Widow sues Malaysian govt in battle over Catholic husband's body

A Malaysian woman is taking legal action to recover the body of her deceased husband, who had converted to Islam before eventually becoming a practising Catholic, in order to give him a Christian funeral.

The New Straits Times reports that the Malaysian High Court has fixed 11 December to hear an application by Mrs M Lourdes Mary, 65, the widow of Rayappan Anthony, that the body of her husband be surrendered to her.

Rayappan, 71, a former van driver, died at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital on 29 November.

Mrs Lourdes Mary said she married Rayappan on 15 January 1959.

Malaysian government records showed that Rayappan had converted to Islam in 1990 after taking a Muslim woman as his second wife. His name was changed to Muhamad Rayappan Abdullah.

According to Mrs Lourdes Mary, Rayappan returned to his family in 1999 and was baptised into his original faith.

Her lawyer told a Malaysian court that the deceased had not had any contact with his Muslim wife since he returned to his family and had been a practising Catholic for the past seven years.

A deed poll signed on 10 May 1999 at the National Registration Department, stated that Rayappan had renounced his faith in Islam.

His widow insists he was a Christian at the time of his death while the religious authorities say he was a Muslim.

But a Syriah Court ruled on Friday that Rayappan's body should be released to Muslim authorities.

As a result Mrs Lourdes filed a civil action in the High Court stating that the Kuala Lumpur Hospital's director-general had a fiduciary duty to surrender the body to her.

The widow also sought an order to restrain the hospital's director-general or his agents from handing over the body to others.

Mrs Lourdes Mary also asked for damages, costs and other relief deemed fit by the court.

She presented a wedding certificate to prove she was married to Rayappan and his MyKad that attested he was a Christian.

A lawyer for Mrs Lourdes Mary described alleged harassment by Islamic religious authorities as "corpse-snatching".

"I want Rayappan Anthony back. I want my husband back as a Christian. I will stand by this until I get his body," she said in between loud sobs at a press conference.

Australian Muslim authorities crack down

Meanwhile, Australian Muslim authorities have expelled two students from an Islamic school in Melbourne for urinating and spitting on a Bible and setting it on fire, The Australian reports.

The incident has forced the East Preston Islamic College to call in a senior imam to tell its 650 Muslim students that the Bible and Christianity must be respected.

Anxious teachers at the school have also petitioned principal Shaheem Doutie, expressing "grave concern" about an "inculcation of hatred and radical attitudes towards non-Muslims" at the school, including towards non-Muslim teachers.

The Bible desecration took place last week at a school camp held near Bacchus Marsh, about 50 km west of Melbourne, attended by 33 teenage Muslim boys ranging in age from Year 7 to Year 10.

A school report of the incident, obtained by The Australian, says it happened late at night and involved three students and another two watching.

Mr Doutie, whose school receives about $3.9 million in state and federal government funding each year, told The Australian that both he and the school community were appalled by the Bible desecration and that he had expelled the first two boys and suspended the third.

In a letter to all staff on Monday, Mr Doutie wrote: "The school unconditionally apologises for this horrible act as conducted by some illiterate and ignorant students while under the care of [the school's] teachers.

"We regard the desecration of the Bible in a very serious light and therefore we have taken serious action against the offenders.

"The Bible is an important book both for non-Muslims and Muslims and should be treated as a holy book by all religions."

Malaysia hospital ignites new religious controversy (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/12/06)
Widow turns to High Court for husband's body (New Straits Times, 5/12/06)
Court revokes order (The Star, 5/12/06)
Muslim boys urinated on Bible (The Australian, 6/12/06)

Malaysian Govt threatens to use security laws over religious instability (CathNews, 8/11/06)
Malaysian Church besieged over conversion rumours (CathNews, 7/11/06)
No joy for Malaysian Muslim convert to Catholicism (CathNews, 25/8/06)

6 Dec 2006