Malaysian Christian to Keep Islam in ID

Malaysia's highest civil court rejected a woman's bid to be legally recognized as Christian in the identity card after converting from Islam, drawing mixed public reactions in the predominantly Muslim country.

Malaysian Christian to Keep Islam in ID

Malaysia's highest civil court rejected on Wednesday, May 30, a woman's bid to be legally recognized as Christian in the identity card after converting from Islam, drawing mixed public reactions in the predominantly Muslim country.

"Apostasy is within the powers of the Islamic law and the Shari`ah courts. Civil courts cannot interfere," Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said, declaring the verdict.

One of three judges on the panel opposed the ruling.

Azlina Jalani, a 42-year-old woman who was born to a Malay Muslim family, changed her name to Lina Joy after converting to Christianity at the age of 26.

She was seeking a court order to compel the National Registration Department (NRD) to drop the word "Islam" from her identity card.

Chief Justice Abdul Halim said the NRD acted within the law when asking Lina to produce an order from the Shari`ah Court to confirm her apostasy before the department could delete the word.

A Malay is defined in the Constitution as "a person who professes the religion of Islam," and only the Shari`ah Court has jurisdiction over apostasy-related cases.

Islamic courts are the legal authority in disputes involving families, morality and religion in Malaysia where Shari`ah operates alongside with the civil code.

Lina insists she should not be bound by the Islamic courts because she is now a Christian.

The high court ruling marked the end of her six-year judicial battle when Lina first took her case to the court in 2001.

Divided

The ruling drew opposite reactions in the Southeast Asian country, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

Hundreds of Malaysians standing outside the domed courthouse celebrated the verdict.

Yusri Mohamad, president of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement, believed the verdict was fair.

"This decision should not be perceived as a victory for Muslims and a loss to non-Muslims."

But inside the court, Judge Richard Malanjum, who voted against the ruling, said the verdict was "discriminatory and unconstitutional."

He argued that it was unreasonable to expect a person to "self-incriminate" herself before a Shari`ah court.

"In some states in Malaysia, apostasy is a criminality."

Politicians and lawmakers also slammed the ruling as a setback for religious freedom.

"I think it's a major blow," opposition politician Lim Kit Siang told Reuters.

"It casts a large shadow on civil liberties and the constitutional rights of Malaysians."

Human rights activists believe the verdict has not settled anything.

"The Federal Court, the apex court of the country, is divided over this issue, as the country is divided on this issue," said Zainah Anwar, of Sisters in Islam, a rights group for Muslim women.

Muslim Malays make up nearly 60 percent of Malaysia’s 26 million population.

Ethnic Chinese and Indians - most of them Buddhists, Hindus and Christians - make up about 35 percent. The rest are indigenous people and Eurasians.

Source: AFP and Islamonline

Last Mod: 30 Mayıs 2007, 19:32
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