As expected, Lina Joy lost her final round of appeal when the Federal Court dismissed on Wednesday her appeal against a ruling that the National Registration Department was right not to allow her to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card. On Sept 19, 2005, the Court of Appeal decided that the NRD director-general was right in refusing her application to drop her religious status from her IC on the grounds that the Syariah Court and other Islamic religious authorities did not confirm Linas renunciation of Islam.
Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Federal Court judge Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff delivered the majority decision dismissing her appeal. Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum dissented. Lina Joy, 42, who was born to a Malay Muslim couple, became a Christian when she was 26. The sales assistant has taken her case all the way to the Federal Court because unless the government recognizes her conversion, she cannot get married under civil law. As long as the word “Islam” remains on her identity card, Lina cannot marry her Christian boyfriend, a cook, under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.
While Lina managed – the second time around – to get the National Registration Department to change her name from Azlina Jailani in 1999, accepting that she had renounced Islam, it refused to remove the word “Islam” from her MyKad.
In 2001, she took her case against the NRD director-general, the Government and the Federal Territory Religious Council to the High Court. She lost – Justice Faiza Tamby Chik held that Malays could not renounce Islam because a Malay was defined in the Constitution as “a person who professes the religion of Islam,” adding it was the syariah court that had the jurisdiction in matters related to apostasy.
Back in Dec 2005, a controversy was triggered following the death of Mount Everest climber Sergeant M. Moorthy alias Muhammad Abdullah. His widow, S. Kaliammal, and the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council were embroiled in a legal tussle over the right to bury him when it was discovered that he had converted to Islam the previous year. His widow, however, sought a declaration in the civil court that Moorthy lived a Hindu life.
On Dec 28, 2005, the High Court ruled that it would not disturb the declaration that Moorthy was a Muslim because the latter was under the purview of the Syariah Court system and he was eventually buried according to Muslim rites. I’m just wondering if Moorthy would be involved in such a tussle if he’s not a Mount Everest hero.
Apostasy, considered one of Islam’s greatest sins, is punishable by imprisonment or a fine under Malaysia’s sharia law. Converts also face being sent to “rehabilitation” centers where caning is one of the methods used to force converts to recant. While most prefer to keep silent about their conversion or flee to another country, Joy decided 10 years ago to sue the department in the secular civil courts.
As for Lina Joy case, its’ puzzling why would the authority insists on keeping her status as a Muslim when at the first place the National Registration Department agreed to change her name – a signal equals to recognition that she’s already no longer a Muslim. Weird isn’t it? Just to put her into difficult situation in getting married to a non-Muslim guy? Will this case be used as the benchmark for any similar cases to come? But I thought Malaysia is a democratic country which is going to celebrate its’ 50th Independence in another three months and according to the Constitution (Article 11) everyone is guaranteed the freedom to practice his/her religion belief.
Would the result be any difference if the judges consist of equal number of judge from different religion, such as 2 Muslim-judges, 2 Indian-Hindu judges, 2 Chinese-Buddhist judges and 2 Christian-judges? This would be a marvelous idea as every opinion would be put on the table for a fair judgment. But that would be next to impossible in Malaysia.
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