The government has no business determining an individual’s religion, a federal lawmaker said today after the Court of Appeal’s rejection of three Sarawakians’ bid to renounce Islam.
Citing developments in other Muslim countries, Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari said Jordan, for example, no longer required its citizens’ faiths to be indicated in identification documents to protect their freedom of religion and against discrimination.
“The same logic holds true in the case of Malaysians. Religion should be a matter of individual faith, and not for the bureaucracy to decide.
“It defies common sense that someone is legally a Muslim even though they no longer adhere to to the faith. Even more so if they already profess a different religion,” he said in a statement today.
Zairil reminded authorities that freedom to profess a religion of one’s own choosing was protected under the Federal Constitution, saying this was particularly crucial to recognise in the case of Sarawak where Islam is not the official religion.
He also stressed that the continuing dilemma over which court — civil or shariah — was the correct venue to decide such cases must be resolved with finality, and urged that the Courts of Judicature Act be amended and remove all ambiguity.
This included making the Federal Court the ultimate power to decide such issues — it has previously deferred to the shariah courts on Islamic matters — and to allow petitioners direct access to the country’s supreme court instead of forcing them to go through the hurdles of the lower courts.
Saying the two changes would remedy the country’s perennial problem with interfaith tussles as well as the legal limbo of apostasy, the DAP MP offered to submit a private member’s Bill with his proposal in the event the federal government was unwilling to take up the matter.
The Court of Appeal on Wednesday dismissed an application by three Sarawakian women to leave Islam, echoing previous rulings that matters of Muslim faith must be decided in the shariah courts.
Would-be apostates regularly argue that they should not be subject to the shariah courts that only recognise Muslims, given that they no longer profess the faith.
The position that only the shariah courts have the standing to determine a Muslim’s faith has also affected cases of interfaith custody battles in which a spouse — usually the father — unilaterally converts the children to Islam.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution states that every Malaysian has the right to profess and practise the religion of his choice, although Muslims claiming this right in their bids to renounce their faith must run a legal and bureaucratic gauntlet.
Renunciation of Islam is technically possible in Malaysia, but extremely rare.
The Malay Mail Online