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ICC Note:

After Abdul Rahman’s case in Afghanistan exposed the deep-seated resistance to religious freedom within Islam , Malaysia is set to decide whether the Islamic authorities have the exclusive right to deal with Muslims who convert to a different religion.

Friday, Apr. 21, 2006 Posted: 9:35:22AM EST

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia ‘s highest court has agreed to decide whether the country’s Islamic court has the exclusive right to deal with Muslims who renounce their faith.

The Federal Court ruling, which could take months, is a rare step into the highly sensitive area of conversions – and a test of religious freedom in this majority Muslim country.

The Federal Court’s April 13 announcement came in the case of Lina Joy, who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1998. She applied to the National Registration Department to change her Muslim name, Azlina Jailani, on her government identity card, which also identifies the cardholder’s religion. The agency agreed to change her name, but would not remove “Islam” as the religion, saying it needed permission from a Shariah court, which handles Islamic issues.

Muslims, who comprise 60 percent of Malaysia ‘s population of 26 million, are governed by Shariah courts on civil and family matters. Chinese and Indian minorities are under civil court.

But there are no clear jurisdiction guidelines about which court should handle a case like Joy’s.

Joy’s lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, contends Malaysia ‘s Constitution does not require Shariah court approval to convert out of Islam. It would violate her religious freedom to deny the conversion, he said…[Go To Full Story]