Friday, December 01, 2006

Ex-Muslim's body taken from family for Muslim burial rites

In Malaysia, those who have converted to Islam and later convert back out face a daunting prospect of an underground life on the run and even post mortem kidnapping.

A recent case, reported in The Star:

Family and Jais fight for custody of van driver’s body

KUALA LUMPUR: The family of a 71-year-old man is challenging the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) for the custody of his body, claiming that he was a Christian and no longer a Muslim.

The family acknowledged that he was a Muslim before but claimed he had returned to Christianity seven years ago.

Van driver A. Rayappan died of complications from diabetes at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (KLH) on Wednesday.

When his family wanted to claim his body from the KLH mortuary yesterday, Jais officers, who claimed that Rayappan was still a Muslim, stopped them.

Lawyer A. Sivanesan, who accompanied the family to KLH, spoke with the officers but failed to resolve the matter.

“In 1990, Rayappan became a Muslim and his whole family knew about it. But in 1999, he came back to Christianity and has been practising his faith ever since,” the lawyer said.

Sivanesan said that in 1999, Rayappan submitted a deed poll to the National Registration Department (NRD) to change his Muslim name back to his original one and it was approved.

“There are no arguments. NRD has issued him a MyKad with his original name and therefore acknowledged him as a Christian. He died a Christian and his body should be given to his family,” he said.

Sivanesan said Jais officers showed him a statement dated June 2005 that Rayappan’s name was Muhamad Rayappan bin Abdullah and that they had issued him a card, verifying him to be a Muslim.

“Why didn’t they issue him the card in 1990 when he first converted? Why wait until now to show that they have issued him a card last year?” he asked.

“The family only wants to point out that he was born a Christian, became a Muslim and then converted back to Christianity. All this was done legally and there is no reason why we cannot claim his body,” said Rayappan’s cousin Deva Sagayam.

This Islamization of a once and still constitutionally secular country have alarmed the Catholic Bishops who have issued the following statement:

From the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Malaysia On the issue of laws governing religious conversions in Malaysia

We, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, rep­resenting the Malaysian Catholic Church and currently meeting in Johor Baru, welcome with gratitude Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's response reported in the media today, that he will look into the matter of the laws governing religious conver­sion in Malaysia. We laud the Prime Minister's efforts to want to review the issue and we urge the government to expedite the matter, with a view to repeal Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution. Specifically, the Malaysian Catholic Bishops' Conference advocates a repeal of Article 121 (IA) to guarantee legal recourse available to non-Muslims in matters of conversion to Islam that are in dispute. We also ask the Malaysian government to restore sovereign power to the civil courts to rule in cases involving non­-Muslims in Islamic affairs. The Conference is united in its view that the constitu­tional right to legal recourse for non-Muslims in matters of Islam is of fundamental importance that it must be guaranteed for all citizens in order to restore confidence of the public in the Malaysian Judiciary, especially among the minority groups. We are confident that the Prime Minister will uphold justice in this mater where there is no equality before the law and we offer our assistance and prayer in any way to help review the issue.

Most Rev Datuk Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, DD
President of the Conference of Malaysian Bishops

January 11, 2006
The full text of the Bishops' statement follows below:

Document issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia
“The Legal Implications of Conversion to Islam”
Dear Bothers and Sisters in the Lord,
If you convert to Islam, there are important changes to your legal status and what you can or cannot do.
Your conversion to Islam will be registered with the Religious Department and the National Registration Department, both of which are computerized so access to this information is available throughout the country.
Under Syariah enactments of most of the 13 States of Malaysia:
Conversion back to your former religion is either (a) not allowed under the law, or (b) a criminal offence which means that you may be fined, whipped, detained or imprisoned under most State Islamic laws.
If you are under 18 years of age, you require your parent’s permission to convert to Islam. Your identity card will record your conversion to Islam.
Therefore, even if you are no longer practicing Islam, you may be fined, whipped, detained, or imprisoned for violation of Syariah laws such as praying in Church, eating in public during fasting month, “Khalwat” etc.
You cannot marry a non-Muslim. If you decide to divorce and attempt to convert out of Islam, you will lose custody of your children because they are Muslims.
Upon death, your non-Muslim relatives will lose their rights to any property, money, etc. that you want to leave to them. The corpse of a convert to Islam will be taken away from his or her non-Muslim family for Islamic rites and burial even if you have not been a practising (sic) Muslim for many years.
In the event that your spouse converts to Islam, you may have no right to either your children or your spouse’s property.
We know that certain Christians who convert to Islam for whatever reasons, are not aware of or do not consider seriously the implications of such conversion. Hence, the need to inform you (sic).
By this, we are neither against Islam nor freedom of religion, which is guaranteed for all Malaysians in Article 11 of our Constitution which give the right to an individual to choose freely his or her religion.
But to choose correctly, you need to know clearly what you choose and the consequences of your choice.
This is signed by:
Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur; Bishop Antony Selvanayagam, Bishop of Penang; Bishop Paul Tan, S.J., Bishop of Melaka-Johor

This follows on the heels of a mob surrounding a Church on a rumour that Muslims were being baptized and the desecration of a Catholic cemetery on Johore on All Souls Day. This is illegal in Malaysia. Baptizing Muslims that is. The mob thing and the desecration are, well...

Another celebrated case of conversion is the case of Lina Joy who is being legally prevented from switching her religion to Christianity.

From the Catholic Herald:

Prayer campaign for Lina Joy, will the law allow her to convert to Christianity?

