Op/ed: "Lina Joy: Will Malaysia Uphold Her Freedom of Religion?"

September 7, 2006

Source: The Wall Street Journal


On September 7, 2006 the The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by The Becket Fund's International Director, Angela C. Wu, "For more than 40 years, Malaysia has successfully balanced its democratic, secular form of government with its citizens' deep roots in Islam. Slowly, however, those roots are gradually ripping up the fabric of freedom in the country. No case better exemplifies this conflict than that of Lina Joy, a Muslim-turned-Catholic persecuted for her religion. However it's resolved, Ms. Joy's case should expose just how far Malaysia is swinging toward Islamization. An ethnic Malay born into an Islamic family, Azlina binti Jailani converted to Catholicism in 1998. [...] Her identity card, however, stated that she was a Muslim, despite her affirmative declaration that she was a Christian. The Registration Department refused her application to have the statement removed, and instead insisted that she obtain an order from the Islamic Law (Shariah) Court stating that she had become an apostate. Without any other options, Ms. Joy took the matter to the civil courts, believing that her constitutional right to 'profess and practice' religion would be upheld. [...] According to the civil court, a conversion out of Islam was a religious matter that could only be dealt with by the Shariah Court. This conclusion not only flies in the face of Malaysia's constitution, but Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Malaysia, as a member of the United Nations, is a signatory. [...] Ironically, Shariah law as applied in Malaysia is actually discriminatory only against Muslims, or people the court decides are Muslims -- the very people the separate Shariah Courts are supposed to protect. Why? Because every other citizen is afforded the ability to choose his or her own religion except for ethnic Malays, who, born into Islam, have no way out. [...] Some Malaysians argue that freedom of religion is a foreign, Western construct that does not respect the dignity of religious communities. Yet the ability to choose one's religion comes from a purely Eastern source. Muslims claim the legacy of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus -- all considered prophets in Islam -- as the very beginnings of Islam. And it is the Judeo-Christian tradition of a higher being who endowed all persons with inalienable dignity, including the dignity to choose God, that is at the very core of religious freedom."