31 May, 2007

Christian woman's conversion goes unrecognized

Lina Joy is probably Malaysia's best-known Christian convert. She also just lost a watermark case to change her religious identity.

The issue is the jurisdictive balance between civil courts and the Islamic courts.

The ruling has believers concerned over the damage this might cause to their right to practice and share their faith. Muslims, meanwhile, believe that civil courts have no right to meddle in Islamic affairs.


Religious laws cannot be applied to people who do not profess that religion, says Chee Peck Kiat, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism , who reminds judges that they take an oath of office to uphold the Federal Constitution, which guarantees all Malaysians the fundamental liberty of professing and practising their faiths in peace and harmony....read more from Aliran here.

The woman at the centre of a religious controversy has accused the country's highest court of denying her fundamental rights in rejecting her bid to be legally recognised as Christian reports Malaysiakini.

"I am disappointed that the Federal Court is not able to vindicate a simple but important fundamental right that exists in all persons," she said, according to her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson.

"I am hoping that my case would have made a difference to the development of constitutional issues in the plight of many others."



Meanwhile, Suaram said Lina Joy’s Judgment is Unjust and Denial of Freedom of Religion.

"Justice eluded Lina in the 'Palace of Justice'" said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).

"By directing Lina to return to the Syariah Court to leave Islam, the Federal Court is turning a blind eye to the fact that Lina Joy will most likely be convicted in the Syariah court since apostasy is a criminal offence in the majority of the states' Syariah law," said Yap.

In Malaysia, Negeri Sembilan is the only state that allows the conversion of Muslims from Islam.

"The ruling by the majority judgments of the Federal Court misses the point that there is no remedy present in the Syariah court," he added.

Suaram said the judiciary has once again failed in its duty in defending a citizen from unjust punishment for merely exercising her rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Faith must be practiced through conviction and compulsion only renders faith meaningless," said Yap.


So far, it is believed that only 15 to 20 Muslims have been allowed to leave Islam officially through the Syariah Court, according to lawyer Pawancheek Merican.

Mr Pawancheek heads Defenders of Islam, a coalition of 80 Muslim non-governmental organisations, which was set up following a spate of religious disputes that have strained race relations in Malaysia.

To some non-Muslims, yesterday's judgment spelt a setback for religious freedom in Malaysia.


Law of Apostasy and Freedom of Religion in Malaysia

The right to freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Islam. This is emphasised in verse 256 of Sura al-Baqara: "Let there be no compulsion in religion". However, the majority of classical Muslim jurists opine that the right to freedom of religion is not applicable to Muslims, that Muslims who intend to leave the Islamic faith or who have apostatised should be condemned to the death penalty. In reality, punishment for apostasy is not prescribed in the Qur'an and had not been practised by the Prophet (S.A.W.). Instead, the Prophet (S.A.W.) had imposed the death penalty upon apostates because their acts were contemptuous of, and hostile towards, Islam. Muslims who merely renounced the Islamic religion were only required to undergo a process of repentance (tawba). The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed in Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. However, as Islamic matters belong to the state jurisdictions, most provisions in relation to apostasy are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Shari'a Courts. Apostates are subject to punishments such as fine, imprisonment and whipping. This article makes an in-depth study of the right to freedom of religion and the issue of apostasy from the Islamic law perspective, and argues that Muslims who intend to leave the Islamic faith are only required to undergo a process of repentance (tawba), and any punishment prescribed for apostasy is contrary to the right to freedom of religion.

- Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, MARA University of Technology, Shah Alam, Malaysia

(Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil (2007) "Law of Apostasy and Freedom of Religion in Malaysia," Asian Journal of Comparative Law: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1, Article 6.
Available at: http://www.bepress.com/asjcl/vol2/iss1/art6)


Thanks Yeoh Chee Weng for the link. Read his comment posted below.


Read also : Lina Joy: “Freedom of conscience is at risk in Malaysia

The Christian woman whose conversion the Federal Court refuses to recognise speaks. Yesterday’s sentence practically obliges her to remain a Muslim and to marry a man of her same faith. Malaysian bishop: “An inhuman and uncivil decision”. Other minority religions express their concern. Catholic parliamentarian: “the government needs to clarify all doubts regarding the Constitutions prevalence over Sharia”.

From Asia News.it here.



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2 Comments:

Anonymous Yeoh Chee Weng said...

Lina Joy's unhappiness and her statement that "the Federal Court is not able to vindicate a simple but important fundamental right that exists in all persons; namely, the right to believe in the religion of one's choice and equally important, the right to marry a person of one's choice and to raise a family in the Malaysia context" is sadly felt by me.

The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed in Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia and is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Islam. This is emphasised in verse 256 of Sura al-Baqara: "Let there be no compulsion in religion".

However, real freedom is not seen to be practised in Malaysia when a respondent is denied her rights and is intimidated into submission to a religious court whose jurisprudence she no longer believes in nor wishes to abide.

Let me quote from the abstract of the "Law of Apostasy and Freedom of Religion in Malaysia by Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, MARA University of Technology (Asian Journal of Comparative Law; http://www.bepress.com/asjcl/vol2/iss1/art6/)

"However, the majority of classical Muslim jurists opine that the right to freedom of religion is not applicable to Muslims, that Muslims who intend to leave the Islamic faith or who have apostatised should be condemned to the death penalty. In reality, punishment for apostasy is not prescribed in the Qur'an and had not been practised by the Prophet (S.A.W.). Instead, the Prophet (S.A.W.) had imposed the death penalty upon apostates because their acts were contemptuous of, and hostile towards, Islam. Muslims who merely renounced the Islamic religion were only required to undergo a process of repentance (tawba)....Apostates are subject to punishments such as fine, imprisonment and whipping."

When someone converts out of a religion why should the person be forced to repent? What is there to repent? It seems to an objective observer that the law on apostasy is open to interpretation. So whose interpretation is right? Even the Islamic jurists has no consensus on the penalty for apostates.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar,the International Movement for a Just World president, has called for reforms of the Syariah laws. “The Quran does not prohibit a person from or punish a person for leaving the religion. The crux of the problems is the unwillingness of the Syariah Courts to entertain applications of the Lina Joy type." (The Star, May 31, 2007)

And finally, in Malaysia a non-Muslim has to embrace Islam if the other party is a Muslim in an inter-religious marriage, otherwise the marriage is not recognised. Isn't this compulsion?

May 31, 2007 10:32 PM  
Blogger J.T. said...

We can scream and shout, rant and rave but is it going to change anything? Some laws will not change if the law makers/deciders/interpreters do not want to budge. They will remain steadfast as ancient buildings - still standing but rotting in facade.
At the end of the day, some people may 'own' Lina Joy but they will never be able to own her heart. They can steal her body but not her soul.

June 01, 2007 9:26 PM  

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