The Court of Appeal in Kuching dismissed the appeal by three Sarawakians to leave Islam because the civil courts have no jurisdiction to hear on matters of apostasy as it lies with the syariah courts.
Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat who wrote the unanimous decision said the ruling by the judicial commissioner to dismiss the leave application was consistent with several cases decided by the Federal Court on similar issues.
The written judgment dated Nov 1 was recently made available to Malaysiakini.
She cited the cases of Dalip Kaur, Lina Joy, Soon Singh and Haji Raimi in support of her decision.
“The Federal Court reiterated that whether a person was a Muslim or not falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the syariah courts,” Justice Tengku Maimun said in her 17-page written judgment.
“The Federal Court, as can be seen from the authorities, had consistently held that matters of apostasy are within the jurisdiction of the syariah courts and not the civil courts. We found that the learned judicial commissioner was correct to follow the majority judgment in Lina Joy. It was the majority judgment that created the binding precedent."
This judgment was made despite the panel having noted that the Sarawak Syariah Courts Ordinance 2001 did not provide for the conversion in or out of Islam, while Part VIII of the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance 2001 does provide for conversion to the religion of Islam.
Their plight is similar to that of Lina Joy, a Malay woman who embraced Christianity and wanted to apostasise in the Federal Territory, and sought an order from the civil courts to remove the word 'Islam' in her identity card, despite the National Registration Department recognising the name change.
The case went up to the Federal Court in 2007, where it ruled that only the syariah courts could determine her leaving Islam, and like the Sarawak case, the Federal Territory Islamic law do not have any provisions recognising a person leaving Islam.
Remedy in state legislature?
In her decision, while recognising the “predicament” faced by the three Sarawakians, Justice Tengku Maimun said the court was bound by the doctrine of stare decisis (Latin for 'to stand by a decision'). It is also known as the doctrine of precedent.
“As for Article 11 of the Federal Constitution on freedom of religion and the additional powers of the High Court stipulated in Schedule 1 of the Courts of Judicature Act, we opined that it must be read in the context of Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, where it is now settled by the long line of authorities.
“On the factual matrix of this case, the appellants’ remedy perhaps lies in the state legislature,” the judge noted.
Sitting with Justice Tengku Maimun were Justice Badariah Sahamid and Justice Kamardin Hashim.
The three applicants were Jenny bin Peter @ Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah, Mohd Shafiq Abdullah @ Tiong Choo Teng and Salina Jau Abdullah.
Nur Muzdhalifah's parents were Christians and she was raised as a Christian. However, on July 1, 2002, she converted to Islam and married a Muslim man named Nazri Abdul Rahman. They got divorced on July 26, 2006, and after that she returned to Christianity and later married a Christian.
Mohd Syafiq was born of mixed parentage of Chinese and Bidayuh. He converted to Islam on Jan 24, 1996 to marry Siti Aishah Bahadar. Since his wife's demise on Sept 8, 2007, Mohd Shafiq has been a practising Christian.
Meanwhile, Salina was not born a Muslim. She converted to Islam on Nov 9, 1992, before her marriage to Shazali Saleh on Nov 26, 1992. They were divorced on Oct 14, 2010. She also returned to Christianity after the divorce.
The three of them signed statutory declarations evincing their intentions to renounce Islam and they had notified the Sarawak Islamic Department.
However, they did not receive their letters of release from the department to recognise that they have left Islam, hence their decision to file the applications for judicial review.
They named the director of Sarawak Islamic Department, Sarawak Islamic Council and the National Registration Department (NRD) as the respondents.
They wanted to compel the Sarawak Islamic Department and Sarawak Islamic Council to issue letters of release (surat murtad) to them.
They also sought to compel the NRD director-general to change the Muslim names to their original names.- Mkini