Malaysia: Tension Grows Over Christian Convert
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (ANS) — From mobile phone text messages to blogs and e-mails: Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia have been sharing their anger and concerns over how the country’s judiciary will rule on the legality of a Muslim woman’s conversion to Christianity.According to Adnkronos International (AKI) an independent news agency based in Italy, the tension has been caused by Lina Joy, 42, who was born as Azalina Jailani, and is awaiting the Federal Court’s decision on her appeal to have her conversion officially recognized.
Muslim women in Malaysia where almost 60 percent of the country’s 26 million people are Muslims (Picture from BBC website)
Reports say that Joy is in currently in hiding after death threats from Islamic extremists, who accuse her of being an apostate.
“The case began when her application to change her religion in her identification card was rejected by a high court in 2001 who ruled that as a Malay, she could not renounce her religion and that it was a matter for the Sharia courts to decide,” said the AKI story.
“Last month, her lawyer appeared before Malaysia’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to argue that Joy’s conversion be considered a right protected under the Constitution and not a religious matter for the Shariah courts
“A decision was expected in August which has now been delayed.”
In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Muslim cleric Harussani Zakaria, while clearly stating his opposition to the conversion, called for a mutual respect as a means to calm the tension. “Whatever the court decision, the people must have respect for each other,” he said.
“This case has shown that people do not understand the Constitution. What they are claiming in court as her right to choose her faith is not applicable because she was born a Malay-Muslim,” he added.
According to some lawyers and women’s groups the delay is deliberate and is aimed at diffusing the growing tensions over the issue that has seen individuals and groups defending her right to practice a religion of her choice coming under fire from Islamic groups.
In the midst of the storm, Joy counts on the support of the Christian community that has also appealed for calm.
The Malaysian Council of Churches General Secretary, Hermen Shastri, said Christian groups have organized prayers and vigils to stress on the need for peaceful co-existence.
“Personal freedoms and peaceful co-existence between religions must go hand-in-hand,” he said in an email interview.
“The current growing mistrustful relations between Muslim, Christian and Hindu in regards to issues of converting-in and converting-out of Islam must be handled appropriately, lest extremists may exacerbate the situation,” he added.
The AKI report went on to say that the Very Reverend Jason Selvaraj of the St. Mary’s church in Kuala Lumpur remains skeptical and expressed worries about the outcome of the case.
“Religion should be completely out of the purview of the state. I am proud of Lina Joy as she has dared to take on such a big institution to claim her religious rights,” Selvaraj said.
“But among Christians there is concern that, if the case went in Joy’s favor, there could be attacks on the churches,” he added.
Almost 60 percent of Malaysia’s 26 million people are Muslims. Christians of various denominations make up about 8 percent while the rest are Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu.