06/23/2006, 00.00
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Prayer campaign for Lina Joy, the law does not allow her to convert to Christianity

National Registration Department and Court of Appeal refused to accept her conversion. Federal Court is set to rule next week on her case.

Kuaka Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia's Churches are committed one and all to a prayer campaign on behalf of Lina Joy, a Malay woman who converted to Christianity from Islam. Next Monday Malaysia's federal Court will rule whether the law recognises her conversion or not.

After becoming Christian in 1998, Lina Joy (formerly Azlina Jailani) 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. She was refused in both cases because as an 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.

Lina Joy's problem is that if she is not recognised as Christian she can only marry a Muslim man in a Muslim ceremony and will be subject to Islamic family and inheritance laws.

Her case has opened up the debate as to the extent to which religious freedom is guaranteed in Malaysia, a country that is also home to Chinese and Indian groups who generally belong to other religions.

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.

Given the seriousness of the situation, Mgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, Catholic bishop of Melata-Johor and chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, is appealing to Christians to support Lina Joy through prayers.

In a prepared prayer, the prelate asks the faithful to call on God to support Lina Joy, whatever the judges' verdict may be, and grant the judges the wisdom they need to pass judgement in the case and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi the strength to "uphold the Constitution".

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