» 05/30/2007, 00.00
Kuala Lumpur refuses to recognise Lina Joy’s conversion to Christianity
The Federal Court has referred the case of Lina Joy, a women seeking legal recognition of her conversion from Islam, to the Islamic courts. The country’s contradicting laws are laid bare: religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution cannot co-exist with Islamic law, which is increasingly imposed on the nation’s citizen’s even non-Muslims. Outside the court hundreds of demonstrators shout “Allah-o-Akbar”.
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – A harsh blow has been dealt to religious freedom in Malaysia. Lina Joy, the women who converted from Islam to Christianity, has lost her long and courageous battle to have her faith legally recognised. Today the Federal court, the highest civil court in the country, to which she appealed as her last hope, decided that only the Islamic Court may remove the word “Islam” from her documents.
Of the three judges called to hear her appeal, one was in favour, two against the Christian woman’s request; these last two are Chief Justice, Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Federal Judges Alauddin Mohd Sheriff. The verdict comes after a long wait and years of heated internal debate, marked by pressure from Islamic fundamentalists and death threats against the woman and her lawyers.
Azlina Jailani, 42, began attending church in 1990, in 1998 she decided to become baptised and take on the name Lina Joy. In 2000 Lina applied first to the National Registration Department (NRD) and then the Court of Appeal to change her identity papers to remove 'Islam' as her religion. (the document also notes a citizen's faith). Only in this way would she be able to marry her Christian boyfriend of Indian origins. Both requests are refused leading Ms Joy to appeal to the Federal Court in 2005. She was refused in both cases because as ethnic Malay she was legally Muslim and "could not change religion”. Religious issues involving Malays, including conversions to other religions, fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts and not the country's general laws. De facto, two legal systems coexist in the country: one based on Islam; the other, on the constitution. And the two are often in conflict. Lina Joy's case illustrates this clearly. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion; Islamic law prohibits conversion to any other religion.
Today’s sentence forces Lina Joy to marry a Muslim man in a Muslim ceremony and makes her subject to the highly discriminatory Islamic family and inheritance laws. On various occasions the woman's lawyer, Benjamin Dawon, has said the Malaysian Constitution did not call for the approval of an Islamic tribunal for conversions from Islam.
Since last year Joy and her would-be Christian husband have been in hiding after extremists issued death threats against her for apostasy, threats which they continue to receive. Even her lawyer, himself a Muslim is subject to serious intimidation. Today about 200 protesters shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) outside the court when the ruling was announced.
Out of a population of just over 24 million, Muslims constitute 47.7 per cent of the total. The remainder is divided between Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and cults like Shamanism. These minorities have long denounced the worrying spread of Sharia law. Islamic laws once upon a time only disciplined personal and familial issues; now however they are invading the wider social context. Last April the Malaysian bishop’s conference together with other non Muslim communities took part in a national prayer campaign for “a return to religious freedom” in the country.
A Hindu Lina Joy, subjected to Islamic “re-education”
Some civil groups in Malaysia have organised a prayer vigil Revathi: and Indian Hindu who January last was condemned to 180 days of “rehabilitation” in a centre lead by Muslim authorities.
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.
Lina Joy: “Freedom of conscience is at risk in Malaysia”
The Christian woman whose conversion the Federal Court refuses to recognise speaks. Yesterday’s sentence practically obliges her to remain a Muslim and to marry a man of her same faith. Malaysian bishop: “An inhuman and uncivil decision”. Other minority religions express their concern. Catholic parliamentarian: “the government needs to clarify all doubts regarding the Constitutions prevalence over Sharia”.
Lina Joy affair sparks apostasy debate among Muslims
Legal experts and Islamic scholars and leaders square off before a large audience in a public debate over the conflict that pits Sharia against civil law in conversion cases. Some believe the issue has not been settled since the Qur’an is silent as to how apostasy should be punished and that what punishment that does exist “is man-made”. Others insist that any dialogue must be preceded by “respect for religion and its experts.”
Death threats against Lina Joy, fighting for her life and religious freedom
Convert to Christianity and her fiancé forced into hiding by death threats. The attorney who is appealing to the courts to have her conversion acknowledged is victim of intimidation.
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