No right to inheritance

(The Nut Graph) PETALING JAYA, 8 July 2009: There is no avenue for a deceased Muslim convert's next-of-kin to lay claim to his or her estate, as civil laws like the Distribution Act 1958 do not apply to the Muslim deceased, lawyers said.

Instead, the estate goes to the Muslim treasury, Baitulmal, which is meant to distribute the assets among poor Muslims, hence denying the right to inheritance among non-Muslim family members.

In response to the High Court judgment that Mohan Singh a/l Janot Singh was a Muslim and his religion at the time of death should be determined by the Syariah Court, lawyers told The Nut Graph that legal amendments to address the distribution of a convert's estate are imperative.

What happens?

When a non-Muslim dies without a will, the estate is divided among the next-of-kin subject to the Distribution Act.

But for a deceased Muslim, his or her estate is subject to the Islamic laws of faraid (Muslim inheritance and distribution law). Under such circumstances, non-Muslims are prohibited from inheriting Muslim estates, and vice-versa. This is under the Syafie school of thought, which Malaysia adopts for its Islamic laws.

The law has yet to be tested in respect of a deceased Muslim convert who has a will, says lawyer Balwant Singh Sidhu, who represented the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. The council was a respondent in the judicial review involving Mohan's religious status.

"When the Distribution Act was enacted in 1958, nobody thought of converts because there were few at the time. Since this Act applies to non-Muslims only, and Muslims are covered by syariah enactments on inheritance, what about converts who drew up their will when they were non-Muslims?" Balwant said in a phone interview.

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