In Malaysia, Islam's legal advance divides families and nation

Sat Jul 12, 2014 9:33pm EDT
 
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By Stuart Grudgings

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Deepa Subramaniam would not let go of her son, clinging to five-year-old Mithran's leg even as the car into which he had been bundled began to accelerate.

The 30-year-old, a Hindu in Muslim-majority Malaysia, says she was dragged along the stone-strewn road outside her house until she dropped to the ground, scratched and sobbing, as her ex-husband drove off.

The alleged abduction on April 9, detailed by Subramaniam in a police report and witnessed by a neighbor, was a painful loss for the mother-of-two, who has not seen Mithran since and fears her ex-spouse's conversion to Islam will win him custody.

The case has become a focal point of tensions over the widening role of Islam, which critics say is threatening Malaysia's secular core and exacerbating fraught relations between ethnic Malays, who are Muslims, and minority Chinese and Indians.

Subramaniam's estranged spouse converted from Hinduism to Islam in 2012, after their nine-year marriage broke down, taking the name Izwan Abdullah.

He then converted Mithran and their now eight-year-old daughter to Islam, giving him a strong case under Islamic law, or shariah, to take over their custody - which a shariah court granted him five months later.

"In five minutes, the children read some verses and were converted," said Subramaniam. "In 10 years, he never gave us money, he enjoyed his life and abandoned me countless times. Under what characteristic are they giving my children to him?"

Subramaniam fought back, last year obtaining a court protection order based on her accounts of domestic violence and in April winning a high court ruling that dissolved their marriage and gave her custody of the children.   Continued...

 
Deepa Subramaniam, 30, speaks during an interview in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said