PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia, May 30 (Reuters) - Malaysia's best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card, after the country's highest court rejected the change.
The court's ruling helps define religious freedoms in multi-racial Malaysia, whose constitution guarantees freedom of worship but deems all ethnic Malays like Joy to be Muslims, subject to Islamic laws that bar her conversion to another faith.
"You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case, which has stirred religious tensions in the mainly Muslim nation.
About 200 Muslims, mostly youths, had gathered outside the domed courthouse for the ruling. They welcomed the news with shouts of "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great).
The three-judge appeal bench ruled 2-1 against Joy. The dissenting judge was the only non-Muslim on the bench.
The chief justice said the country's highest civil court had no jurisdiction in the case and said it should be dealt with by the country's Islamic or sharia court system.
"The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it's under the sharia court. The civil court cannot intervene," Ahmad Fairuz said.
In practice, sharia courts do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam. They often end up in legal limbo, unable to register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Many keep silent about their choice or emigrate.
Lina Joy, 43, was born Azlina Jailani and was brought up as a Muslim, but at the age of 26 decided to become a Christian. She wants to marry her Christian boyfriend, a cook, but she cannot do so while her identity card declares her to me Muslim.
In 1999, the National Registration Department allowed her to change the name in her identity card to Lina Joy but the entry for her religion remained "Islam".
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Religion of Tolerance
Recall that Malaysia is considered to be rather "tolerant" because this woman wasn't stoned.