If one goes and sits in the Syariah High Court of Shah Alam, day in day out, one would be surprised to see men and women wearing a pottu, or a crucifix, or a talisman, sitting there, waiting for their cases to be heard.
Then you hear them answering to a Muslim name and they take the stand.
Despite the mass media reports which give us the idea that these people would be treated very badly in the Syariah courts, it would come as a surprise to many that their cases are heard and the judges and the lawyers are very respectful to the applicants presenting the reasons they want out.
Many are from the lower income groups, whose either parent was a Muslim convert who left the religion later, or divorced, or left their children to be raised by their non-Muslim grandparents.
Most would come to change their names because they wanted to get married to a non-Muslim, or they just got tired for being singled out in the non-Muslim community in which they are in, every time they mentioned their name.
Almost all have no Islamic knowledge and all do not practise Islam in any way, or do not know how to practise Islam and never regarded themselves as Muslims.
The judge would usually ask if they read the Quran, prayed or ever stepped into a mosque. He would also inquire what they believe in and how do they practise what they believe in.
The Jabatan Agama Islam lawyers would normally say that the applicants have been sent to refresher courses on Islam and have not shown any interest to be a Muslim.
The one syariah lawyer who is quite a fixture in Shah Alam High Courts, speaking for these applicants and arguing for their case, is surprisingly a man with a serban, looking almost Taliban-like. And yet he argues for these Muslim-named Malaysians to be allowed to be “murtad”, so that they can continue their lives without any more hardship due to their Muslim names.
It is all a very simple court case usually, despite for some of them it takes years to be finally declared an apostate and a non-Muslim, but that is because of the bureaucracy of the Syariah Court System which does not expedite cases, and still uses much paperwork – not due to the attitude of lawyers or judges.
For those not in the know, the Syariah laws in Selangor does have a clause which allows apostasy for Muslims if they can prove strong reasons for them not to be.
But that is in Shah Alam Syariah High Court, and one does wonder if it is also so in other states.
This scene was brought to mind with the recent case of Rosliza Ibrahim in which the High Court has been ordered to rehear the case.
Rosliza is a practising Buddhist woman born out of wedlock but who is still considered Muslim due to her biological father.
The Star reported that the Court of Appeal on Tuesday unanimously allowed an appeal by Rosliza Ibrahim to set aside a High Court decision that saw her application dismissed.
“A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, ordered for the case to be remitted back to the High Court.
“Rosliza, 35, contends that she is an illegitimate child born to a Buddhist mother and wants the Selangor state government to exempt her from its enacted Islamic laws.
“She filed an originating summons last year in the High Court contending this and sought a legal declaration that Islamic laws enacted by Selangor do not apply to her and that Syariah courts do not have jurisdiction over her.
“She provided evidence from the Federal Territories and Selangor religious authorities that neither she nor her mother ever converted to Islam and that the departments did not have records of a marriage between her biological parents.
“Rosliza’s mother, who is now deceased, had also signed a statutory declaration stating that she never married Rosliza’s father.
“Rosliza’s originating summons was, however, dismissed by the High Court in March this year on grounds that she was not able to prove that her natural parents did not contract a Muslim marriage,” reported The Star.