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  • Malaysian could be jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity

    Verdict in dispute over Christian convert could define Muslim Malaysia's religious identity

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Lina Joy has been disowned by her family, shunned by friends and forced into hiding -- all because she renounced Islam and embraced Christianity in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

    Now, after a seven-year legal struggle, Malaysia's highest court will decide on Wednesday whether her constitutional right to choose her religion overrides an Islamic law that prohibits Malay Muslims from leaving Islam.

    Either way, the verdict will have profound implications on society in a country where Islam is increasingly conflicting with minority religions, challenging Malaysia's reputation as a moderate Muslim and multicultural nation that guarantees freedom of worship.

    Joy's case began in 1998 when, after converting, she applied for a name change on her government identity card. The National Registration Department obliged but refused to drop Muslim from the religion column.

    She appealed the decision to a civil court but was told she must take it to Islamic Shariah courts. But Joy, 42, has argued that she should not be bound by Shariah law because she is a Christian.

    Subsequent appeals all ruled that the Shariah court should decide the case until it reached the highest court, the Federal Court, which will make the final decision on whether Muslims who renounce their faith must still answer to the country's Islamic courts.

    About 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Malay Muslims, whose civil, family, marriage and personal rights are decided by Shariah courts. The minorities -- the ethnic Chinese, Indians and other smaller communities -- are governed by civil courts.

    But the constitution does not say who has the final say in cases such as Joy's when Islam confronts Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions.

    If Joy loses her appeal and continues to insist she is a Christian, it could lead to charges of apostasy and a possible jail sentence.

    "Our country is at a crossroad," Joy's lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, told The Associated Press. "Are we evolving into an Islamic state or are we going to maintain the secular character of the constitution?"

    The founding fathers of Malaysia left the constitution deliberately vague, unwilling to upset any of the three ethnic groups dominant at the time of independence from Britain 50 years ago, when building a peaceful multiracial nation was more important.

    The situation was muddied further with the constitution describing Malaysia as a secular state but recognizing Islam as the official religion.

    Joy's case "will decide the space of religious freedom in Malaysia," said Dawson. If she wins, "it means that the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of religion prevails. If she loses, that means the constitutional guarantee is subservient to Islamic restrictions," he said.

    Joy's decision to leave Islam sparked angry street protests by Muslim groups and led to e-mail death threats against Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim lawyer supporting her. The widely circulated anonymous e-mail described him as a "traitor" to Islam and carried his picture with the caption "Wanted Dead."

    Proselytizing of Muslims is banned in Malaysia and apostasy is regarded a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.

    Many Islamic nations have similar laws. Saudi Arabia neither permits conversion from Islam nor allows other religions in the kingdom. The case of an Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity caused an outcry in the United States and other nations, and Afghanistan released him.

    Even Jordan, considered one of the most tolerant countries in the Middle East, convicted a Muslim man for converting to Christianity several years ago, taking away his right to work and annulling his marriage.

    By law, all Malays have to be Muslim and few convert. Those who do prefer to keep it quiet.

    Some seek legal approval for their action, but civil courts invariably refer the case back to the Shariah courts.

    Joy was born Azlina Jailani and began going to church in 1990. She was baptized eight years later. She then applied for the changes to her identity card.

    When authorities refused her request to drop Muslim from the religion designation, Joy went to the High Court in May 2000 but was told to go to Shariah courts. She challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal but lost, and took it to Malaysia's highest court in 2005.

    The hearing in Federal Court ended in July 2006, but it has taken the judges until now to declare a verdict, saying a careful examination was necessary because of the sensitivity of the case.

    Meanwhile, Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her computer sales job after clients threatened to withdraw their business. Joy and her ethnic Indian Catholic boyfriend, known only as Johnson, went into hiding early 2006 amid fears they could be targeted by Muslim zealots, Dawson said.

    "Lina is very steadfast in her belief. She is aware that her chances (of winning) are slim but is putting her faith in God. She is just an ordinary Malaysian girl who wants to lead an ordinary life."

    Joy has never made any public appearances and has rejected requests for interviews.

    In a sworn statement to a lower court in 2000, she said she felt "more peace in my spirit and soul after having become a Christian."

    Muslim groups, however, say Joy is questioning the position of Islam by taking the case to the civil courts.

