FaithWorld

Malaysia reviews its religious conversion laws

October 24, 2007

Malaysia’s Federal Court, which rejected Lina Joy’s conversion caseMalaysia has been getting some negative publicity for a while now because of the problems some citizens face when they want to convert from Islam. Malaysia is majority Muslim, with sizable religious minorities, and it leaves Muslim personal law issues to the sharia courts. They do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, meaning apostates end up in a legal limbo because they cannot register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Christian convert Lina Joy learned that to her chagrin in May when the the Federal Court — the country’s highest court — refused to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card.

The government now wants to resolve this problem. “The attorney-general’s chambers is studying the matter,” Malaysia’s de-facto justice minister, Nazri Abdul Aziz, was quoted as telling parliament this week. “It is an ongoing process. It is also a sensitive issue and, God willing, a method can be achieved on how to decide on the religion of a person.”

It’s not clear how this is going to work. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in July that Islamic religious authorities should be ready to handle apostasy cases. “We have to be ready to listen and to solve the problems,” he told reporters. “This is not about something that cannot be done. For those who don’t want to be Muslims anymore, what can you do?”

If a sharia court handled an apostasy case and let the person leave officially Islam, would that be a precedent? We usually hear that they rule in the opposite sense.

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