May 26, 2007

Malaysia sets May 30 for ruling on Islam conversion - live or die

Malaysia's highest court will rule next week on whether a Muslim has the right to convert to another faith, lawyers said on Friday, in a test case that could shake society in the mainly Muslim country. The Federal Court, the country's highest civil judicial authority, will announce on May 30 if it has decided to acknowledge the decision of Lina Joy to convert to Christianity and give up Islam, the faith she was born into.

Islam is Malaysia's official religion, so Muslims who decide to switch faiths pose a tricky legal question for the government of the multiracial, multi-religious nation. Ethnic Malays, who make up just over half of Malaysia's 26 million people, are deemed Muslims from birth.

Constitutionally, freedom of religion is guaranteed. But in reality, conversion out of Islam falls within the ambit of sharia or Islamic courts. And sharia law prescribes fines or jail for those who renounce Islam, effectively ruling out the option.

About 60 percent of Malaysians follow Islam, according to the 2000 census, with Buddhists making up another 19 percent.

Christians account for nine percent, Hindus six percent and Confucianism, Taoism and other Chinese religions two percent.