KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 ― Apostasy is not a constitutional right, a Muslim lawyer claimed today as he argued that freedom of religion does not include the liberty to leave a faith.
Writing in his column on Malay-language daily Sinar Harian, Muslims Lawyers Association president Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar said that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution merely accorded Malaysians the right to practise their own faith, but not to switch religions.
“Saying that apostasy is a right for Muslims is straying from the real purpose of the religion,” Zainul said.
“Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution gives the right for everyone to practise their own religions. That means it gives the right for a Muslim to practice Islam, a Buddhist to practice Buddhism, and so on.
“But that same article does not give the freedom to change religions. Changing of religions must be done according to people’s own religions and according to law,” the lawyer added.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides the freedom for every individual to profess and practice his or her own religion, subject to restrictions on non-Muslims from propagating their faith to Muslims.
Zainul Rijal’s remarks came after the Kuching High Court in Sarawak recently allowed a man, whose parents had converted him to Islam at the age of 10, to renounce the faith and to embrace Christianity.
According to the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia, Muslims can renounce their faith only by applying to the Shariah Courts. However, that process constitutes wide ranging penalties for an apostasy application.
Apostasy and attempted apostasy are prohibited in five states ― Sabah, Kelantan, Perak, Pahang and Malacca ― all with different penalties according to respective state Shariah enactments. Unlike Islam which is regulated through the Shariah legal system, civil law does not require non-Muslims to go to court to change their religious status.
Malaysia’s most famous apostasy applicant, Lina Joy, lost in 2007 a prolonged court battle to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card following her conversion from Islam to Christianity, with the Federal Court saying that the civil courts had no jurisdiction in the case as apostasy fell under the Shariah courts.