by Islamic authorities for her religious transgression. The baby was with Revathi's husband when she was seized. He has filed a police complaint, but it was not clear if he plans to take the case to court.
Meanwhile, the baby will stay with her grandmother. "When the baby's mother is released, she can try to regain custody if she wants to," said Mohamad Imran without elaborating.
The case, which was made public by the opposition Democratic Action Party on Thursday, highlights an increasing number of spats affecting the religious and family rights of the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.
Indians, who form about 8 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, are mostly Hindus while some are Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.
Activists say a string of recent disputes have ended in favor of Muslims — who comprise nearly 60 percent of the population — and strained ethnic relations in this multicultural nation, which has enjoyed racial peace for nearly four decades.
Revathi, 29, was born to Indian Muslim parents who gave her a Muslim name, Siti Fatimah. However, Revathi claims she was raised as a Hindu by her grandmother and changed her name in 2001, said Chong Eng, an opposition member of Parliament.
Revathi married Suresh Veerappan in 2004 according to Hindu rites. The marriage has not been legally registered because Suresh would have had to convert to Islam first.
Revathi's official identification documents state she is Muslim because Malaysians who are born as Muslims cannot legally convert.
The Islamic Religious Department apparently learned of Revathi's case after she gave birth. Revathi was detained in January and taken to a rehabilitation center in central Malaysia where she is expected to be held until at least mid-April to undergo religious counseling, Chong said.
"Separating mother and child ... is inhuman," Chong said in a statement.
A custody battle would be complicated because Islamic officials and Revathi's mother would likely seek to try the case in Islamic Shariah court, which handles religious, family and personal law disputes involving Muslims.
Non-Muslims turn to civil courts to settle these issues. But the secular courts have generally avoided taking a position in such disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims, leaving it to the Shariah system, where verdicts have often favored Muslims.