Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malaysian court refuses to recognize Muslim's conversion to Christianity

From the International Herald Tribune:  Malaysian court refuses to recognize Muslim's conversion to Christianity

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: In a controversial victory for Islamic law over secularism, Malaysia's highest court refused Wednesday to recognize the conversion of a Muslim-born woman to Christianity, ruling that the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the country's civil courts and should be handled by religious authorities.

Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's population, have co-existed with Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs for decades in this country, considered one of the world's most progressive and modern Muslim democracies. But the ruling here underlined the increasing separateness of Muslims from people of other religions and reinforced the idea, widely held in many Muslim countries, that Islamic law should have primacy over secular laws in certain aspects of their lives.

The Federal Court was divided 2-1 in its decision, with the only non-Muslim judge, Richard Malanjum, dissenting forcefully and arguing that the Constitution must remain the supreme law of the land. The split on the court mirrored the discord in Malaysian society, where ethnic and religious tensions have increased in recent years.

The ruling exhausted the last appeal of Lina Joy, who, after being baptized a Roman Catholic in May 1998, wanted to remove the word "Islam" from her identity card in order to marry her Catholic fiancé. Muslims in Malaysia are subject to separate laws on inheritance and marriage - they must marry within the faith - and are not allowed to have premarital relationships or drink alcohol, among other rules. Because separate laws apply to them, Muslims must list their religion on their identity cards.

Joy, who lost her job as a saleswoman last year because of the controversy and whose family has reportedly been harassed, is seeking political asylum in Australia, according to one of her advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for her.

Interestingly, the ruling stated that the Islamic court had jurisdiction.  However, the pertinent law states that Islamic courts have jurisdiction only over those who profess Islam, which Lina Joy does not.

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