    "It is not about one person, it is about challenging the Islamic system in Malaysia," said Muslim Youth Movement President Yusri Mohammad, who set up a coalition of 80 Islamic groups to oppose Joy's case.

    "By doing this openly, she is encouraging others to do the same. It may open the floodgates to other Muslims because once it is a precedent, it becomes an option."

    If Joy wins her case, he warned, it could rend Malaysia's multiracial fabric by fomenting Muslim anger against minorities, who have largely lived in peace with Malays. There has been no racial violence in the country since the May 1969 Malay-Chinese riots that killed dozens.

    Dawson said several apostasy cases are on hold in the civil courts, pending a verdict in Joy's case.

    "Both the man in the street and lawyers want to know once and for all how to draw the line between civil and Shariah courts -- whether Muslims can convert and if yes, what are the procedures," he said.

    By: EILEEN NG - Associated Press Writer

    Malaysian Could be Jailed for Converting from Islam to Christianity

    Lina Joy facts

  • #2

    Muslim nations urged to create new 'Golden Age of Islam'

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan challenged Islamic countries Monday to work together to create a new golden age to liberate Muslims from poverty, conflict and extremism.

    The five nations told an Islamic conference that many of the 1.6 billion Muslims globally rank among the world's poorest people with an international reputation that has been tarnished by false perceptions that most support terrorism.

    "We are now at a crossroads in our history as an ummah (Muslim community). Never in the history of the ummah ... have we faced such great odds," Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told government officials, corporate executives and analysts attending the World Islamic Economic Forum.

    "While the nations of the West basked in the glory of their global ascendancy, Muslim nations were largely consigned to what people term 'the Third World,'" Abdullah said.

    He noted that the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference accounted for only 5 percent of world's gross domestic product in 2005 despite comprising 21 percent of the global population.

    Abdullah said Muslim nations must take bold measures such as investing heavily in education. He cited the examples of his own country, which spent 8 percent of its gross domestic product on education in 2004, and the United Arab Emirates, which recently announced a US$10 billion (€7.4 billion) endowment for investments in education across Arab countries.

    Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leads the world's most populous Muslim country, said Islamic nations can work "as a collective force" for their own development because they currently supply 70 percent of the world's energy requirements and 40 percent of raw material exports globally.

    "We in the Islamic ummah can achieve true solidarity among ourselves ... and reclaim the eminence that (we) enjoyed in the Golden Age of Islam," Yudhoyono said.

    He suggested Muslim countries remove trade barriers to boost business and encourage tourism.

    Kuwait's Prime Minister Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah said another challenge for Muslim countries is to promote dialogue with the rest of the world, especially to "refute activities by the minority (of Muslims) who do not represent the tolerance of Islam."

    Sheik Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the Crown Prince of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, said such efforts to improve ties with other nations were necessary because "the Muslim world is not an island, it is part of the (larger) world."

    Zahid Hamid, Pakistan's Minister of Privatization and Investment, said a widening ideological chasm between the West and the Islamic world has resulted in Muslims "paying the highest price for being caught in the clash between extremism and moderation."

    Islamic countries increasingly feel "the overwhelming majority of Muslims ... are being demonized for the actions of a small minority," he said, adding that frustrations have grown because of persistent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestinian territories.

    The Associated Press


    • #3
      Malaysia faces key ruling on religious freedom

      May 29, 2007

      KUALA LUMPUR -- Multi-racial Malaysia faces a milestone legal verdict Wednesday, which lawyers and rights groups say will determine if Muslims can renounce their faith.

      The case, involving a woman who converted from Islam to Christianity, goes to the heart of a debate on whether civil courts should take precedence over tribunals based on Islamic Sharia law.

      It comes at a time of heightened religious tensions in moderate Malaysia, and would address an issue - renunciation of the faith - that is one of the gravest sins in Islam.

      The Federal Court will rule on an appeal by Lina Joy, who for a decade has been battling the government to have her decision to convert to Christianity officially recognized.

      "Although it is not freedom of religion per se, the decision will determine if she can convert out of Islam without going to the Sharia court," said the vice-president of Malaysia's Bar Council, Ragunath Kesavan.

      "Our position has always been that she should be allowed to do so, in respect to the constitution," Ragunath said.

      Islam is Malaysia's official religion. More than 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people are Muslim Malays.

      But while the constitution defines the ethnic majority Malays as Muslims it also guarantees freedom of religion, and the minority Chinese and Indians are mostly Buddhists, Hindus, or Christians.

