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 Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malaysia: A Christian Convert Asked by Civil Court to Face Islamic Court


A Malaysian blogger wrote:

" The irony of this case is that, in the eyes of the law, Azlina Jailani MUST remain a Muslim and her religion cannot be changed in her identity card.

Her religious freedom is not to be protected by the Federal Constitution but rather to be determined by the Syariah Court, for the simple reason she has the bad luck or the unfortunate life of being born and raised as a Malay Muslim in this country.

Azlina Jailani, although a Malay Muslim by birth, had made a life-choice for herself to be a Christian and had been a practising one for over a decade. She took the less-travelled long hard road to face her fellow Muslims in the judiciary, to ask to be left alone to chart her spiritual destiny of her own choosing, not one to be imposed upon her by her fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.

In her heart and to her God in prayer, Azlina Jailani is Lina Joy, a Christian, in every sense of the word.

No amount of legal dictum in the Malaysian Civil courts or the Syariah Court can change that fact of her personal/religious life.

It is HER life, and nobody else's, which Azlina Jailani/Lina Joy chooses to live; NOT a life to be dictated by the decisions of the Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim or by Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, or for that matter by the National Registration Department or by the muftis or the religious leaders in the Syariah Court.

The sad epilogue to this drama is that there is such a document called a Federal Constitution, to which every Malaysian, irrespective of race, religion and sex looked upon for sanctuary, yet to which the two Muslim judges sitting in the Federal Court in this case seemed to be blind and deaf to.

Malaysia is NOT a country meant for Azlina Jailani, although born a Malay. It is not even a country suitable for any Muslim Malay who wants to have a freedom to believe in a God of his/her chosen religion."

Read here full article

Malaysia's top secular court on Wednesday rejected a Muslim convert's appeal to be recognized as a Christian, in a landmark case that tested the limits of religious freedom in the moderate Islamic country.

A three-judge Federal Court panel ruled by a 2-1 majority that only the Islamic Shariah Court has the power to allow Azlina Jailani, who changed her name to Lina Joy after becoming a Christian, to remove the word "Islam" from the religion category on her government identity card.

Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said the panel endorsed past legal judgments stating that the Shariah court -- not the civil legal system -- has the jurisdiction to hear cases of Muslims who want to renounce Islam.

"This appeal is rejected," Ahmad Fairuz said. "Apostasy is a matter linked to Islamic laws. It's under the jurisdiction of the Shariah court. ... Civil courts cannot interfere."

Activists have warned that a ruling against Joy could strengthen non-Muslims' fears that they are discriminated against in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has substantial Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities.

However, conservative Muslims would have considered a ruling for her as an erosion of Islamic values.

Joy was not at Wednesday's hearing.

Judge Richard Malanjum was the only one on the panel who sided with Joy, saying it was "unreasonable" to ask her to turn to the Shariah Court because she could face criminal prosecution there.

Apostasy is punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.

Joy's case is the most prominent in a recent series of religious disputes, some involving custody of children born to parents of different faiths, and one involving a deceased Hindu man who converted to Islam without his family's knowledge and whom Islamic authorities ordered to be buried as a Muslim.

The Malaysian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens, suggesting it is a secular state. But the Shariah courts have not allowed Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 percent of the country's 26 million people, to legally leave their religion.

Personal and family rights of Malaysian Muslims are decided by Shariah courts. Civil courts govern such matters among those of minority religions.

Joy, 42, argued she should not be bound by Shariah laws because she is no longer a Muslim.

She began going to church in 1990 and was baptized eight years later. She then applied to change her name on her identity card, and the National Registration Department obliged -- but refused to drop "Islam" from the religion column.

In May 2000 Joy went to the High Court, which told her she should take it up with the Shariah courts. She challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal but lost, and took it to the Federal Court in 2005. The trial ended in July 2006.

Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her computer sales job after clients threatened to withdraw their business.

She and her ethnic Indian Catholic boyfriend, known only as Johnson, went into hiding in early 2006 amid fears they could be targeted by Muslim zealots, Joy's lawyer has said.

Joy's case sparked angry street protests by Muslim groups and led to e-mail death threats against a Muslim lawyer supporting her.

Her case is the most prominent in a string of recent religious disputes, some involving custody of children born to parents of different faiths, and one involving a deceased Hindu man who converted to Islam without his family's knowledge and whom Islamic authorities ordered to be buried as a Muslim.

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