The conclusion of a recent court case in Malaysia may set precedents in religious freedom for the Muslim-dominant nation.
Last Thursday, the country’s highest court took up the case of Linda Joy, a 42-year-old former-Muslim who tried to register as a Christian in 1998. The National Registration Department denied her request, saying that it needed permission from a court specializing in Shariah, or Islamic law.
Civil and family matters concerning Muslims continue to be under the jurisdiction of Malaysia’s Shariah courts. Chinese and Indian minorities are governed by civil court jurisdiction instead.
The court’s decision, to be made in months, will affect others besides Joy, says her attorney Benjamin Dawson, as quoted by AP.
"This case should be viewed in the larger context of Islamization and the erosion of constitutional rights," said Dawson.
Under Sharia, Joy will be required to observe Muslim laws though she is now Christian.
"What happens if she steps into a church, for example? Or (gets) caught eating during the (Islamic) fasting month?" Dawson said to AP.
A similar case, last year, involved the case of a Hindu soldier who had converted to Islam without notifying his family. After he died, officials took his body for burial as stipulated under Islamic law. The man’s widow later demanded her husband’s body for cremation as required under Hindu customs, but was denied by a local court.
In January, the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) of Malaysia posted on its website a memorandum by 10 non-Muslim Cabinet members, whom called for reevaluation for Article 121(1A) of the Malaysian Federal Constitution.
This stems from instances where judges had allowed "the Shariah Court to handle several high-profile cases involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims," according to the memo.
Muslims currently comprise 60 percent of the Malaysia’s population of roughly 26 million. Christians, on the other hand, make up one tenth of the population.
The Chinese Malaysian community, forming the largest minority group, has a significant number of Christians due to cultural and historical ties with Chinese Christians in Singapore, since it belonged to the Malaysian Federation prior to its 1965 independence.
Christians groups continue to note the rise in efforts to impose rulings in favor of Sharia in all forms of government laws and jurisdiction in the relatively-moderate Muslim state.
Joy has also expressed wishes to marry a non-Muslim, but was refused since the civil registry only marries non-Muslims.