      Born an ethnic Malay Muslim, and called Azlina Jailani, Joy was introduced to Christianity in 1990.

      It has left her fighting authorities, first for her new name to be put on her identity card, then to have her former religion removed.

      Joy keeps a low profile, fearing retaliation, and cannot legally marry her Christian partner because the law requires non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they want to marry someone of that faith.

      "Malaysians mostly want to know whether they can convert out of Islam, and if so what is the procedure. This verdict will clarify that," said her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson.

      The appeal centers on whether Joy must go to a Sharia court to have her renunciation recognized before authorities delete the word 'Islam' from her identity card.

      Malaysia's civil courts operate parallel to Sharia courts for Muslims in areas of family law including divorce, child custody, and inheritance.

      But the question of which takes precedence is unclear in cases that involve both Muslims and non-Muslims, who have little say in Sharia courts.

      Lower courts have so far rebuffed Joy's efforts, ruling that only Islamic Sharia courts can recognize her conversion - but the latter are unwilling to approve apostasy.

      "The country has to be ruled by the constitution but we seem to have lost it," Dawson said. "In the growing prominence of the Sharia court, things seem to have gone into a grey area with competing claims to jurisdiction," he said.

      "Our civil courts seem to think that conversion is a religious matter and not constitutional, which I think is wrong."

      In recent weeks Malaysia has seen a string of cases in which Muslims and non-Muslim spouses have been forced apart by Islamic religious officials.

      In another example last year, an ethnic Indian mountaineer was buried as a Muslim despite protests by his Hindu wife, who insisted that he never converted.

      Ivy Josiah of the Women's Aid Organization, part of a coalition of groups monitoring Joy's case, said that Wednesday's decision could affect a woman's right to choose her life partner.

      "When you take all the legalities away, here is someone who wants to get married, have children, and have her own set of beliefs," Josiah said.

      Some Muslims have denounced Joy's legal challenge as a tactic to undermine Islam's status in the country, but Josiah said that misses the point.

      "Certain groups fear that with Lina Joy leaving, it will open the so-called 'floodgates' of people wanting to renounce Islam," she said. "Let her be who she wants to be. It is between her and God. That is the spirit of the constitution, to have choices for our beliefs."

      Middle East Times
      Last edited by _DigitaLVampirE_; 29th May 2007, 20:44. Reason: Updating


      • #4
        Malaysia's Lina Joy loses Islam conversion case

        Malaysia's Lina Joy loses Islam conversion case
        Wed May 30, 2007 8:56 AM IST

        KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's most famous Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card, after the country's highest court rejected the change.

        The Federal Court's ruling helps define the boundaries of religious freedom in multi-racial Malaysia, whose constitution guarantees freedom of worship but makes its practically impossible for ethnic Malays Like Joy to renounce Islam.


        • #5
          Malaysia court rejects woman's religion change

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

          Lina Joy, who was born Azlina Jailani, had applied for a name change on her government identity card. The National Registration Department obliged but refused to drop Muslim from the religion column.

          She appealed the decision to a civil court but was told she must take it to Islamic Shariah courts. But Joy, 42, argued that she should not be bound by Shariah law because she is a Christian.

          A three-judge Federal Court panel ruled Wednesday that only the Islamic Shariah Court has the power to allow her to remove the word ``Islam" from the religion category on her government identity card.

          The Malaysian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens. But Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 per cent of the 26 million population, have not been allowed by the Shariah courts to legally leave their religion.

          By EILEEN NG
          Associated Press

          Lina Joy loses appeal

          Woman's Christian conversion unrecognised

          Malaysia court rules in religion case
          Last edited by _DigitaLVampirE_; 30th May 2007, 05:43.


          • #6
            The Koran states that the act of apostasyor abandoning the Muslim faith is punishable by death. Under Malaysian law, Lina Joy if found guilty, can be sentenced to three years in a faith rehabilitation center, where Muslim counselors try to persuade them to return to Islam (i am told by a Malaysian collegue). If apostates do not “repent,” they can be sentenced to a further six years of “rehabilitation.”

            Bottomline question: Is it good to have Shari'a law in countries? Do citizens have the right to change their religion? How do other Muslims view this case?


