Alexa

In landmark case, Hindu man in Malaysia gets custody of children born to Muslim wife

In landmark case, Hindu man in Malaysia gets custody of children born to Muslim wife

Malaysia's Islamic authorities gave a Hindu man married to a Muslim woman custody of their children Thursday, in a landmark decision for minority rights, after the couple were forcibly separated because they follow different religions.
The decision was announced at an emotional hearing in the High Court attended by the ethnic Indian couple, Marimuthu Periasamy and Raimah Bibi Noordin, both rubber tappers who had been happily married for 21 years.
The case is the latest in a series of conflicts involving the religious rights of minority groups that is straining ties in multiethnic Malaysia, where Islam is the dominant religion. Buddhists, Christians and Hindus are the minority faiths.
The crisis began unexpectedly when Islamic authorities took away Raimah Bibi and six of her seven children on April 2 on the grounds that her marriage with Marimuthu was illegal. It was not clear why the authorities acted now when the couple had been together for 21 years.
At the hearing Tuesday, Raimah Bibi, 39, broke down and sobbed openly when the judge asked her if she will give up custody of their seven children, who are aged between four and 14.
"Yes, I agree to surrender my children to Marimuthu," she said, wiping her tears with the ends of her headscarf.
Marimuthu had filed an application demanding that the Islamic Affairs Department bring his wife and children to court. The department has indicated the couple cannot live together because Marimuthu did not convert to Islam as required by law for their marriage to be legal.
Later, government lawyer Zauyah Be Loth Khan said the Islamic Affairs Department had no objection to the children being raised as Hindus by the father. "It is up to the parents," she said.
The decision was a landmark step in minority rights because it allowed a Hindu man to take custody of his children who legally might be considered Muslims because their mother is one.
"It would set a precedent for other cases," said the 43-year-old Marimuthu's lawyer, Karpal Singh.
Singh indicated that Raimah Bibi gave up the children as a compromise to end the family's predicament.
"What is very sad is that a happy united family has been divided and has faced such a crisis," said Lim Kit Siang, opposition leader.
"For this to happen to a couple that has lived together for 21 years as a result of a religious conflict is not good for our international image," he said.
After Raimah Bibi and the six children were removed on April 2, Islamic authorities took them to a Muslim village for rehabilitation and religious counseling. Marimuthu has claimed that his wife was a practicing Hindu despite having a Muslim name and that he feared she would be brainwashed at the rehabilitation village.
She and Marimuthu did not speak with reporters Thursday.
However, in a statement to the court, Raimah Bibi said she was born a Muslim and wants to "continue professing the Islamic faith."
Singh said Raimah Bibi "will have absolute access" to her children.
"We are resorting to King Solomon's justice," he said referring to the biblical story of a baby being ordered to be cut equally and given to two women who both claimed to be his mother.


Updated : 2021-04-15 08:30 GMT+08:00