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BosNewsLife – A High Court in Malaysia has refused to allow a former Muslim to replace the word “Islam” for “Christian” in her identity card, in a case that experts say could have ramifications for thousands of converts, BosNewsLife monitored Wednesday, September 21.

The request was made by Azalina Jailani, who changed her name to Lina Joy in the 1990’s, after converting to Christianity, Malaysian media reports said. She asked the court to force the National Registration Department (NRD) to replace the word “Islam” in her identity card so she could be married in a civil ceremony to her Christian husband.

However in a majority ruling the Kuala Lumpur based court said that although she is free to practice the religion of her choice, the NRD can not be forced to mention the word ‘Christian’ in her identity document. “The NRD acted perfectly, prudently and rationally in a matter of such sensitivity and importance,” said Justice Abdul Aziz, in published statements.

Lina Joy, 41, is reportedly appealing against the High Court’s rejection of her application. The ruling affects about 15,000 Malaysians who want to be able to live openly as Christians, AsiaNews, a Catholic oriented website reported.

Malaysia ‘s constitution defines as people of Malay race those citizens of Malaysia who profess Islam, speak the national language and practice Malay culture. Constitutionally, when Malays renounce Islam they cease to be Malay, experts say.

“We are deeply disappointed … we had a lot of hope riding on this decision,” AsiaNews quoted a Malay Christian and mother of three children as saying. “We Malays are non-persons in our own country because we are Christians,” she said, apparently on condition of anonymity.

Lina Joy’s legal troubles began about eight years ago when she applied to the NRD to change her name on grounds she no longer professed Islam and had accepted the Christian faith. The application was rejected by the NRD. Critics say her case has underscored that converts are branded as “apostates” and forced to practice their new faith in hiding because of fear of Muslim violence against them. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Malaysia ).