            • #7
              Lina Joy verdict: No freedom, no compassion

              Lina Joy’s 10-year battle to be herself as she wanted to be within the confines of the supreme law of the country, the Federal Constitution, has been dashed by the Federal Court’s decision this morning. The freedom of religion guaranteed by the Federal Constitution under Article 11 comes across as hollow and meaningless. This decision has totally rendered null and void the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. Under the circumstances, the Federal Court’s decision has a devastating effect on issues of fairness and justice. Concerned citizens will rightly wonder whether the judiciary is capable of delivering justice for those who turn to it. They will be turned away from the judicial system of the country thinking that the judges who are sworn to uphold the Federal Constitution in the course of their duty are not living up to their oath of office.

              Lina Joy’s case is something that has to be viewed strictly within the confines of the Constitution without taking into account any other consideration. When other considerations come into play, then justice becomes the victim as is the case in the Lina Joy verdict.

              This decision, looked at from another point of view, undermines the judiciary itself. The judiciary cannot be technical in delivering its verdict. Fairness and justice should be part of any judgment and should not be sacrificed on technical grounds. Where is the compassion for someone who has turned to the judiciary for a solution to free her from her predicament? Can justice redeem itself? Is there hope for the ordinary person in our judiciary?

              It is really troubling when a issue such as this is politicised and blown out of all proportion and pressure is mounted to deny justice.

              Aliran Executive Committee
              30 May 2007


              • #8
                Kuala Lumpur refuses to recognise Lina Joy’s conversion to Christianity

                The Federal Court has referred the case of Lina Joy, a women seeking legal recognition of her conversion from Islam, to the Islamic courts. The country’s contradicting laws are laid bare: religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution cannot co-exist with Islamic law, which is increasingly imposed on the nation’s citizen’s even non-Muslims. Outside the court hundreds of demonstrators shout “Allah-o-Akbar”.

                Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – A harsh blow has been dealt to religious freedom in Malaysia. Lina Joy, the women who converted from Islam to Christianity, has lost her long and courageous battle to have her faith legally recognised. Today the Federal court, the highest civil court in the country, to which she appealed as her last hope, decided that only the Islamic Court may remove the word “Islam” from her documents.

                Of the three judges called to hear her appeal, one was in favour, two against the Christian woman’s request; these last two are Chief Justice, Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Federal Judges Alauddin Mohd Sheriff. The verdict comes after a long wait and years of heated internal debate, marked by pressure from Islamic fundamentalists and death threats against the woman and her lawyers.

                Azlina Jailani, 42, began attending church in 1990, in 1998 she decided to become baptised and take on the name Lina Joy. In 2000 Lina applied first to the National Registration Department (NRD) and then the Court of Appeal to change her identity papers to remove 'Islam' as her religion. (the document also notes a citizen's faith). Only in this way would she be able to marry her Christian boyfriend of Indian origins. Both requests are refused leading Ms Joy to appeal to the Federal Court in 2005. She was refused in both cases because as ethnic Malay she was legally Muslim and "could not change religion”. Religious issues involving Malays, including conversions to other religions, fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts and not the country's general laws. De facto, two legal systems coexist in the country: one based on Islam; the other, on the constitution. And the two are often in conflict. Lina Joy's case illustrates this clearly. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion; Islamic law prohibits conversion to any other religion.

                Today’s sentence forces Lina Joy to marry a Muslim man in a Muslim ceremony and makes her subject to the highly discriminatory Islamic family and inheritance laws. On various occasions the woman's lawyer, Benjamin Dawon, has said the Malaysian Constitution did not call for the approval of an Islamic tribunal for conversions from Islam.

                Since last year Joy and her would-be Christian husband have been in hiding after extremists issued death threats against her for apostasy, threats which they continue to receive. Even her lawyer, himself a Muslim is subject to serious intimidation. Today about 200 protesters shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) outside the court when the ruling was announced.

                Out of a population of just over 24 million, Muslims constitute 47.7 per cent of the total. The remainder is divided between Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and cults like Shamanism. These minorities have long denounced the worrying spread of Sharia law. Islamic laws once upon a time only disciplined personal and familial issues; now however they are invading the wider social context. Last April the Malaysian bishop’s conference together with other non Muslim communities took part in a national prayer campaign for “a return to religious freedom” in the country.


                • #9
                  Mired in holy quandary

                  After a landmark superior court decision downgraded secular law and constitutional guarantees against Islamic rules, a storm of protest has been building up as government and civil society rush to find a solution to the religious impasse.

