In supposedly democratic Malaysia, a country which describes itself as a Muslim country, the right of a person to choose his or own religion is no longer in question. You can't decide to stop being a Muslim if that's what you want to do.
Lina Joy, who has been going to church since 1992, wanted her religion changed on her national identity card. She was refused, and the highest court voted, two to one, along religious lines, that she must appeal to the Islamic Sharia courts. The two judges who voted against her appeal were both Muslim.
An AP article reported,
She appealed the decision to a civil court but was told she must take it to Islamic Shariah courts. Joy, 43, argued that she should not be bound by Shariah law because she is a Christian.
A three-judge Federal Court panel ruled by a 2-1 majority 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.
"She cannot simply at her own whims enter or leave her religion," Judge Ahmad Fairuz said. "She must follow rules."
Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim on the panel, 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 a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.
...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.
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.
Muslim Youth Movement President Yusri Mohammad said that "we fully believe justice has been served."
"We praise Allah for the decision taken by the court," Mohammad said. "It should be seen as a rejection of attempts by certain individuals, certain parties, to deconstruct and radically revamp our current formula" for religious issues.
Joy's 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.
Another AP article reports:
Although the Malaysian Constitution allows freedom of faith, it says Islam is the official religion.
It also follows a dual justice system - the Shariah courts administer the family and personal affairs of Muslims, who are 60 percent of the 26 million people, while civil courts handle the affairs of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Sikh minorities.
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