Easier for Muslim converts to leave Islam after High Court verdict, lawyer says

File picture of a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 19, 2015. High Court judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie granted Sarawakian Azmi Mohamad Azam @ Roneey Rebit leave for judicial review to remove the word 'Islam' from his identity card, his lawyer said today. — Reuters pic
File picture of a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 19, 2015. High Court judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie granted Sarawakian Azmi Mohamad Azam @ Roneey Rebit leave for judicial review to remove the word 'Islam' from his identity card, his lawyer said today. — Reuters pic

KUCHING, Dec 19 — Muslim converts may find it easier to formally renounce their faith after the High Court here allowed a Sarawakian Muslim leave to file a judicial review to remove the word “Islam” from his identity card, his lawyer said today.

Lawyer Chua Kuan Ching, who represented Bidayuh Azmi Mohamad Azam @ Roneey Rebit, was asked if the High Court’s Thursday decision in the landmark case would make it easier for other Muslim converts to remove the word “Islam” from their MyKad and to have their Muslim names reverted to their names at birth.

“Definitely, especially for those who were converted when they were minors or those having marriage problems. But they have to go to the court processes,” Chua told Malay Mail Online.

When talking about marriage problems, the lawyer was referring to non-Muslims who converted to Islam upon marrying a Muslim but wanted to return to Christianity after getting divorced.

Roneey, 40, had filed a judicial review application after the National Registration Department (NRD) refused to remove the word “Islam” from his identity card.

He said he is a Christian and wants to have his name recorded only as Roneey Anak Rebit.

The NRD, however, told Roneey to get an order from the Shariah Court, even though he had support letters from the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department (Jais) and Sarawak Islamic Religious Council (Mais).

High Court judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie, in her ruling that granted Roneey leave for judicial review, had said the conversion was not of Roneey’s volition since he was converted to Islam at the age of eight and hence, he could not be considered a Muslim.

In addition, she said the civil court has jurisdiction to hear Roneey’s application for leave for judicial review as there were merits in it.

“His application is not frivolous based on the legal principles in leave application as it involves personal rights of a person for freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution,” the judge had said.

Yew has fixed January 16 next year to hear the application proper.

Roneey’s parents were initially Christians, but they converted to Islam in Sarawak when he was eight years old and he subsequently had to follow his parents’ new faith.

Roneey named JAIS, MAIS, the NRD director general and the Sarawak government as respondents in his suit.

Lawyer Simon Siah, Chua’s partner in Simon Siah, Chua and Chow Advocates, said Roneey was not the first to try to formally renounce Islam.

He said he has tried to help many Muslim converts to get the NRD to release them from Islam, but their applications were rejected on grounds that they must first get an order from the Shariah Court.

“And when they go to the Shariah Court, it says it has no jurisdiction to hear applications for an order,” he said, adding that even the civil court has previously declared that it did not have jurisdiction to hear such cases.

With such decisions from both the Shariah Court and High Court, he said Muslim converts were confused and had nowhere to turn to.

He said a better way to solve the confusion is through a judicial review at the High Court of the NRD’s decision.

“I am glad the High Court this time around has allowed leave application to hear the judicial review of the NRD’s decision,” Siah said, referring to Roneey’s case.

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