Lina Joy: fighting for her right to convert
Here's a case that's causing uproar in Malaysia.
Azalina Jailani, a Muslim woman living in Malaysia, converted to Christianity in 1998 and changed her name to Lina Joy. But she was not allowed to change her religion or marital status. The national registration department that issues compulsory identification cards declined to remove the word "Islam" from her identity card.
She is currently going through the secular courts to seek a declaration that she is free to practise the faith of her choice, and have the word 'Islam' dropped from her identity card so she can have a legitimate marriage and offspring. Her legal case is based on the freedom of religion clause in the constitution.
The judge ruled, “As a Malay, the plaintiff exists under the tenets of Islam until her death". In Malaysia conversion from Islam is barred, conversion to Islam is not. Lina Joy appealed to the federal Court on on the grounds that it contravened Malaysia's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. She was denied the right to register her marriage with the Registrar of Marriages.
Joy, being Malay, is considered to be Muslim as a matter of course and “cannot change religion”. Religious issues involving Malays, including conversions to other religions, fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts and not the country’s general laws.
Article 11 of Malaysia's constitution guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to adopt the religion of their choice. However, in practice it seems Article 11 does not apply to ethnic Malays. A report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released last year confirmed that while the constitution guarantees religious freedom, the government has placed “some restrictions” on that right.
A similar ruling earlier this year sparked heated debate in newspapers and online forums. The four Malay Muslims at the center of the debate first applied to change their religion in 1992, but the court refused permission and sentenced them to 20 months of imprisonment.
A decision on the Lina Joy case is expected any day now.