Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 16:27 UK

Malaysia burial row fuels tension

By Frances Harrison
Religious affairs reporter, BBC News

Malaysia map

The Islamic authorities in Malaysia are in dispute with the Hindu family of a man who committed suicide - with both sides claiming the body for burial.

It is the latest in a series of cases where against the wishes of families Muslim officials have seized remains of people they say converted to Islam.

The family of the man contest his conversion certificate but have been refused permission to collect his body.

The conversion disputes are straining relations with ethnic minorities.

Hindu rites

The 34-year-old man, Elangesvaran, hanged himself on Sunday.

His Hindu family have been prevented from collecting his body from the hospital.

They say the Islamic religious department informed them that Mr Elangesvaran had converted to Islam without their knowledge and therefore must now be given a Muslim burial.

But the family says the conversion certificate is just a letter with some scribbling on it that is allegedly by Mr Elangesvaran but could be anything because there is no signature or thumbprint and no witnesses.

The family have filed a court case in Penang asking for Mr Elangesvaran to be declared a Hindu and for his body to be handed over to them so it can be buried according to Hindu rites.

It is the latest in a series of conversion disputes straining ethnic relations in this predominately Muslim country.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said non-Muslims would have to tell their families before converting to Islam to avoid these arguments after death.

But the head of an interfaith group complained the government never followed up on the statement and yet again a man's dead body was being fought over by people who never knew him.

Non-Muslims make up about 40% of Malaysia's population and they complain that the Islamic authorities tend to assert their greater power over minorities when disputes arise.

Malaysian police break up protest
16 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysian woman can leave Islam
08 May 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia's lingering ethnic divide
04 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia plans women travel curbs
04 May 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
11 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific