By BosNewsLife News Center
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BosNewsLife) -- Malaysia's highest court was due to hand down on Wednesday, May 30, a historic ruling that observers said could have ramifications for Muslims who want to renounce their faith.
The Federal Court was to decide on an appeal case brought by Lina Joy, who was born a Muslim but became a Christian many years ago. Malaysian authorities have refused to change her religious status on her identity card.
Judges were to announce whether the constitutional right of Joy to choose her religion overrides an Islamic law that prohibits ethnic Malay Muslims from leaving Islam. Fearing retaliation, Joy, 43, has kept a low profile after she reportedly receibed death threats. She cannot legally marry her Christian partner who she met in 1990, because the law requires non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they want to marry someone of that faith.
"Malaysians mostly want to know whether they can convert out of Islam, and if so what is the procedure. This verdict will clarify that," her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, told reporters. However courts have so far rebuffed Joy's efforts, ruling that only Islamic Sharia courts can recognize her conversion - but the latter are unwilling to approve apostasy.
The Federal Court was to determine whether Joy, whose pre-conversion name was Azlina binti Jailani, must go to a Sharia court to have her renunciation recognized before authorities delete the word 'Islam' from her identity card. Malaysia's civil courts operate parallel to Sharia courts for Muslims in areas of family law including divorce, child custody, and inheritance, which creates tensions, analysts say.
Promoting itself internationally as a multi-ethnic "truly Asia" haven in television advertisements, Malaysia in reality has seen growing religious tensions and a reported string of cases in which Muslims and non-Muslim spouses have been forced apart by Islamic religious officials.
As preparations for the final hearing were underway Tuesday, May 29, an influential Malaysian human rights group warned that religious tolerance was being threatened, and urged the country's courts to protect freedom of worship in the Muslim-majority nation."
In its annual 2006 report released Tuesday, May 29, Suaram, one of Malaysia's leading rights groups, expressed concerns about apparently "increasing rights violations", due to racial and religious factors.
"It has not helped that our courts have been somewhat reticent, a little bit hesitant to take positions that uphold the federal constitution," said Zaitun Kasim, a Suaram committee member, in published remarks.
The group includes Malaysia's minority Christians as well as other religious minorities such as Buddhists, and Hindus. Christians comprise roughly 9 percent of the country's mainly Muslim population of 25 million people. (With BosNewsLife reporting and BosNewsLife Research).
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