Kuala Lumpur : Malaysia's Churches have committed one and all to a prayer campaign on behalf of Lina Joy, a Malay woman who converted to Christianity from Islam. After becoming Christian in 1998, Lina Joy (formerly Azlina Jailani) applied first to the National Registration Department (NRD) and then the Court of Appeal to change her identity papers to remove `Islam' as her religion. She was refused in both cases because as an ethnic Malay she was legally Muslim and "could not change religion". Religious issues involving Malays, including conversions to other reli¬gions, fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts and not the country's general laws. Lina Joy's problem is that if she is not recognised as Christian she can only marry a Muslim man in a Muslim ceremony and will be subject to Islamic family and inheritance laws. Her case has opened up the debate as to the extent to which religious free¬dom is guaranteed in Malaysia, a coun¬try that is also home to Chinese and Indian groups who generally belong to other religions. De facto, two legal systems coexist in the country: one based on Islam; the other, on the constitution. And the two are often in conflict. Lina Joy's case illustrates this clearly. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion; Islamic law prohibits conversion to any other religion. Given the seriousness of the situa¬tion, Msgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, Catholic bishop of Melata-Johor and chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, is appealing to Christians to support Lina Joy through prayers. In a prepared prayer, the prelate asks the faithful to call on God to support Lina Joy, whatever the judges' verdict may be, and grant the judges the wis¬dom they need to pass judgement in the case and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi the strength to "uphold the Constitution". At presstime, we have not received the verdict of June 26 ruling whether the law recognises her conversion or not. - Herald
The BBC also has a story on the double life of a Malaysian convert.

By Linda Pressly
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Abandoning Islam for Christianity is such a sensitive issue in Malaysia that many converts find themselves leading a secret, double life.

Malaysian Muslims pray behind of the Koran during a special morning prayer at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur
Malay-Muslims make up 60% of the country's population
"If people know that I've converted to Christianity, they might take the law into their own hands. If they are not broadminded, they might take a stone and throw it at me."

Maria - not her real name - is a young Malaysian woman who has lived a secret and sometimes fearful life since she converted from Islam to Christianity.

Apostasy, as it is known, has become one of the most controversial issues in Malaysia today.

Maria became a Christian over a decade ago when she was 18. She says no-one forced her to convert, that she made the decision after studying different religious texts.

If my family find out I am no longer a Muslim they will completely cut me off

Conversion is deemed so sensitive in Malaysia that even the priest who baptised her refused to give her a baptismal certificate.

And, even now, the church she attends asked her to sign a declaration stating the church is not responsible for her conversion.

"My church says if the authorities come, they are not going to stand up for me. I have to stand up for myself," she said.

Not even Maria's family know she has converted.

"If my family find out I am no longer a Muslim they will completely cut me off. That means my name in the family will be erased.

"I could migrate, but the problem is I want to stay in Malaysia, because this is my country. And I love my family. I just want to live peacefully."

Heated debate

Malay-Muslims make up 60% of Malaysia's population. The rest are mostly Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

But many Malaysian Muslims believe that people like Maria pose a threat to Islam.

And the debate between those who say Maria should have the right to officially convert, and those who are against apostasy has become so heated that the prime minister has asked both sides not to discuss sensitive religious questions in public.

If the authorities find out, I will be in big trouble

Fearful of what could happen, Maria would only talk to us on the phone from the privacy of her car.

She is very aware of the possible consequences of her decision to become a Christian if she is discovered.

"If the authorities find out, I will be in big trouble. They will create hell between me and my family, and hell in my life so that I will no longer get any privileges or employment."

Her fears are not unfounded. Another convert - Lina Joy - has been forced to go into hiding since her case went to court.

And at least one of the lawyers involved in that case has had a death threat against him.

Apostasy order

High Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Picture: Linda Pressly)
An apostasy order has to be granted for docmentation to change
Both Lina Joy and Maria want to make their conversion legal.

That means changing the identity cards that state they are Muslim.

Until now, the state has refused to do this until an apostasy order is granted from the Sharia court.

But both women claim they are no longer Muslim, so why should they go to the Sharia court?

For Maria there is a lot at stake. She has a boyfriend who is also a Christian and knows she is too.

The couple want to get married. But while Maria is still officially a Muslim, the only way they could wed in Malaysia would be if he converted to Islam.

And Maria's family - unhappy with her choice of partner - are pressuring him to do just that.

Crucial time

Maria is tired of living a double life.

"It's very frustrating," she tells us tearfully. "It means I have to limit my scope with friends.

"I have to be able to completely trust someone before I dare to reveal myself.

"I know some other secret converts, but I never keep in touch with them.

"I can't let my network widen, because you don't always know who you are dealing with."

I feel that I am all alone in this struggle
Only a tiny number of people have converted from Islam in Malaysia.

But the coming months will be crucial for them because a decision is expected in the case of Lina Joy.

The outcome of that case may well determine whether Maria will be able to live the life she dreams of - to be married to her boyfriend and live openly as a Christian.

Right now she can't imagine it.

"I feel that I am all alone in this struggle," she says, "and I am frightened because I am alone against the odds."

Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 16 November 2006, at 1102 GMT.

The programme will be repeated on Monday, 20 November 2006 at 2030 GMT.
Please pray for the Church in Malaysia.


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with the cut and paste effort you put into your website but.....

Astrological Sign: Taurus
Zodiac Year: Rooster

in your personal profile screams contradiction to your Catholic beliefs.

Andrew said...

Thanks for dropping by Marianne, and for leaving a comment.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have no idea how the astrological signs got there, and I have no idea how to remove them.

I think Blogger put them in based on my date of birth, but it sure wasn't me. I'm a Cancer anyway, not a Taurus =)

I've checked my blogroll and most of the bloggers using Blogspot have them too.

So, rest assured Marianne, I'm not a closet practitioner of the dark arts =) I am, however, going to try to get it removed, or at least corrected to my correct sign.

Thanks a do drop by again.