There is no mistaking the determination of Kaliammal Sinnasamy, 39, the Hindu woman at the centre of a widening religious quarrel between Malaysia's majority Muslims and its significant non-Muslim minority over so-called creeping Islam. 'My husband was Hindu right up to the moment he died, but the Islamic authorities snatched his body and buried him as a Muslim,' said Ms Kaliammal, as she grimly recalled the December day in 2005 when Muslim officials arrived to claim the body of Moorthy Maniam. 'His soul will never rest. Neither will mine until he gets a Hindu burial. I hope we get justice in the higher court,' Ms Kaliammal said. She has appealed to a higher court to exhume his body and give him a Hindu burial. While she waits for her day in court, Ms Kaliammal cleans offices and lives with her nine-year-old daughter, Trishini Moorthy, in a two-room flat in Rawang, a cluttered industrial town about 35km east of the capital. Hindus and Muslims nearly came to blows outside the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary after Moorthy's death, when Muslim officials said he had secretly converted to Islam. Ms Kaliammal rushed to the civil High Court to claim her husband's body, but the court ruled it had no jurisdiction to hear any matter involving Islam, even if one party is a non-Muslim. 'This court cannot undo, vary or overrule any decisions made by the Islamic sharia court,' said High Court judge Raus Shariff, sending shockwaves through the non-Muslim community. 'We have absolutely no jurisdiction over Islam. This is the purview of the Islamic sharia court.' More cases such as Ms Kaliammal's are raising fears among non-Muslims that their secular way of life is in danger. Last month, two Muslim judges told Hindu woman Subashini Saravanan to go to the Muslim sharia court to protect her rights as a wife. Her husband had converted to Islam and wanted to convert their two children as well. Under Malaysia's sharia law, children are automatically converted to Islam when the father converts. The civil law gives the mother equal rights, but in sharia law she has no say over the religion of her children. Legal experts see these cases as watershed events in the worsening inter-ethnic and religious fault line that has divided this multi-ethnic country of 26 million people, 60 per cent of them native Malays and invariably Muslims. Last June, seven non-Muslim ministers in Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's cabinet wrote to him expressing their concern that Islam was intruding into the secular system. They wanted the government to reaffirm the supremacy of the federal constitution, which says that Islamic law applies only to Muslims. However, after Muslims called the ministers 'traitors', they withdrew their protest. Since then, opposition lawmakers and rights activists - many of them prominent Muslims - have defended the constitution. 'How can any judge ask a non-Muslim to seek justice in the Islamic sharia court,' said Christian Bishop Paul Tan, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia. 'This is most troubling. The constitution clearly states that Islamic law is applicable only to Muslims.' Non-Muslim religious leaders last week began a 'week of prayer' to highlight their concerns by praying for 'justice and level-headedness' in temples and churches across the country. 'We want to engage the Muslims in peaceful dialogue. We are not anti-Islam,' said Bishop Murphy Pakiam, head of the Catholic diocese in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Supporters of the constitution last year banded together under a coalition called Article 11 - a reference to the piece of legislation that guarantees freedom of worship. 'All Malaysians must defend the constitution because it is the constitution that protects us all, Muslims or otherwise,' said Malik Imtiaz Sarvar, lawyer and Article 11 convenor. 'It is the constitution that guarantees Muslims the freedom to be Muslims.' He and other speakers toured the country drawing huge crowds, but the campaign ended abruptly after protests by Muslims who said Article 11 was anti-Islamic. All eyes are now on the Federal Court. It has to rule on whether a Muslim can convert to another religion, whether the civil law can override sharia law and whether non-Muslims can be compelled to appear before a sharia court. The cases have been heard but decisions are 'reserved'. 'These issues require urgent resolution; they [the judges] should not delay any further,' said human rights lawyer Karpal Singh. Any decision, political analysts say, is bound to disappoint either one of the parties. 'These are politically explosive cases,' said political analyst James Wong, who is with Malaysiakini.com, an independent online news magazine. Pressure is mounting on the judges, mostly Muslims, to apply the law and not be ruled by emotions. 'Judges must have the courage to decide in accordance with the law,' said Muslim lawyer Zaid Ibrahim. 'Any lawyer worth his salt knows the sharia court has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims. All we need [for issues to be resolved] is for our judges to be courageous.' But 'the issues go to the very core of Malaysia's multi-ethnic society,' said Tian Chua, leader of the National People's Party. 'We celebrate 50 years of independence this year, but what are we celebrating? There is so much suspicion and fear among the races,' he said. Non-Muslims are mostly Hindus, Christians and Buddhists and are descended from 19th-century immigrant workers from China and India. On independence in 1957, Malaysia inherited a secular legal system guaranteeing fundamental liberties and freedom of religion, but the constitution also said Islam is the official religion and provided for sharia laws for Muslims on matters such as marriage, property, inheritance and death. 'There was little dispute over Islam or secularism in the first decades after independence with ordinary people, officials, judges and political leaders agreeing that Muslim laws and the sharia court was subordinate to the civil law,' said lawyer Sivanesan Achuthan. 'Muslim petitioners unhappy with the decisions of the sharia courts regularly appealed to the civil court for redress.' However, the dual system of law came under growing pressure from Islamic fundamentalists who demanded equality between the secular and Islamic system as Muslims underwent a major reawakening during the past three decades. Symbols of the awakening are plenty. In the 1970s, only the most conservative of Muslim women wore the tudung, or Muslim headscarf. Today, it is rare to find a Muslim woman without it. Under pressure from Muslim conservatives the government 'Islamised' the administration, school system and financial market. In a major concession to the conservatives in 1988, then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad amended Article 121 of the constitution that outlines the judicial powers of the federation. He inserted a provision that bars the civil court from hearing any matter within the purview of the Islamic sharia court. Sharia proponents now interpret the amendment as creating a dual legal system - civil and sharia - of equal status. In another concession in 2001, Dr Mahathir declared Malaysia an Islamic state, raising fears among non-Muslims. The divisive debate over Islam and secular rights comes at a time when the political system is stressed by the transition from the authoritarian Dr Mahathir, who brooked no dissent, to Mr Abdullah, who allows greater space for debate after taking over in 2003. At one extreme is the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), which wants to set up an Islamic theocracy under which non-Muslims will enjoy equality, justice and fairness as outlined in the Koran. However, the majority of Malays remain moderate and subscribe to Islam Hadhari or 'moderate Islam' propounded by Mr Abdullah after he came to power. Moderate Malays and non-Malays endorsed Islam Hadhari, giving Mr Abdullah a massive electoral victory in 2004. Although Islam Hadhari may be a political solution to keep extremists in check, some legal experts say a special constitutional court is an ideal solution. It is also a solution favoured by non-Muslim political leaders. 'The government must be brave enough to tackle this crisis before it worsens,' said Tan Kee Kwong, of the Gerakan party. 'A constitutional court is the solution.' Mr Zaid agrees, but says the key element is the character of judges and the quality of their judgments. 'Judges must be sensitive, brave and progressive. They should act only in accordance with the law and the dictates of justice. That is what their oath of office requires of them,' the lawyer said. 'Otherwise people like Kaliammal will not get justice.'