KUCHING, Sarawak, Malaysia – The recent refusal of the Malaysian Federal Court to hear the appeals of four Christian converts to have their Christian names and religion on their government IDs left the world wondering what the plaintiffs would do. As it turns out, they may on have to wait and be patient. The Sarawak Chief Minister has promised to step in.
Although Malaysia is a secular nation, it is ruled by both secular and Sharia laws and courts. Most residents of the Muslim majority nation regard Sharia as a higher authority. While the secular, civil system protects religious freedom, it does not rule on the legitimacy of changing religious conversion status on government ID papers.
Approval of religious conversions is handled by the Sharia Courts. However, Sharia Court rules permit conversion only from another religion to Islam. Petitioners to convert from Islam must present the courts with a document naming themselves as apostates. This action effectively makes them guilty of apostasy under Sharia law. The path to official recognition of their conversion ends there because the National Registration Department requires a Letter of Release from Islam before it will revise an individual’s religious status in its records.
On Saturday, 03 March, Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg said that the State of Sarawak would act to amend state laws on conversion. Sharia law in Malaysia is governed at the state level.
“We will amend any weakness is our Sharia laws in dealing with apostasy cases. There must be an SOP because we cannot leave people hanging.” The minister added, “If that person wants to leave (the faith), why not let him leave?”
The Chief Minister asked for six months to complete a review and plug loopholes in Sarawak’s religious law. Opposition alliance leaders applauded the decision, agreeing that it is necessary for “honoring the right of the people to freedom of religion.”
Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia where Christianity is the major religion practiced although all Malaysian-born children are declared to be Muslim.
- The Straits Times, Sarawak could allow converts to renounce Islam
- The Star Online, Sarawak to amend laws on conversion
- The New Paper, Sarawak to amend state laws on conversion: Chief Minister
- Title Image: By Gryffindor (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Johari Imange: By Kingfoxy77787 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons