Federal Court to rule on on Muslim apostasy cases tomorrow

Syarifah Nooraffyzza (covered) tries to shy away from members of the press outside the Court today.

KUCHING, Feb 26: The Federal Court, the apex court of Malaysia, will decide tomorrow on the appeal of four persons who wished to have their conversion out of Islam legally recognised.

The court will also decide if the Syariah Court in Sarawak has jurisdiction over apostasy or conversions out of Islam.

Th court here today heard submissions from lawyers representing the appellants and the respondents.

The four appellants who wish to renounce their status as Muslims are:

– Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hosen, a Malay by ethnicity who left the religion of Islam voluntarily and embraced Christianity in 2009. Her case was heard earlier before a High Court judge and the decision refusing leave was given on Jan 5, 2015. The High Court judge agreed with the argument made by the respondents that the civil High Court has no jurisdiction to hear apostasy case.


– Tiong Choo Ting, a Chinese-Bidayuh of mixed heritage and a Christian who converted to Islam to facilitate his marriage to a Muslim and subsequently took on the Muslim name of Mohd Syafiq Abdullah. Following his wife’s demise, he returned to practising his previous religion of Christianity in 2006.

– Salina Jau, a Kayan/Kenyah by ethnicity and a Christian converted to Islam to facilitate her marriage to a Muslim. She took on the Muslim name of Salina Jau Abdullah. Later, her husband divorced her and she returned to practising her previous religion of Christianity in 2006.

– Jenny Peter, a Melanau by ethnicity and a Christian converted to Islam to facilitate her marriage to a Muslim. She took on the Muslim name of Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah. They have one daughter from the marriage with the name of Maria Eleeza. After she divorced her husband, she returned to practising her previous religion of Christianity in 2010.

On Sept 21, 2015, Tiong, Salina and Jenny’s cases were heard together and the High Court denied them leave that day. The High Court judge also agreed with the argument made by the respondents that the civil High Court has no jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.

The respondents are the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department director, the National Registration Department director-general, the Sarawak Islamic Council, and the Sarawak government.

Tomorrow’s decision will be made a five-member panel comprising Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Tan Sri Hasan Lah, Tan Sri Ramly Ali and Tan Sri Jeffrey Tan. after hearing defence lawyer Baru Bian, who is representing the four.

After today’s adjournment, defence lawyer Baru Bian who is representing the four appellants told members of the media present that all the appellants filed an application for a judicial review for a declaration that they are Christians.

“Our argument today is that the Syariah Court in Sarawak is not imbued with that power to decide on apostasy cases as the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance 2001 does not provide for this issue to be dealt with by the Syariah Court,” Baru said.

The Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance 2001 has provisions on conversion into Islam.

The Syariah Court has jurisdiction over a person converting to be a Muslim, but there is no provision to leave Islam.

“Such jurisdiction cannot be implied but must be expressly provided. The matter of apostasy or conversion out of Islam should be expressly provided in the Syariah Court Ordinance in order for the Syariah Court to have jurisdiction over the matter,” Baru added.

When asked on what will the outcome be tomorrow, Baru said: “We will leave it to the court to decide. I believe they will base it on the law.”

Baru added that if the Federal Court answers the above legal question in the negative, then the four matters will be reverted back to the High Court to be dealt with on the merits of the application. If the Federal Court answers the legal question in the affirmative, the appeal would be dismissed and the appellants have to go back to the Syariah Court to make their application to apostate out of Islam.

Deputy state attorney-general Saferi Ali and legal officer Hisyamudin Roslan appeared for the director of Sarawak State Islamic Department, Sarawak Islamic Council and the state government while senior federal counsels Shamsul Bolhassan and Leo Saga appeared for the director-general of National Registration Department. — DayakDaily