Evangelicals in Malaysia urge Christians to pray for a fair mechanism in the conversion of faith in the Islam country, where the Islamic law appears to jeopardize the rights of non-Muslims.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia (NECF) has expressed concern over the issue following repeated controversial debate that involved Christians or non-Muslims. Most recently, NECF reported the case of Moorthy Maniam. Moorthy and his wife Kaliammal were practicing Hindu. However, just before Moorthy was died in an accident in December 2005, Kaliammal was told that Moorthy had converted to Islam and that his body would be given an Islamic burial.
When Moorthy died, the Islamic Religious Affairs Council came to collect the body. Kaliammal claimed that Moorthy professed Hinduism as his religion and that his body should be released to her to be cremated in accordance with Hindu rites. She then filed the case in the Kuala Lumpur High Court asking for declaratory and injunctive relief.
Later, the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court made an order that Moorthy had embraced Islam and that his body must be buried in accordance with Islamic rites without reference to Kaliammal.
"Constitutionally, Islam is ‘the religion of the Federation’ for ceremonial purpose, and other religions may be practiced so as to preserve the peace and harmony in the country. The law of the land also says that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law," NECF stated in the press release.
"The recent decision of the High Court on Kaliammal Sinnasamy’s application concerning her deceased husband, Kpl. Moorthy a/l Maniam, demonstrated the classic predicament of non-Muslims in a dual-legal-system society and the erosion of the civil courts’ constitutional power," it expressed dismay to the recent development.
Currently, an interfaith group the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) has launched a campaign to lobby for a repeal of Article 121(1A) of the federal constitution.
Article 121(1A) provides that the civil high courts "… shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts (Islamic courts)." It has first come into effect on June 10, 1988, prior to which the High Court had unfettered jurisdiction over all matters in the federation.
Reverend Wong Kim Kong, spokesman for MCCBCHS said, "We want to convey a very strong message to the government that we are uneasy and uncomfortable ...Eventually, slowly, people may assume Syariah is the supreme law of the land."
During a recent roundtable discussion with representatives of different faiths, Wong stated, "The Syariah court apparently being given absolute power to determine whether or not a person has converted to Islam. Our confidence towards the government institution is jeopardized as the civil courts have made themselves ineffective and powerless in defending the fundamental liberties provided by the Federal Constitution."
"Syariah may eventually be assumed to be the supreme law of the land, a system that is not desirable in a multiethnic and multi-religious society. We urge the Parliament to step in to address the injustice, so that persons who do not profess Islam are not subjected to Islamic law."
Meanwhile, NECF urges believers pray that the Parliament will step in to address the injustice, so that the rights of non-Muslims will be appropriated in the event of their involvement in Islamic affairs, such as conversion and matters that involve Muslim and non-Muslim parties. Also, it demands a fair and just mechanism to address the issue of contested conversion and an individual’s wish to convert out of Islam.
NECF is also deeply concerned about a similar case filed in 2001, which is related to a Muslim converted to Christianity called Lina Joy. She was refused by the civil high court to remove the status of religion "Islam" on her identity card. As it would mean that she is legally a Muslim, she could not register with her Christian husband at the Registrar of Marriage.
Despite years of appeal, the High Court Justice rejected Lina Joy’s application last year, claiming that Malays could not renounce Islam because an ethnic Malay was defined by the Constitution as "a person who professes the religion of Islam," and the jurisdiction in conversion matter lay solely in the hands of Syariah court.