The Star, Friday May 9, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR: The MCA has welcomed the Penang Syariah High Court’s decision to allow Muslim convert Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah to renounce Islam and revert to her original faith.
“This is a historic decision. It is a major step for a progressive, multi-racial and multi-cultural Malaysia. The MCA has always emphasised that religion is a personal matter and that it is the right of every Malaysian to choose his or her religion, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
“It was Siti Fatimah’s right to embrace Islam and likewise, it is also her right to return to her original faith. This is a matter for her to decide and no one else,” MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting said in a statement.
He added that the Penang Syariah High Court’s decision should be emulated by the other states to ease the predicament faced by other Malaysians for decades.
“It is hoped that with this decision, the cases of affected Malaysians would be resolved,” he added. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysians of all races and religions should accept the decision.
Zahid, who is in charge of religious affairs, said there was no law at the federal level to bar a convert from renouncing Islam. “Only one state, Negri Sembilan, has such law, and Penang does not have it,” he said.
Opposition Leader Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said it was Siti Fatimah’s right to return to her original religion. (But) the council should have more concern over the welfare of Muslim converts like her,” she added.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng described the judgment as a welcome move. He said freedom of religion was provided for under the Federal Constitution and, as such, a right accorded to every Malaysian.
PAS vice-president Nasharudin Mat Isa said renouncing Islam was forbidden, unless one had been forced to embrace Islam under duress.
“If one has embraced Islam out of one’s own free will, then one must be subject to Islamic law, and the law forbids the renouncing of Islam because it touches on one’s faith in the religion,” he said.
Sisters In Islam programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi said unresolved conversion issues have been going on for a long time and people had hoped that the judiciary and the authorities involved would resolve them.
“Our position is – once a person does not wish to remain in the religion, there is no point for the authorities to stop the person from opting out. This landmark case complies with the Islamic principles and the Federal Constitution, which guarantee the freedom of religion,” she said.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said religious freedom was something dear to all.
Its president Datuk A. Vaithilingam said: “A person should have the freedom to profess and practise his or her religion without these administrative hurdles, enforced counselling and having to wait years for her own faith to be officially recognised.”
Bishop Dr Paul Tan, the Christian Federation of Malaysia’s chairman maintained that a person could go to the civil court, when he was not professing the religion, to get a similar decision. “We strongly believe that every individual has a moral right which is guaranteed by our Federal Constitution to choose a religion,” he said.