A court drama that is playing out in Malaysia this week says a lot about growing tensions between conservative Islam and the rule of law in this Muslim-majority nation that has long been known for its religious tolerance. It concerns the legal battle for the body of Elangesvaran Benedict, who died June 22 at age 34.
As his family mourned his death, Mr. Elangesvaran’s body was seized by Islamic authorities, who claimed that he had secretly converted to Islam and must be buried as a Muslim. The family responded with a court case claiming he was Hindu, but hours before the case was to be heard, a Shariah court — in which none of his family was present — ruled that the deceased was Muslim. After that, the civil court refused to hear the case. On Monday another civil court refused to issue a staying order while the family appeals the case. Later that night, the body was buried in a Muslim cemetery, without the family’s approval.