The Star, Thursday May 8, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians of all races and religions should accept the Penang Syariah High Court's decision to allow Muslim convert Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah to renounce Islam and officially revert to her original faith.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, 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, Negeri Sembilan, has such law; Penang does not have it," he said when asked to comment on Siti Fatimah's case.
Zahid also said Siti Fatimah had underwent counselling and the advisory council had also asked her to reconsider her decision, but to no avail.
"She has not practiced Islam since 1999," he said.
In a landmark ruling, the Penang Syariah High Court here allowed an application by Muslim convert Siti Fatimah, 39, to renounce Islam and officially revert to her original faith.
The decision by Perlis Syariah Court chief judge Othman Ibrahim, who presided over the case when he was based in Penang earlier, makes this the first case of its kind in the country whereby a living Muslim convert was allowed to renounce Islam since the Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Penang) Enactment 2004 came into force on Jan 1, 2006.
He granted Siti Fatimah a declaration that she was no longer a Muslim, and ordered the defendant, the state Islamic Religious Council (MAIPP), to cancel her certificate of conversion to Islam.
Opposition Leader Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that a person's faith was something that was accorded to every individual.
"It is her right to return to her original religion.
"The state islamic religious council should show more concern over the welfare of Muslim converts like Siti Fatimah," she said.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng described it as "a welcomed move".
He said that the freedom of religion was provided under the Federal Constitution and as such, was the right accorded to every Malaysian.
"This is a judicial decision and should be respected.
"But then again some quarters, especially if they are non-Muslims, are bound to ask if the Syariah Court should pursue such cases," he said.
He said it was more important, however, to ensure justice for all Malaysians regardless of their faith.