05/08/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA

Islamic court “authorises” conversion from Islam to Buddhism

In Penang state an Islamic tribunal emits a rare sentence accepting the request of a woman to leave Islam. In recent years, Islamic judge’s closure on conversion cases has provoked strong political and social tensions.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Malaysian court has accepted the request of a woman convert to Islam to return to Buddhism, her original religion.  The sentence is the first of its kind in recent months, which has seen progressive closure on the part of judges regarding cases of citizens who want to leave Islam, the nation’s majority religion.  The case was reported by Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz, lawyer for the Council of Islamic Affairs for Penang state, in the north of the country.  According to the lawyer, the tribunal granted permission to Siti Fatimah Abdullah to re-embrace Buddhism, which she had left in 1998 in order to marry a Muslim of Iranian origins.

Recently cases similar to that of Siti Fatimah have come to light, but have resulted in a ban on changing religions, creating strong ethnic and religious tensions in Malaysia.  The most famous case is that of Lina Joy, an ethnic malay.  Last year after a lengthy legal battle her conversion to Christianity failed to gain legal recognition.  Despite guarantees of full religious freedom, Malaysia has established that all questions regarding the faith of ethnic malays – including their conversion – be judged by the Islamic courts rather than civilian law.  In fact, two legislations exist in the country: Islamic law and constitutional law, which often are in direct opposition to each other.  In the case of Lina Joy this is evident: the Constitution guarantees religious freedom; Islamic law prohibits conversion to another religion.

 

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