                  The verdict, last week, held that the constitutional right to freedom of worship does not apply to Muslims and that civil courts have no jurisdiction over Islamic matters.

                  The verdict denied official recognition to Lina Joy, a Muslim who converted to Christianity a decade ago and told her to appear before a Shariah court to renounce Islam, ironically an offence in Malaysia punishable with three years in jail. After the verdict neither judge nor politician was willing to enter the fray and unravel the dilemma and ease the great disquiet that has gripped this multi-ethnic society.

                  Malay Muslims form close to 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people and their civil, family, marriage and personal rights are governed by Islamic Shariah courts. The personal laws of ethnic Chinese, Indians and others who form the remainder are administered by civil courts. However, the constitution is vague on what happens to converts such as Joy. Failure to correct the imbalance created by the new verdict, legal experts said, will crack the system founded on secular law which guarantees religious freedom for all citizens.

                  "It is a clash between individual rights on the one hand and, on the other, a growing Islamisation of Muslims and their sense of siege fuelled by wars across the world and by active Christian proselytising," one independent constitutional expert told IPS but declined to be named for fear of persecution. "The judgment has ignored the supremacy of the constitutionàthe only solution is to reassert that supremacy," the legal expert said. "We need to constitutionally reorder society."

                  On independence from Britain 50 years ago Malaysia's founders found it convenient to deem Malaysia as a secular state in order to foster a multi-racial society while making Islam the official religion to take care of the interests of native Malays. However, this solution has proved problematic with Malays beginning to look upon their religion as a mark of their distinct identity.

                  One solution that could accommodate individual interests, suggested privately by some experts including Muslims, is to provide a proper and legal exit for Muslims wishing to follow other religions. However, the mere suggestion of such a solution which requires amendments in the existing Shariah laws will spark Muslim anger, and no political leader Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi downwards is willing to take the risk. Even opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, who has promoted moderate Islam far longer than any other Malaysian leader and is trying to make a political comeback after six years in prison, is also unwilling to grab the bull by the horns.

                  In a statement Ibrahim, to whom many Muslims and non-Muslims look up to for alternative leadership, took the position that Muslims can only renounce Islam through the Shariah court and Islamic laws. "The verdict is not about compelling Lina Joy to return to Islamà it is about the rules that must be complied with when an individual wishes to renounce Islam as his or her religion,'' Ibrahim, a religious scholar himself, said. "I believe that such a matter must remain within the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts and whether or not such a renunciation is appropriate is a matter for the Shariah courts to decide.''

                  "The government has failed to deal with this issue in a manner that would reassure non-Muslims that their constitutional freedom in respect of religion has not been compromised," Ibrahim said. "It is also most deplorable that instead of demonstrating a new resolve to forge interfaith harmony in the light of this decision, the government is trying to gain political mileage from it."

                  Critics of the verdict point out that apostasy is already a crime in Malaysia and punishable with jail, fine and forced rehabilitation. Even the dissenting judge in the 2-1 majority verdict had pointed this out -- saying asking Lina Joy to go to the Shariah court to "leave Islam" was unfair and discriminatory because she could end up incriminating herself. Despite reassuring statements from Muslim leaders widespread disquiet is on the rise as people realise that the court had failed to uphold the supremacy of the secular constitution and its bill of fundamental liberties.

                  The court also ruled that civil courts have no jurisdiction on Islamic matters --a sweeping decision that leaves scores of non-Muslims in a legal limbo.
                  An example is the case of Mt Everest climber Moorthy Maniam, a Hindu by birth but buried as a Muslim in 2005. Islamic administration officials "acquired" the body after a headline grabbing tussle for it with Moorthy's wife Kaliammal, saying he had secretly converted to Islam.

                  Kaliammal disputed the claim and asked the court to declare her husband a Hindu, but the court instead said since one party is a Muslim the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Kaliammal has appealed to a higher court to exhume her husband's body and dispose it off according to Hindu rites and customs.

                  But with the apex court ruling that civil courts have no jurisdiction in Islamic matters, aggrieved citizens like Kaliammal remain without a remedy, a situation that is intolerable in any society respecting justice and rule of law. "The decision has a devastating effect on issues of fairness and justice. Citizens will rightly wonder whether the judiciary is capable of delivering justice for those who turn to it," said ALIRAN, a social reform movement, in a statement.

