04/25/2006, 00.00
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Doubts over who should judge converts

The Federal Court has decided to assess whether Sharia is the only system with the right to judge converts. The case in question is a converted Christian who changed her name in official documents but remains registered under Islam, thus obliged to marry a Muslim.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysia's highest court has accepted to rule on whether Islamic tribunals have the exclusive right to judge Muslim citizens who have converted to other faiths. The sentence of the Federal Court, that could take months, is a rare initiative in the delicate field of conversions in this Muslim majority country, where a gradual expansion of Sharia has been noted.

It is the case of Lina Joy, who converted to Christianity in 1998, that necessitated the involvement of the Federal Court. The woman asked the Department of National Registration to change her Muslim name (Azlina Jaliani) on her identity card; the document also notes a citizen's faith. The department accepted but did not change "Islam" under the entry of religion, saying this needed the permission of an Islamic tribunal.

In Malaysia, a Muslim majority country with large Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities, Islamic courts have jurisdiction only over Muslims, while others have, in theory at least, full freedom of worship and fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts. Very often, however, the two legislative systems clash. A case in point is Joy's, highlighting the lack of clear guidelines about which of the two systems should have jurisdiction.

The woman's lawyer, Benjamin Dawon, said the Malaysian Constitution did not call for the approval of an Islamic tribunal for conversions from Islam. "If recognition of the conversion is denied, this would amount to a violation of freedom of worship," he added.

Joy, meanwhile, wants to marry a non-Muslim, but she cannot do so because civilly, only marriages between non Muslims are registered, and she is not yet officially considered as one.

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See also
Malay converts to Christianity "cannot renounce Islam"
Lina Joy affair sparks apostasy debate among Muslims
Death threats against Lina Joy, fighting for her life and religious freedom
Church that baptised Lina Joy, convert from Islam, is reported
Muslim lawyers set up movement to "defend" Islam


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