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KUCHING, Feb 26: The Sarawak Ministers’ Fellowship (SMF), an alliance of church leaders in Sarawak, opined that the state should seek an amendment to the existing state Islamic enactment to provide for a specific administrative procedure for persons who genuinely wish to leave Islam without having to go to the Shariah courts.
In a statement today, SMF said, alternatively, the state government could enact express provisions within the state Islamic enactments for a person to leave Islam without having to go to the Shariah courts. This would be a fairer or more equitable outcome for all.
Following the case of four Sarawakians — Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hosen, Tiong Choo Ting, Salina Jau and Jenny Peter — who are battling to have their conversion out of Islam legally recognised, SMF said the process will involve lawyers to work on a proposal and for the local community and networks to lobby members of the State Legislative Assembly to amend the law.
The Federal Court will hear the appeal tomorrow (Feb 27).
SMF said some lawyers have already started working towards this goal.
They see a great possibility of success if the Sarawak church networks banded together and collaborated on this matter together.
“Syarifah Nooraffyzza, being a Muslim had voluntarily and without compulsion left the religion of Islam to embrace Christianity while the other three — Tiong Choo Ting, Salina Jau and Jenny Peter — who converted to Islam earlier for purposes of marriage, have voluntarily and without compulsion returned to their previous faith and religion of Christianity.
“Based on their present religious belief, convictions and practice of faith, Tiong, Salina and Jenny have on various occasions made applications to the National Registration Department (NRD) to have their Muslim names in their Identity Cards (ICs) changed to their non-Muslim names while Syarifah being Malay by ethnicity prefers to use the name of Vanessa Elizabeth,” the statement said.
All four applications to the NRD were rejected on the grounds that they have failed to obtain a letter of release from Islam from the Sarawak Department of Islamic Affairs.
They were informed by the NRD that in order to process their applications for the change of name in their IC, they would have to obtain a letter of release from Islam from the Sarawak Department of Islamic Affairs to declare that they are no longer a Muslim.
They have made several attempts to obtain the letter of release from the Sarawak Department of Islamic Affairs.
The department has however by way of a written reply informed the parties as follows: “Based on the Islamic Ordinances that are applicable and enforceable with respect to the Shariah courts in Sarawak, there are no provisions that confers jurisdiction upon the Shariah courts to issue a declaration to leave Islam as required by the National Registration Department.”
“It means, the Sarawak Department of Islamic Affairs has taken the position that they have no jurisdiction in Sarawak to issue a letter of release from Islam as required by the NRD.
“This poses a real dilemma for the four as they are now caught in a quandary. Having no other option, they commenced legal proceedings,” SMF said.
If the Federal Court rules against the appeal, native Christians who are wrongly categorised as Muslims as well as native Muslim converts who want to revert to Christianity will be forced to go before the Shariah courts in order to leave Islam.
“In brief, the critical issue at hand concerns a person’s right to convert out of Islam and the possibility of achieving this without going to the Shariah courts. This is about the right to freedom of religion.
“For the people in Sarawak, the obstacles that the four have been facing in order to secure the relief they need run in direct opposite to the right that we have — ‘complete freedom of religion’.
“These are measures set in place to curb that freedom. The bottom line of the court case at hand is about safeguarding the religious freedom that our forefathers fought hard for us for. It is our responsibility to defend any attempt to take that away from us. Thus, the great need for us to stand up for it. We just cannot let this go for now and for the future generations of the people of this land,” SMF said.
SMF proposed that the churches conduct a rally and prayers for upcoming hearings, create awareness by holding briefings with as many and as wide a circle of church leaders in Sarawak as possible before the hearing for them to appreciate the gravity of the case and to organise the lawyer groups, representing various churches and other religious networks and organisations, to hold watching briefs during the hearing. — DayakDaily