07/14/2006, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Muslim lawyers set up movement to "defend" Islam

Lawyers join forces to "correct" misconceptions of those in the country's legal system seemingly defending religions other than Islam. The issue has gained urgency since the Lina Joy affair.

Petaling Jaya (AsiaNews/TS) – A number of Muslim lawyers have joined forces and formed a movement to defend Islam from what they allege are a series of attacks against their religion.

The group calls itself the Peguam Pembela Islam (PPI), or Lawyers in Defence of Islam. Its priority is to clear "misconceptions" about the prophet's religion, following recent court cases involving issues such as apostasy and conversions.

The movement's pro tem committee chairman, Zainur Zakaria, a senior lawyer and former Bar Council president, said the group's aim was to correct "misconceptions" by giving its side of the story.

"We want to address the views [. . .] expressed about the position of Islam and constitutional rights. This has been raised in a series of cases, not only that of Lina Joy (a Muslim woman convert to Christianity who wants her conversion officially registered), but even in cases prior to that," he said.

"Among non-Muslims," he said, "Malaysia is not [viewed as] an Islamic state with the position of Islam [. . .] guaranteed by the Constitution. We are hearing [. . .] the voices of those advocating a secular state where Islam is subservient to the Constitution." 

In fact in Malaysia two legal systems coexist side by side: an Islamic one and one centred on the constitution. The two are often in conflict.

The Lina Joy affair is a case in point. On the one hand, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion; on the other, Islamic law bans conversions to other religions. The Registry and the Appeal Court have refused to change her identity papers so that they would no longer indicate that she was a Muslim. She is now before the Federal Court pursuing her appeal.

Zainur and 15 other lawyers in the pro tem committee met this week to discuss the urgent issue.

"We are not happy with the partisan stand taken by the Bar Council through its representative at the Lina Joy appeal in the Federal Court recently," Zainur said. In his view, "[i]t's partisan because the Bar Council supported the stand taken by the appellant (Lina)." Muslim lawyers make up 40% of the Bar's membership.

"I do not know what they mean by partisan stand," Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh said, adding that the organisation had always based its positions on fundamental rights, liberties and freedom that applied across the board to everyone regardless of their gender, race or religion.

"If they mean partisan as to one religion," he noted, "then it is absolutely rubbish because the Bar Council has never taken a stand based on one particular religion or race."

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