themalaysianinsider.com, July 21 2010
July 21, 2010
PUTRAJAYA, July 21 – The widow of Mount Everest climber, Sargeant M.
Moorthy, may finally get a chance to lay her husband to rest according
to Hindu rites five years after his death and burial in a Muslim
The Court of Appeal here set August 6 to deliver its decision on
which court — civil or syariah — has the power to determine the
religious status of the dead soldier, born a Hindu, who is said to have
converted to Islam a year before his death.
Malaysia practices a unique dual-court system, which has caused more
confusion over which court has the final say, especially in
inter-religious disputes such as custody fights over minors when one
parent converts to Islam.
Moorthy’s Hindu widow, S. Kaliammal has been involved in a legal
tussle with the Federal Territories Islamic Council (Jawi) and the
federal government over her husband’s remains since his death on
December 20, 2005.
A government lawyer had caused a stir in court earlier today when he
argued to uphold the High Court ruling that the civil courts had no
jurisdiction to hear matters involving the religion of Islam, including
the right of a non-Muslim to claim the spouse’s remains in conversion
“There is no automatic legal right for a wife to claim her husband’s
body,” senior federal counsel Mahamad Naser Disa told a three-man bench
led by Datuk Zainun Ali.
The other judges on the panel were Datuk Abdul Wahab Patail and Datuk
Clement Allan Skinner.
Kaliammal had lost the case at the High Court five years ago when the
judge ruled he could not hear the dispute because conversions into
Islam were strictly the jurisdiction of the syariah court.
Mahamad Naser was representing the federal government and Hospital
Kuala Lumpur, where Moorthy was treated before his death and which had
released the latter’s body to Muslim authorities for a Muslim burial
after being alerted of his convert status.
Fellow senior federal counsel Arik Sanusi Yeop Johari added that
Kaliammal had the chance to question her husband’s convert status in the
Syariah Court but rejected the opportunity.
“Under Section 83(2) of the Federal Territory Syariah Court Evidence
Act 1997, she can come in and testify as a witness through the Islamic
Council, even if not as a party,” Arik said, debunking the view that
non-Muslims are barred from having a say in the syariah court.
Arik cited the 2006 case of Nyonya Tahir, born into a Muslim family
but adopted by a Chinese family who raised her as a Buddhist and allowed
to be buried according to Buddhist rites, to show the syariah court was
The lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers was backing veteran
lawyer and former Bar Council president Sulaiman Abdullah, for Jawi.
Sulaiman had argued that an adult has the right to convert and no one
could question his decision, including his spouse.
Moorthy, who part of the first Malaysian expedition to Mount Everest
in 1997, is said to have followed his elder brother’s footsteps and
embraced Islam on October 11, 2004.
Kaliammal, now 32, and a mother of one insists her husband was a
practising Hindu to the day he died.
She was stunned when several Jawi officials appeared at Hospital
Kuala Lumpur — where he passed away after suffering a head injury
falling out of his wheelchair a month earlier — to take his body away
for a Muslim funeral.
Kaliammal wants the case returned to the High Court so she can
challenge the validity of a 2005 Federal Territory Syariah Court
do*****ent declaring Moorthy a Muslim and ordering the latter be given a
She was represented by M. Manoharan, while lawyers Edmund Bon acted
for the Bar Council and Aston Paiva stood for the Malaysian Consultative
Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hindusim, Sikhism and Taoism