KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 — The High Court will decide on September 21 whether or not to hear the judicial review filed by a Malaysian woman seeking to be declared no longer a Muslim.
The 26-year-old woman converted to Islam to marry her then boyfriend who was a Malay Muslim on August 18, 2017. Their relationship ended before the wedding and now she wants to return to being a Christian.
Judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid set the decision date on whether or not to grant the woman leave for judicial review after hearing arguments from her lawyer and the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) representing the government and the Islamic authorities earlier today.
The woman who is the plaintiff is not named to protect her privacy. She is seeking declarations that the Shariah Courts do not have the jurisdiction under the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993, also known as Act 505, to cancel her status as a Muslim but rather the Registrar of Muallaf (ROM) who oversees Muslim converts.
The three respondents named in the judicial review application are: the Federal Territories ROM, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) and the government of Malaysia.
Her back story
The woman had requested to leave Islam on January 27, 2022 admitting to still being a practising Christian despite converting to Islam.
She said she only became a Muslim for administrative reasons as she wanted to marry her then Muslim boyfriend.
She said she doesn't read the Quran and is a believer in the concept of the Holy Trinity and the Bible since she was baptised at age one by her Christian parents.
She sent three letters to the ROM dated January 31, February 20 and March 17 this year to the ROM asking to leave Islam, but claimed to have received no replies to any of them except an acknowledgment of receipt.
Reasons for judicial review
The woman was represented by Iqbal Harith Liang from Messrs Fahri, Azzat & Co while the federal counsel was Muhammad Salehuddin Md Ali who acted for the three respondents.
In his argument this morning, Iqbal submitted that this client felt that it was unconstitutional and oppressive of the ROM not to entertain her requests.
He also argued that Section 91 of Act 505 is unconstitutional as it states that those who embrace Islam are Muslim for life, adding that this provision is in conflict with Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution, which provides that every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.
He also said that Section 85(1) of Act 505 is unconstitutional as it states that those who utter the kalimah syahadah — the declaration of belief for Islam — automatically becomes Muslim, but the provision does not state that those who do so must believe in the religion.
“Such an irrebuttable presumption is contrary to Article 11. There is a concern that if she remained as a Muslim but in practice is a Christian she would be subject to laws governing Muslims like solat fardu, fasting and paying zakat.
“We're relying on how Item 1 of the State List is worded grammatically. The provision requires a person to be ‘professing’ Islam. It’s a present tense, so when one renounces Islam he/she is no longer ‘professing’,” Iqbal told Malay Mail when contacted today.
Apart from that, he said the judicial review is not prohibited under Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, which makes the civil court not have jurisdiction over matters that already fall under the jurisdiction of the Shariah Courts.
The applicant has said she was never a practising Muslim, never believed in Allah and had never been a “person professing the religion of Islam”, which is why the Shariah Courts should have no jurisdiction over her decisions.
Instead, she said the authority lies with the civil courts, which is why she is seeking a judicial review under the “Statutory Judicial Review” and “Constitutional Judicial Review”.
She cited a past case of Sisters In Islam Forum Malaysia vs the Selangor state government in 2022 at the Federal Court to back her assertion that the civil courts were the right legal platform to seek redress.
The applicant said she is living in fear and pretending to be a Muslim, fearing repercussion or reprisal from the authorities and the public due to the laws in place governing Muslims.
Salehuddin on the other hand argued that despite the woman renouncing Islam on her own all such renunciation cases have always fallen under the Shariah Courts jurisdiction and it is provided by law.
He said Act 505 only gave the ROM powers to register a person as a Muslim and not the power to renounce them from it.