Malaysiakini Letter

Lina Joy: Lets not leap to polemics

Nathaniel Tan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the malaysiakini report No joy for Lina . We can expect a lot of emotional responses to the recent ruling involving Lina Joy. In navigating the understandable amount of passion surrounding this issue, it is perhaps worth ensuring that the details of this judgement are properly understood for what they are.

Many are likely to say that this is the death of freedom in religion in Malaysia, because Lina Joy was denied of her right to convert. A closer look reveals a slightly more textured landscape. By way of brief chronology:

  • Lina was a Muslim who renounced Islam.

  • She went to the National Registration Department (NRD) to have the religion on her MyKad and on record changed.
  • The NRD said: 'For us to change the religion on your MyKad, we need a certificate from the Syariah Court stating that you have indeed renounced Islam'.
  • Yesterday, the Federal Court upheld the ruling of the NRD.
  • It is important to realise that technically and theoretically (if nothing else), the road is still open for Lina to go to the Syariah courts, apply for recognition of her decision to renounce Islam, obtain it and live happily ever after.

    Some make the argument, clearly not entirely without merit, that since Lina has renounced Islam, she should not in any way, shape or form have to submit herself to the jurisdiction of the Syariah under any circumstances as this would be subjecting a non-Muslim to Muslim laws.

    Others yet (again, perhaps understandably) are extremely cynical about the chances of the Syariah courts actually granting such a controversial recognition of apostasy. The hardcore religious, after all, are likely to fear the ripple effect this may cause a wave of mass apostasy being the biggest fear (founded or unfounded) of all.

    Some might even see a political angle to this where the ruling powers refuse to take any steps that would cost them Malay votes in a time where the non-Malay votes are swinging strongly against the government.

    A 'miracle' decision by the Syariah court should Lina decide to apply there to allow her renunciation might be a relatively successful compromise. It would appease some of the more religious parties who hold the Syariah in such high esteem, and espouse its ability to dispense justice fairly to non-Muslims (as in their much touted case of Nyonya Tahir), while essentially granting Lina the fundamental right to convert.

    In any case, it would be extremely mature of us to see the judgement for what it is and not be too quick to condemn it for what it is not (or what it isn't yet). If we are to criticise it, which is our inherent right, let us be clear on what we are debating, rather than leap to polemics.

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