Freedom of Conscience and Islam

Christian Converts Put to the Test

By Father John Flynn

ROME, JUNE 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- If you live in a predominantly Muslim country and want to convert to Christianity, chances are your faith will be put to the test. The latest example of troubles Christian converts face comes from Malaysia, where last week the country’s highest civil court rejected a woman’s appeal to be recognized as a Christian, the Associated Press reported May 30.

Lina Joy, born Azlina Jailani, had applied to change both her name and religion on the government identity card all citizens carry. The name change was not a problem, but authorities refused to delete the Muslim identification from the card. According to the Associated Press, about 60% of Malaysia’s 26 million people are Muslims.

A May 26 report by the Associated Press recounted that Joy began going to church in 1990 and was baptized eight years later. She went to the Federal Court in May 2000 in order to oblige government authorities to change the religious designation on her identity card, but the tribunal ordered her to take the matter to Shariah courts. Joy’s next step was to take the matter to the Court of Appeal, but she also lost her case in that tribunal.

Joy appealed the case before the Federal Court in 2005. The arguments ended in July 2006, with the decision denying her appeal handed down last week.

In the meantime, the Associated Press reported that Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her computer sales job after clients threatened to withdraw their business.

The three judges of the Federal Court ruled 2-1 against her. Only the Islamic Shariah Court has the power to allow her to remove the word “Islam” from the religion category on her government identity card, the decision stated.

The wording of the decision showed the difficulties involved in obtaining freedom for religious converts. “You can’t at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another,” said Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim in his judgment, Reuters reported May 30.

“The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it’s under the Shariah court,” he stated.

According to Reuters, the country’s Shariah courts generally do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send what they consider to be apostates for counseling. They even fine or jail them.