Malaysian Hindu Mother’s Insurance Case Highlights Religious Conflicts

February 1, 2008

A Hindu woman has spurned an offer by Malaysia’s Islamic authorities to settle a dispute over her dead Muslim son’s insurance policy in a case that highlights growing conflicts over religious rights, a lawyer said Wednesday.

The Federal Territory Islamic Council offered to give Rukumony Muthiah two-thirds of the 56,300 ringgit (US$17,400; euro11,800) death insurance of her son, a Muslim convert who died in 2000, Rukumony’s lawyer Darshan Singh Khaira said.

In his insurance policy, Rukumony’s son, Ragu Ellaiappan, whose Muslim name was Mohamed Redzuan Abdullah, named Rukumony as his beneficiary, Darshan said.

But Islamic authorities have argued in court that under the country’s religious laws for Muslims, a non-Muslim cannot claim inheritance from a Muslim, he said.

“Our federal constitution guarantees equality so how can you say a non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim, but a Muslim can inherit from a non-Muslim?” Darshan told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Islamic council officials familiar with the case could not immediately be reached.

The council’s lawyers made the offer in High Court in northern Penang state this week, but Darshan said it was a “fairy tale offer” that was unacceptable.

Rukumony, a 61-year-old ethnic Indian widow, is willing to settle for 80 percent of the total sum, Darshan said. The court scheduled to hear the case March 14.

His death certificate says he died of a brain infection at the age of 23, but the family believes there could be more suspicious causes linked to his stint as an army ranger because they have not been shown the post-mortem results, he said.

Malaysia’s non-Muslim minorities say a spate of court cases in recent years, involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims, have usually ended with the Muslim side winning.

The legal conflicts have strained multiethnic ties in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims form about 60 percent of the 27 million people. Ethnic Chinese and Indians, whose faiths include Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, comprise the largest minorities.

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