KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — The High Court here today rejected leave for a lawsuit by a Malaysian woman who wants to be declared no longer a Muslim in order to be free to embrace Confucianism and Buddhism.
This means the High Court will not proceed to hear her case. She has however filed an appeal immediately.
Federal counsel Mohammad Sallehuddin Md Ali, who represented the attorney-general, confirmed that High Court judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid had dismissed the woman’s application for leave for judicial review.
"Leave dismissed with costs of RM2,000 to AGC,” he said referring to the Attorney-General’s Chambers, confirming that the decision was delivered through email with no grounds given for the decision.
The woman’s lawyer Fahri Azzat confirmed that his client’s application for leave for review was dismissed in a decision delivered by an email sent by the court interpreter at 3.28pm, and that the costs of RM2,000 was determined at 4.29pm after a short submission through email.
Fahri confirmed that his client had already filed an appeal this same afternoon against the High Court’s decision.
"We informed the applicant immediately after the decision. The applicant instructed us to appeal against the decision. We filed an appeal against the decision at 4:49pm,” he told Malay Mail when contacted, adding that the notice of appeal will be served tomorrow to the AGC.
For lawsuits filed through judicial review applications, leave or permission must be obtained first from the court before the lawsuit can be heard.
At the leave stage, the AG does not represent the government, but instead has the role of appearing in the AG's own capacity to help the High Court filter through any frivolous applications.
The 32-year-old woman, who was born to a Muslim convert father and a Muslim mother, cannot be named publicly due to a court order and is only referred to as "A”.
On March 4, she filed for judicial review in the civil High Court, naming the four respondents as the Shariah Court of Appeal, the Shariah High Court, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) and the government of Malaysia.
The woman "A” is seeking at least 12 court orders as part of her lawsuit, including declarations that the Shariah courts do not have the jurisdiction or power to declare that a person is no longer a Muslim.
She is also seeking a declaration from the civil High Court that she is no longer a Muslim and a declaration that she is entitled to profess her religion of Confucianism and Buddhism.
She is also asking the civil High Court to declare the Shariah High Court’s July 2020 and the Shariah Court of Appeal’s December 2021 decisions - which rejected her bid to be recognised as a no longer a Muslim - as illegal and unlawful and void, and to have these decisions by the Shariah courts quashed.
She also sought for a court order to compel the Shariah Court of Appeal to immediately issue a certificate of renunciation of Islam and other required legal documents to give effect to such renuncation immediately, and for compensation over the illegal "akidah" or faith counselling sessions that she was made to attend, as well as an interim stay against the Shariah court decisions.
What happened in her case
"A”’s father had converted to Islam in order to marry her mother, and "A”’s religious status is Muslim as she was born when both parents were Muslims.
The lawyers for "A” said the woman was raised by her Muslim mother after the couple divorced, but that "A” had never practised Islam as her parents did not practise it and her mother did not force Islam on her.
"A” did not have a chance to legally decide her own faith as a child, and later started professing Confucianism and Buddhism as her religion, and in August 2018 filed an application in the Shariah High Court in Kuala Lumpur to seek declarations that she was never a Muslim or alternatively no longer a Muslim or an apostate and an order that she is not required to attend any counselling sessions relating to Islam.
At the Shariah High Court, "A” said she had never recited the Syahadah or the proclamation of faith required to embrace Islam and that did not believe in Islam’s teachings, asserting that she was registered as a Muslim due to the operation of law through her birth to her Muslim parents and not due to her personal belief.
"A” had also asserted that she professed Confucianism and Buddhism as her religion and that she had lived the life of a Buddhist for a long time and regularly attends Buddhist celebrations, adding that she visits Buddhist temples annually for prayers and to prepare for reincarnation in the journey towards achieving nirvana.
Asserting that she routinely consumes pork and alcohol which are forbidden under Islam but not under Buddhism, "A” had also told the Shariah High Court that she sought the declaration to renounce Islam in order to reflect her actual faith and to prevent the image of Islam from being tarnished by her actions because she does not intend to do so by pretending to be a Muslim.
But before hearing the application by "A”, the Shariah High Court in December 2018 ordered her to first attend 12 "akidah” or faith counselling sessions or sessions regarding Islam over a six-month period from January to June 2019.
As "A” did not want to spend more time challenging these pre-trial counselling sessions, she had taken leave from her work abroad to travel to Malaysia to attend 12 sessions in January 2019, while her mother and her friend had also testified in the Shariah High Court about the Buddhist faith of "A”.
The Shariah High Court on July 27, 2020 dismissed "A”’s bid to be declared no longer a Muslim and ordered her to go through "istitabah” or repentance and Islamic classes and further akidah counselling.
"A” in August 2020 appealed to the Shariah Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur, which then on December 8, 2021 rejected her appeal.
She had then filed this lawsuit at the civil High Court.