Wife and husband fight over right for their son's religion

Malaysian Hindu woman urged highest court to protect her religious rights. Her Muslim husband wants converting their son to Islam without her consent.

The case is being closely watched because it could set a precedent for inter-religious disputes in this mostly Muslim country, where the Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities have voiced fears that courts are unfairly asserting the supremacy of Islam.

Subashini Rajasingam, a 29-year-old clerk, married Saravanan Thangathoray in an ethnic Indian Hindu wedding in 2002. The couple had two sons, Dharvin and Sharvind, now ages 4 and 2, before Saravanan told his wife last November he had converted to Islam.

Subashini attempted suicide and was hospitalized. When she returned home, Saravanan left with Dharvin, whom he claims has also converted to Islam. She then sought a court order to prevent Saravanan from converting Sharvind and from seeking a divorce in an Islamic Shariah court instead of a civil court.

The Court of Appeal outraged rights groups when it ruled in March that Subashini should argue her case in the Shariah court, which has jurisdiction over Muslims. Activists insist Subashini's chances of blocking a conversion would be slim in the Shariah Court.

The Federal Court, Malaysia's highest civil court, began hearing Subashini's appeal against the earlier verdict Monday, with Subashini's lawyers outlining their stance that one parent cannot convert a child to Islam if the other parent objects.

"The husband should be restrained from abusing the judicial system ... to get orders from the Shariah court which will adversely affect the rights of the wife," the lawyers said in a written statement presented to a three-judge panel. "The Shariah courts have no jurisdiction since (Subashini) is not a person professing Islam."

Until the Federal Court rules on the case, Saravanan, 31, cannot approach the Shariah court to convert Sharvind, annul the marriage or formally seek custody of the boys. Subashini currently takes care of Sharvind, while Saravanan has Dharvin, but both parents have not seen their other child since November, Subashini's lawyers say.

Religious issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 27 million people are Muslims. Most minorities have accepted Islam's dominance, resulting in a veneer of harmony hiding simmering tensions. Muslims are largely ethnic Malays, while the minorities are mainly from the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova