27 May, 2007

Malaysia's religious identity ?

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.

After a 7-year legal struggle, Joy will be told by Malaysia's highest court 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 in the high-profile apostasy case will have profound implications on Malaysian society where Islam is increasingly conflicting with minority religions, challenging the country's reputation as a moderate Muslim and multicultural nation that guarantees freedom of worship.

Malaysia's highest court will rule next week on whether a Muslim has the right to convert to another faith, lawyers said on Friday, in a test case that could shake society in the mainly Muslim country.

The Federal Court, the country's highest civil judicial authority, will announce on May 30 if it has decided to acknowledge the decision of Lina Joy to convert to Christianity and give up Islam, the faith she was born into.

'We're all awaiting with bated breath a case which has a great impact on the course that the country will take,' Benjamin Dawson, Joy's lawyer.

"Our country is at a crossroad,"

"Are we evolving into an Islamic state or are we going to maintain the secular character of the Constitution?"

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 — as in many Islamic nations — is regarded a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.

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 other 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.

Subashini's pain, Malaysia's anguish

Non-Muslim husbands who abandon their spouses and their families and convert into Islam have acted in an irresponsible manner leaving them in the lurch. When these wayward husbands convert their children without the consent or knowledge of their spouses, they inflict further trauma and pain on their spouses and leave them helplessly in an agonising situation. When these suffering spouses turn to the civil courts for justice, they are treated unjustly. The recent event involving R Subashini is a case in point. We carry three reactions from civil society organisations to highlight this problem..

There is also a larger moral question of the anguish suffered by R Subashini and other women in her position. Even if she were to eventually win custody of their children, she may be prevented from imparting the knowledge of her religious traditions to her children. This happened in Shamala’s case. Awam fears that every move she makes in bringing up her children may then be scrutinised to ensure that she does not “expose” her children to Hinduism. At a time when religion has become synonymous with ethnicity, unfortunately this may also extend to Indian culture.

R Subashini’s case is symptomatic of problems in the everyday reality of negotiating rights and legal jurisdictions under the Federal Constitution. We agree with Justice Sri Ram’s dissenting judgement on this case that the Federal Constitution “confers jurisdiction on a Syariah High Court in civil matters where all parties are Muslim”, and that any other interpretation would be unjust towards non-Muslim spouses.

How could any non-Muslim woman feel secure in marrying and having children when her husband could potentially threaten to convert and thus take her children away?

The way with which cases such as Subashini and Shamala was handled does nothing to help the cause of national unity....

(Read more here.)

Islam:"Where Are The Voices Of Sanity And Reform?"

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