Malaysian churches are prompted to pray for the rights of Christian conversion as the federal Court will rule on the high-profile case of Lina Joy next Monday.
Lina Joy (originally named Azlina Jailani), a Malay woman who converted to Christianity from Islam in 1998, has first applied to the National Registration Department (NRD) to change her name based on the reason "the change of religion." The request was successful, but the application to drop the world "Islam" on her identity card has been rejected by NRD and then the Court of Appeal.
The Court explained that an ethnic Malay was defined by the Constitution as "a person who professes the religion of Islam," and therefore she "could not change religion". Furthermore, it is claimed that the jurisdiction in conversion matter lay solely in the hands of Syariah Court (Islamic Court).
The case has drawn attention of the Christian community to the exploitation of Christian rights in the Islamic nation. And it has also contravened Malaysia’s constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.
According to an Italy-based Catholic news agency AsiaNews, the controversy arises due to the coexistence of two legal systems in the country- one based on Islam and the other one based on the national constitution- and the two are often in conflict. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion; Islamic law prohibits conversion to any other religion. Lina Joy’s case illustrates this clearly.
The three leading Christian bodies in Malaysia- the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia, the Malaysian Council of Churches, and the Christian Federation of Malaysia- have expressed concern over the issue. Next Monday Malaysia’s federal Court will rule whether the law recognizes Lina Joy’s conversion or not, according to AsiaNews.
On the NECF website, a special section giving a full description of the case has set up and the fellowship also calls on prayers for Lina Joy’s case. Firstly, it is to pray for Lina Joy and her family for strength to endure and the wisdom and faith to stand firm throughout the process and planning for the future. Evangelicals also encourage Christians to pray for the judges and the legislative officers so that they will be just, have wisdom and impartiality, and to uphold individual freedom to choose a religion.
Mgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, Catholic bishop of Melata-Johor and chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, is appealing to Christians to support Lina Joy through prayers, that whatever the judges’ verdict may be, and grant the judges the wisdom they need to pass judgment in the case and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi the strength to "uphold the Constitution," AsiaNews reported.