                  "The judgment does not end the Muslim - non-Muslim divide but has instead worsened it by introducing Islamic principles into secular, constitutional matters," said opposition leader Lim Kit Siang in an IPS interview. "A political solution is urgently needed now to resolve rising disquiet," Lim said urging Badawi to take steps to satisfy non-Muslim fears of "creeping Islam."

                  "Badawi must take immediate steps to promote and protect the supremacy of the secular constitution and its bill of rights," Lim said.
                  Outside of a political solution there is little else that anybody can do now that the apex courts has ruled, said opposition lawmaker Kulasegaran Murugesan. "The verdict is binding on all the lower courts."

                  "A political solution is urgent and must come from Badawi who espouses a moderate form of Islam," Kulasegaran said, urging the Prime Minister to amend relevant parts of the constitution to clarify the issues and uphold the supremacy of the constitution.

                  "Badawi must make it clear that non-Muslims should not be subjected to Shariah law," he said. "Even a political statement on these lines will help to ease non-Muslim fears." Badawi's ruling National Front government has a stranglehold on parliament controlling 90 percent of the 217 seats -- a massive majority that can be used to make or change laws.

                  "Ultimately the solution is in the hands of the voters," Lim said referring to a general election widely expected later this year.
                  Badawi strongly denied the verdict was "a political decision," but public belief is that the judges made their ruling with an eye to their political masters and Muslim sensitivities.

                  "They must have a hole in their headà I have never hoped or coerced the judiciary into making a political decision," an exasperated Badawi had said when refuting charges that the verdict was manipulated to satisfy one section of society. While Badawi insists that the constitution remains supreme, public confidence in his pronouncements have taken a beating after many promises remain unfulfilled.

                  With dissatisfaction among non-Malays growing over this and other issues, Badawi is under pressure to smoothen out things before facing voters, 45 percent of whom are non-Muslims. One government suggestion that may be pursued is the creation of a multi-ethnic "religious commission" to receive, arbitrate and resolve religious issues and disputes.

                  Baradan Kuppusamy from Kuala Lumpur

                  Freedom of Conscience and Islam: Christian Converts Put to the Test
                  Last edited by _DigitaLVampirE_; 10th June 2007, 22:09. Reason: link update


                  • #10
                    Let Syariah Court deal with issue

                    Matters pertaining to Islamic law must be referred to the Syariah Court, as it is the main body entrusted with administering justice according to the confines of Islam.

                    ALL the hue and cry prior to and after the Federal Court’s judgment in the Lina Joy case are manifestations of ignorance, arrogance and sheer defiance of logic. It once again proves that the most unsettling problem afflicting our people is the problem of knowledge.

                    It’s alarming to encounter certain individuals or groups of people are ignorant of their ignorance and yet are bold enough to indulge in matters alien to their understanding. To further exacerbate the confusion, they choose to remain obstinate by discarding authority, i.e. true knowledge and erudite scholarship.

                    As was adjudicated in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court, the case of Lina Joy is primarily administrative in nature. It essentially deals with the question of conversion procedure – whether or not a Muslim has to obtain a decree from the Syariah Court confirming one's apostasy.

                    A lot of people appear to consciously reject the fact that this country practices a dual legal system of parallel status – civil and syariah. This unique system is sanctioned, among others, by the Ninth Schedule and further bolstered by Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the country.

                    When it comes to matters pertaining to Islamic law, they must be referred to the Syariah Court, as it is the main body entrusted with administering justice according to the confines of Islam.

                    Conversion out of Islam is part of Islamic law, and therefore the Syariah Court is the only proper platform to resolve the issue. It is hard to believe that some people simply refuse to deal with the Syariah Court, assuming that justice will be denied.

                    The law is simple and straightforward. There is no need to complicate matters by manipulating the issues to the extent of threatening national unity. If one is not happy with any decision of any subordinate Syariah Court, then one may appeal. But some seem to already admit defeat without even trying.

                    It is amazing to learn that segments of our learned citizens throw their allegiance to a “foreign” law as compared to our readily available own internal legal provisions.

                    It is well and good to acknowledge the superiority of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) over our Federal Constitution, namely with regard to the freedom of religion.

                    But it appears to run foul if one were to make the same recognition, say, with the provisions of holy scriptures: the Bible, the Vedas, and particularly the Quran and Sunnah.

