A Malaysian Islamic court yesterday allowed a Muslim convert to return to her original faith of Buddhism, setting a precedent that could ease religious minorities' worries about their legal rights.
Lawyers said the Shariah High Court’s verdict in the northern state of Penang was the first time in recent memory that a convert has been permitted to legally renounce Islam in this Muslim-majority nation.
A rising number of disputes about religious conversions has sparked anxiety among minorities — predominantly Buddhist, Christian and Hindu — because in the past, courts virtually always ruled against people seeking to leave Islam.
Penang’s Shariah court, however, granted Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah’s request to be declared a non-Muslim. She embraced Islam in 1998 because she wanted to marry an Iranian, but claimed she never truly practiced the religion.
GOING TO THE TEMPLE
“I am very happy,” Siti, a 39-year-old ethnic Chinese cake seller, said by telephone. “I want to go to the temple to pray and give thanks.”
The Shariah court, which governs Muslims’ personal conduct and religious lives, ruled that Siti’s husband and Islamic authorities failed to give her proper religious advice.
“So you can’t blame her for her ignorance of the teachings and wanting to convert out,” said Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz, a lawyer for the Islamic Affairs Council in Penang.
Minority leaders hailed the verdict as a step to protect religious rights.
“We hope this will be a good example for the future,” said A. Vaithilingam, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. “It was an unnecessary prolongation of agony for that poor woman.”
Siti must still ask the government registration department to have her name and religion changed back on her identification papers. With the court ruling, she was not expected to face any problems.
“It’s a landmark decision,” said Siti’s lawyer, Ahmad Jailani Abdul Ghani.
Siti filed her request in 2006 after her husband left her. She was subsequently ordered to undergo counseling to ensure she truly understood Islam.
Malaysia’s most high-profile conversion case was that of Lina Joy, a woman who was born to Muslim parents and failed to get the Federal Court, Malaysia’s top civil court, to recognize her conversion to Christianity last year.
Malaysia has a dual court system with civil courts for non-Muslims and Shariah courts for Muslims.
In interfaith disputes involving Islam, the Shariah courts typically get the last word, which has upset non-Muslims who fear they cannot get justice in such courts.
Court disputes that ended in favor of Muslims have caused minorities to worry that their rights have become subordinate to those of ethnic Malay Muslims, who make up nearly 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people.
Political observers say religious grievances contributed to the governing coalition’s poor performance in March elections, in which the coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections. The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public. However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus. Police in western Bengkulu Province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear