A sad story from Malaysia describes the unsuccessful effort of a woman to officially change her religion. To avoid any mischaracterization of the situation, here are the quotes from the news account describing the attempts of a woman born a Malay Muslim to convert to Christianity.
Malaysia's best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card, after the country's highest court rejected the change. ...
"You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case, which has stirred religious tensions in the mainly Muslim nation.
He said the civil court had no jurisdiction in the case and that it should be dealt with by the country's Islamic courts. "The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it's under the sharia court. The civil court cannot intervene."
At the heart of the case lies a constitutional question. Wikipedia notes: "The status of religious freedom in Malaysia is a controversial issue. Islam is the official state religion and the Constitution of Malaysia provides for limited freedom of religion, notably placing control upon the 'propagation' of religion other than Islam to Muslims, a fundamental part of a number of other religions. However, questions including whether Malays can convert from Islam and whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or secular state remain unresolved."
One of the most interesting aspects of the Malaysian situation is that Muslims make up only 58% of the population. In practice, Malaysian society has accomodated their ethnic diversity by recognizing Sundays, etc. But there is clearly no doubt which community is in charge. In this atmosphere there is a complex set of rules governing how one may or may not change religion. In several circumstances, for example, the Malaysian courts held that children might not be converted to Islam without the consent of their parents, even when they were wards of the state.
But those obstacles of conversion to Islam are nothing compared to the difficulties of converting from Islam, especially when one is an ethnic Malay, as the Lina Joy case illustrates. The Wikipedia article continues.
Lina Joy, who was born Azalina Jailani, claimed to have converted from Islam to Christianity, arguing that it came under her right to freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Constitution of Malaysia. She first approached the National Registration Department (NRD) in February 1997, seeking permission to change her name to Lina Joy, and also her religious status. The application was rejected in August 1997 on the grounds that the Syariah Court had not granted permission for her to renounce Islam. In 1998, the NRD allowed the name change, but refused to change the religious status on her identity card.
Joy appealed against this decision in the High Court, arguing that she should not be subject to sharia law, having converted to Christianity. In April 2001, Judge Datuk Faiza Tamby Chik ruled that she could not change her religious identity, because ethnic Malays are defined as Muslims under the Constitution. Joy then took her case to the Court of Appeal. On 19 September 2005, the court ruled in a 2-1 majority decision against Joy. Justice Abdul Aziz and Justice Arifin Zakaria agreed that the NRD was correct in rejecting Joy’s application and said it was up to the Syariah Court to settle the issue (Justice Gopal Sri Ram said it was null and void. ). Joy further appealed to the Federal Court of Malaysia, the highest court and the court of last resort in Malaysia. The Federal Court heard the appeal in July 2006, and it was presided by the Chief Justice of Malaysia Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum, and Federal Court Judge Alauddin Sheriff.
On May 30, 2007, the Federal Court, in a 2-1 decision, dismissed Joy's appeal. The Court's panel ruled that only the Syariah Court had the power to allow Joy to remove her religious designation of Islam from her national identity card. Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Federal Court judge Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff delivered the majority decision dismissing her appeal.
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum dissented.
The situation in Malaysia clearly illustrates how poorly the West, especially its media, understands the world beyond its insular borders. While Western human rights advocates and transnationalists speak grandly about the "UN Charter" and "international law" and the universality of the Geneva Conventions, in reality much of the world merely pays lip-service to them. Or invoke them to bludgeon the United States without any intention of applying these so-called "international standards" to themselves. CAIR, for example, can rise indignantly to claim rights and freedoms in the United States that are not reciprocally granted in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia. That would not surprise those who believe laws and customs vary according to country. But it would publicly astonish -- emphasis on publicly -- those who claim that "international standards" are universally valid and accepted, even though they are manufactured in the small city of Brussels, whose delusions vary proportionately to its insularity.
The Western insular ignorance was impressively demonstrated by the Episcopalian Rev. Ann Holmes Redding who claimed she had decided to become both Christian and Muslim. Mark Steyn quotes the story.
Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.
On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.
She does both, she says, because she's Christian and Muslim.
Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she's ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she's also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved.
Her announcement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obvious question: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim..?
She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God — the meaning of the word "Islam."
"It wasn't about intellect," she said. "All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.
"I could not not be a Muslim..."
Redding's bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting.
For Redding becoming Muslim seemed simply a matter of tying a scarf around one's head just as the Christian priesthood consisted in donning a clerical collar. Religious choice, in many liberal minds, is an act of fashion. The so-called Muslim Redding seems oblivious to sharia law, whose judges would certainly object to the idea that you can be a Muslim at lunch and Episcopalian at dinner before becoming a Muslim again at breakfast.
But in many parts of the world, religion is not a question of which fashion accessory to wear today. Or of which words of unremembered faith one chooses to mumble in the next few hours. In other parts of the world, religion is a question of identity. It determines where you may go, with whom you may speak. It determines whether you will live or whether you will die. Anyone who doubts this should ask the Jews.
It determines what law you will live under. Who you shall marry. It determines the way you choose to lead your life, right down to when you will pray. Five if you are Muslim. Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, Vespers and Compline if you are a Christian monk. And it will determine the way you choose to meet your Maker. For many it is the most serious choice to make on earth, though to the Reverend Redding and many in the West, it is what matters least of all, when "interfaith" comes to many "any faith".
We live in two worlds: that of Lina Joy and that of Ann Holmes Redding. The world of the Jihad and the universe of the New York Times. For long decades distance and inconvenience kept them apart. But no longer. And either we find a way to live together or we will discover our differences in tragic ways.