07/24/2006, 00.00
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Muslim students and clerics against civil courts

 Following in the footsteps of a group of lawyers "in defence" of Islam, clerics and students have joined the fray to counter the use of the country's civil courts as a "way out" of Islam. Rallies have been held against the case of the convert, Lina Joy.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 50 groups of Muslim clerics, students and professionals have decided to join forces to protect Islam "from the onslaught of the civi courts". The Pembela Islam (Defenders of Islam) plans to launch a nationwide campaign to counter the use of the civil courts as a "way out of Islam", functioning through a close network of ulemas and religious experts.

Another group was born only a few weeks ago to work towards the same aim. This umbrella organization is made up only of lawyers and called itself Peguam Pembela Islam (Lawyers in defence of Islam).

For both groups, the case of Lina Joy lies at the heart of the controversy: the woman converted to Christianity in 1998 and asked the National Registration Department and then the Court of Appeal to drop the word 'Islam' from her identity card (that notes one's faith). She was refused in both cases and now she is waiting for the verdict of the federal Court. The reason is that Lina Joy, being Malay, is considered to be Muslim as a matter of course and "cannot 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.

Over the weekend, two rallies against Joy and her case were held in Johor Baru. Islamic conservatives fear that if the judges allow her to leave Islam, this would open the floodgates to many other requests of Muslims wanting to change their faith. The extremists, meanwhile, view these legal battles as an offence against Islam and its stances.

The Muslim Youth Movement secretary-general said a series of forums was being planned by Pembela Islam to spread the message to Muslims on the need to "defend the faith".

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See also
Church that baptised Lina Joy, convert from Islam, is reported
Prayer campaign for Lina Joy, the law does not allow her to convert to Christianity
Lina Joy affair sparks apostasy debate among Muslims
Islamic court “authorises” conversion from Islam to Buddhism
Whipping, prison and fines for anyone who tries to convert Muslims