                    Many do not realise that in adopting any international document, we must first examine if it is binding. The UDHR is not legally binding even in countries which have agreed to adopt it.

                    Furthermore, in the Malaysian context, section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 clearly provides that the application of any external laws must be filtered through the Federal Constitution.

                    Certainly, apostasy is currently the hottest issue at stake; it is an internal legal problem. Like it or not, in order to resolve the issue, we must first acknowledge and apply all rules and laws available in our own backyard. The so-called international law only plays a persuasive role that may be referred to as a guide, not the determining factor.

                    One must not approach apostasy strictly from its constitutional or civil legal perspective alone. Religious representation must be given, if not more, at least an equal consideration.

                    In the case of Muslim apostates and those who support them (especially fellow Muslims), it is inconceivable that they would willingly leave Islam or give tremendous support if they properly understood the religion of Islam.

                    This holds true even to the followers of other religions. One will only renounce one's own religion as a result of utter ignorance, frustration or disenchantment.

                    First and foremost, Muslims must understand that they have chosen Islam consciously and willingly as a result of understanding and knowledge. Even Muslims cannot take things for granted believing that they are Muslims simply by birth.

                    All Muslims, either by birth or by conversion, must be made to realise that they have actually entered into a primordial covenant with God in the supernatural realm long before they were born to this world.

                    And this divine contract, i.e. the pledge of recognition, trust and allegiance between all human souls and God, is recorded in the Quran, namely, in Surah al-A’raf (7): 172.

                    This recognition and trust needs to be observed accordingly. In fact, this is the very foundation where all aspects of human life originate. None can ever claim that he/she is not aware of this spiritual contract, as the Quran is the reminder.

                    Therefore, once a Muslim breaches this divine contract, he is subject to a certain kind of religious remedial measure or punishment. This situation is very similar to that of commercial transactions where, for instance, those who breach contracts are punished in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated in their agreements.

                    In the case of the Islamic legal system, there are provisions available pertaining to apostasy. If a crime takes place, then all parties involved are required to abide by them. In fact, every aspect of life, including the issue of freedom, has to be understood and exercised within the framework of religious parameters.

                    Certainly, the availability of fixed rules and regulations do not negate the possible and necessary modifications in the manifestations of justice according to Islam.

                    One of the substantial differences between Islam and the other religions is that, the latter possibly do not speak of a divine primordial covenant. This explains why the question of leaving one's religion for another is never an issue in non-Islamic religious traditions.

                    Muslims must not become Muslims simply because they are born within Muslim families or societies. For the converted Muslims, the motivation must not be for personal gain, be it in the form of marriage or other socio-economic and political benefits.

                    It is never too late to rectify any wrong once it is discovered. Gradually he/she must make efforts to increase his/her knowledge about Islam. In this regard, other Muslims, especially the loved ones (husbands, wives, parents, etc.), or those responsible for the conversion, must assist him/her along the way.

                    With proper understanding of religion, one will not easily leave religion for mundane reasons. A lack of compassion on the part of the Muslims will perhaps stifle any attempt to call the other to Islam.

                    By Dr WAN AZHAR WAN AHMAD,
                    Senior Fellow/Director,
                    Centre for Syariah, Law
                    and Political Science, Ikim
                    Tuesday June 19, 2007

                    A Hindu Lina Joy, subjected to Islamic “re-education”
                    Some civil groups in Malaysia have organised a prayer vigil Revathi: and Indian Hindu who January last was condemned to 180 days of “rehabilitation” in a centre lead by Muslim authorities.


                    • #11
                      Malaysia's shackles on religious freedom

                      Can Islam be compatible with religious freedom? I certainly hope so, but doubts are raised by a decision of Malaysia's highest court, given a month ago. Lina Joy is a 43-year-old Malay woman who became a Christian some years ago and wished to marry a Christian man.

                      As a Malay, at the age of 12 she had received a national identity card specifying her religion as Islam. As long as her identity card stated she was a Muslim, she could not obtain a marriage licence to marry a Christian.

                      She applied to the National Registration Department to have her designation as a Muslim removed. The department required a certificate of apostasy from an Islamic court before this would be done.

                      Malaysia has civil and Islamic courts, the latter having jurisdiction over Muslims in religious and family matters. In most states of Malaysia, apostasy from Islam is punishable as a criminal offence by order of an Islamic court. Certificates of apostasy are very difficult to obtain. If Joy and her Christian boyfriend had children without marrying, the children could be taken from them to be raised as Muslims.

