PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – The lawyer for four Christian converts will plead their case to be allowed to be Christians under Malaysian law. The case will be heard in Federal Court in Putrajaya on Monday, February 26th.
The outcome of this case could become precedent for Malaysians wishing to convert out of Islam in a country that has a written constitutional guarantee of religious freedom although Islam is the official state religion.
All four all petitioning to have their conversions from Islam to Christianity officially recognized by having their names and their religion changed on their national identity cards.
The Muslim Sharia Court in Sarawak has ruled that it has the authority only to approve conversions to Islam, but not from Islam to any other religion. Civil courts have ruled that they have no power over religious matters, so cases of this nature are rarely heard. Rather, they are referred to the Sharia courts.
This creates a dilemma for converts to Christianity. There is an element of irony in this story in its similarity to Jesus’ trial before the religious and civil courts until the Roman court relented and made a ruling that the Sanhedrin wanted but would not make.
Three of the four petitioners were raised as Christians but converted to Islam to marry Muslim spouses. Two are now divorced and the other is a widower. The fourth was raised as a Muslim. Children born to Malaysian parents must be registered as Muslim.
The petitions have legally filed declarations indicating that they have turned to Christianity. Once the petitions were filed, they were required to attend a series of counseling sessions at the State Department of Religion.
Because their official documents identify them as Muslim, they are “still Muslims on paper.” To have their legal identity (name and religion) changed, they must obtain letters of apostasy from a Sharia Court.
The Federal Court must now make a decision that would direct the Sharia Court to act in accordance with its ruling.
The petitioners are appealing to the court on the basis of their civil rights, declaring that Sharia Courts have not authority over them since they are not Muslim.
There is precedent for rulings both deny and permitting the requests for official recognition of a change of faith to Christianity.
The attorney pleading their case said, “We pray for a favorable outcome because there are many who are caught in such a quandary and are longing for a way out and freedom to choose and profess the religion of their choice. Only an order from the court can direct the Federal Registry to comply with the appellants’ applications that their status be changed in the Registry’s data system, and consequently, their IDs be changed as well.”
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