KUCHING, Sarawak, Malaysia – The Malaysian Federal Court failed to rule on an appeal by four Christians who have requested their names and religious faith be changed on their national identification documents. (See “4 Christian Converts in Landmark Case in Malaysia’s Federal Court.”) According to those official IDs, they are “still Muslims on paper.”
Malaysia recognizes religious freedom as “a secular state with Islam as its main religion.” However, because Islam is considered intrinsic for maintaining the Malaysian culture, the country has a civil legal court system alongside Islamic Sharia law.
The plaintiffs’ argument was based on their IDs being a part of the national system and that there is no provision in the Sarawak Sharia Court Ordinance to allow converts to other religions. Therefore, the appeal was brought to the highest civil court in the land.
The plaintiffs have not lost their case. Rather, they continue to find themselves in legal limbo. Muslims have campaigned for several decades to convert Malaysia from a secular to a Muslim state, citing the secular state’s charter of rights as a remnant of colonialism.
Many Muslims regard the Sharia courts as the highest judicial authority in Malaysia.
What the plaintiffs can or will do at this point is unknown. The civil court is disinclined to rule on what it considers to be religious matters. The Sharia court allows no path to an alternative to Islam.
Speaking on behalf of judges, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, the Court of Appeal President, said, “We found that there is no merit in the appeals.” Whilst recognizing that the Sarawak Shariah Court lacks the provisions for approving conversions out of Islam, the judges believe that the Sarawak Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) does.