                      Before the court's decision Joy and her boyfriend had received death threats and were in hiding.

                      As a member of the United Nations, Malaysia is committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief", as well as providing that "without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion" men and women have the right to marry and have a family. Malaysia's constitution provides that every person has the right to profess and practise his religion; although it does also provide that civil courts have no jurisdiction over matters within the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. Interpretation of the constitution is a matter for civil courts and, ultimately, for Malaysia's Federal Court.

                      By a 2-1 majority, the Malaysian Federal Court decided that the department's requirement of a certificate of apostasy was lawful. The two judges of the majority were Muslim and included the Chief Justice of Malaysia. The dissenter, Justice Richard Malanjum, is a non-Muslim.

                      According to the majority, the question whether Joy was or was not a Muslim was a decision for the Islamic courts, which had been given jurisdiction over issues of conversion to Islam and, by implication, had jurisdiction over questions concerning conversion from Islam. The Chief Justice was quoted as saying: "If a person professes and practises Islam, he should be following Islamic laws including his conversion or renunciation. That is what is meant by adopting and practising Islam. What the [department] did was to ascertain whether Lina [Joy] had renounced this religion. I do not see this as an infringement to freedom of religion. No one is stopping her from marrying. She is merely required to fulfil certain obligations, for the Islamic authorities to confirm her apostasy, before she embraces Christianity."

                      The dissenting judge considered among other things that the requirement that Joy apply to Islamic courts for a certificate of apostasy was unreasonable, as it would expose her to punishment for the criminal offence of apostasy.

                      How the criminal offence of apostasy can co-exist with the Malaysian constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, especially if that guarantee is construed in the light of Malaysia's commitment to the Declaration of Human Rights, was not addressed. However, that offence exists, and the difficulty of obtaining a certificate of apostasy seems clear. As well, Joy was not shown to have voluntarily adopted Islam as an adult: her classification came from her birth as a Malay and was an automatic procedure when she was 12.

                      In light of this, the decision and the words of the Chief Justice are difficult to understand: that a highly intelligent and moderate Muslim could reason in that way raises the doubts about Islam's compatibility with religious freedom.

                      The decision was applauded by Muslims in Malaysia. But what do moderate Muslims in Australia think about it?

                      Suppose that there was a law enforced in Australia. which made conversion from Christianity a criminal offence, punishable by order of Christian tribunals.

                      Suppose that there was also a law that prevented a woman who had converted from Christianity to Islam from marrying a Muslim man, unless she obtained a certificate from a Christian tribunal that she was no longer a Christian, and that these certificates were difficult to obtain. I'm sure Muslims in Australia would find this utterly repugnant, and rightly so.

                      Do Muslims in Australia not think that the converse situation in Malaysia is similarly repugnant? Would it be possible for Muslim leaders in Australia, and in other countries with religious freedom, to speak firmly and clearly against the denial of religious freedom in countries such as Malaysia?

                      If they can and do, this would certainly help to show that Islam can be compatible with religious freedom; but if they cannot and don't, doubt must remain.

                      David Hodgson is a judge of the Supreme Court of NSW.

                      David Hodgson|June 22, 2007


                      • #12
                        Of course nobody should be penalised under the law for changing religion - it's just as stupid whatever religion they're coming from or going to. People should be able to choose as befits their conscience.

                        Most of the religions sanction this freedom anyway. Doesn't the Qur'an say there is no compulsion in religion? There are similar quotes from the Bible etc.

                        Seems to me these laws are a man made creation, much like bigotry everywhere (some would say also like religion but that's a separate debate ).



                        • #13
                          all very frustrating...


                          • #14
                            Well, yes and no. It seems to me that it's just another manifestation of religion fulfilling its ages-old function as an arm of politics.



                            • #15
                              Originally posted by _DigitaLVampirE_ View Post
                              The Koran states that the act of apostasy or abandoning the Muslim faith is punishable by death.

                              May I ask where is that stated in the Qur'an? Perhaps I missed it.

                              Originally posted by voltaire
                              Doesn't the Qur'an say there is no compulsion in religion?
                              That's right Voltaire, it does.

                              One example: Surah 2 Ayah 256.

                              See the difference between Islam and "Muslims"?


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