Religious authorities took Muslim bride from Hindu wedding for questioning

PETALING JAYA - Before an audience of 400 guests, happy bride Zarinah Abdul Majid had a thali - the necklace that represents a woman's married status - tied around her neck by her boyfriend of seven years in a Hindu temple.

But her dream wedding on Sunday was interrupted by the arrival of enforcement officers from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) and the police. The reason for the "intrusion"? 

Although a practising Hindu her whole life, Ms Zarinal is a Muslim on paper.

The 32-year-old was then taken away from the temple at Petaling Jaya to Shah Alam, reported Malaysian Insider. She was then questioned about her faith before being released. "Most of my guests were shocked and obviously, they left without eating. It was so embarrassing and painful," she told the Malaysian news portal.

While freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution, the marriage between a Muslim and non-Muslim is not legally recognised unless the non-Muslim converts to Islam.

Ms Zarinah said her parents were born Hindus. A relative converted her father to Islam, so she was identified as a Muslim in her birth certificate and identity card. The same goes for her three siblings.

In 1990, her father abandoned the family. Her mother raised the children as Hindus without knowing that they were "officially" Muslims as she was illiterate, Ms Zarinah told Malaysian Insider in Tamil.

The factory worker added that she had spent some RM20,000 (S$7,775) in legal fees in a bid to "correct" her religious status in official documents but to no avail. She said she also tried to register her marriage under civil law but was disallowed from doing so. After numerous frustrating encounters, she decided to go ahead and marry her Hindu boyfriend in a traditional Hindu ceremony.

"I was not afraid any more. I was fed up and could not wait any longer," she was quoted as saying in the report.

Jais' interference with Ms Zarinah's wedding had drawn much criticisms from the Malaysia Hindu Sangam (a representative body of Hindus in the country), the Bar Council, Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) and civil society groups.

Constitutional and sharie lawyer Nizam Bashir said although Jais was empowered to investigate offences against Islamic law, it was far from necessary to disrupt the wedding, reported Malay Mail Online.

"The question is whether it was sensible for them to do so given the importance of the event," he told the news website. "At the end of the day, a wedding between a Muslim and non-Muslim is not valid."

Jais deputy director-general Jais Ahmad Zaki Arshad maintained that his department had followed standard procedures in last Sunday's probe. He said the team acted only after receiving complaints from members of the public. "This was not a raid or an operation. We only conducted routine checks and asked the IC holder whether she is a Muslim," he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insider.

Ms Zarinah said Jais officers had advised her to change her name and religion on official documents as failure to do so might result in charges of apostasy.

"But that was what I was trying to do for years. I spent so much money and time working on this problem and now they are telling me to do the same thing," she said, adding that the ugly turn of events last Sunday would not stop her from continuing with her fight against the bureaucracy.