Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Yet another example from Malaysia of the dangers of mixing religious law with civil law. Howard Friedman has the details:

In a 2-1 decision, Malaysia’s Federal Court ruled today that Lina Joy, a Muslim convert to Christianity, must get permission from a Sharia court in order to have her religion changed on her identification card. The Associated Press and Reuters both report on the long-awaited decision from Malaysia’s highest civil court. Writing for the majority, Judge Ahmad Fairuz upheld the refusal by the National Registration Department to change Joy’s identification card. He said: “She cannot simply at her own whims enter or leave her religion. She must follow rules.”…

Shariah courts in Malaysia have jurisdiction over civil, family, marriage and personal rights of the country’s Muslims. A DPA report on the case points out that Islamic courts in each of Malaysia’s 14 states have different rules. Only one state has provisions for Muslims to convert. Joy herself is in hiding with her Catholic fiance. So long as her conversion is not recognized, she can marry her fiance only if he converts to Islam.

None of that should be the business of any government. I will now await the inevitable “how dare you not respect their cultural differences” argument.


  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 31, 2007

    Doesn’t the Q’ran call for the death penalty for apostasy?

  2. #2 jba
    May 31, 2007

    “She cannot simply at her own whims enter or leave her religion.”

    ….what? what?! But, I mean… how…why.. by what right..? (head explodes)

  3. #3 Leni
    May 31, 2007

    JBA I believe it’s because typically, once you sign your soul over to the devil there’s no turning back.

    He’ll never, ever tear up the parchment. 😉

    The morons who dreamed up this system were out of their minds. Muslims have seperate courts than everyone else! Seperate courts! I don’t why, but for some reason that bothers me more than the fact that this poor woman is being held hostage by her stupid religion.

  4. #4 DCP
    May 31, 2007

    That’s outrageous. In this day and age? I almost can’t believe it.

    And why does she have to state her religion in her ID, anyway?

  5. #5 kehrsam
    May 31, 2007

    Note the assumption that the potential groom will apparently have no problem converting from Christianity to Islam. Persecution! Paging Bill O’Reilly to the white courtesy phone!

  6. #6 Jim Lippard
    May 31, 2007

    “Doesn’t the Q’ran call for the death penalty for apostasy?”

    The Bible calls for the death penalty for any friend or relative who tries to convert someone from Judaism to anything else (Deuteronomy 13:6-9).

  7. #7 dogmeatib
    May 31, 2007

    Why can’t they be like us and just shun them? [end sarcasm] I don’t get why these people get so upset over their invisible man in the sky. He seems to hit them with the same hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons, diseases, crime, war, famine, etc., what difference does it make if you live a good life?

    I’ll stick with “I don’t know”-ism, also known as “I’ll find out when I die”-ism. Amazingly enough even without their invisible man in the sky, I don’t murder people (no matter how much I would like to at times), I don’t steal, I don’t cheat on my wife, etc. Now I do eat meat on Fridays, and I do go out on the sabbath, but if I don’t worship graven images, is that okay?

  8. #8 Michael LoPrete
    May 31, 2007

    “Doesn’t the Q’ran call for the death penalty for apostasy?”

    Sort of. If I understand it correctly, the qur’an instructs that an apostate should exile him- or herself from the Islamic community; insisting on staying, in defiance of the community, is what draws the death penalty.

    Often these days we see extremists going straight to the death penalty part, which drives me nuts. Exile is still unduly harsh and cruel, what’s malfunctioning in a person’s brain to twist it to be even more barbaric?

  9. #9 Poly
    May 31, 2007

    Ed writes:

    I will now await the inevitable “how dare you not respect their cultural differences” argument.

    I’m actually a moral realist, so cultural relativism is not an issue for me. But I am concerned that when we focus on the moral limitations of what other cultures and societies are doing, we may lose sight of – or even diminish – our own deficiencies.

    Especially when we have so many of them.

    I’m not saying that a view outward is necessarily a bad one. I am saying that we have to take care it doesn’t become a cover-up for our own moral failures or simply hypocritical finger-pointing, both of which we as Americans have been pretty good at throughout our history.

  10. #10 Rasputin
    May 31, 2007

    Q: “How dare you not respect their cultural differences?”

    A: How dare *I* not respect their cultural differences? If their cultural differences mean a woman has to go in hiding for changing her mind, then how dare you respect their cultural differences? If their cultural differences proscribe death for apostasy then their cultural differences are an affront to human dignity. In short, F*** their cultural differences.

  11. #11 Ian
    May 31, 2007

    Leni: Actually I think the issue here is minority rights, not separate courts for Muslims. Most Malaysians are Muslims, and are thus subject to Sharia. Those who aren’t Muslim, aren’t. That doesn’t make the whole situation any less ridiculous though.

    Of course, there’s another way to look at this. If you want to marry someone from a different “ethnic group”, you need to petition the courts to release you from your current group. Was that option open to Americans in states that forbade interracial marriage? Was that option open to students at Bob Jones University 10 years ago? Sure, it’s all terribly wrong, but the US isn’t as far ahead of them as most people would like to believe.

  12. #12 Bill Poser
    May 31, 2007

    A further problem here is with the idea that the woman can’t just “change her mind”, which presupposes that she first chose Islam and has now changed her mind and chosen Christianity. There is no reason to believe that she ever chose Islam. She is legally Muslim because she was born to a Muslim family. She may or may not have been a believer up to a certain point, but Muslims have nothing like adult baptism, confirmation, or bar mitzvah at which a person of the age of reason chooses the religion, so she never chose Islam.

    Part of the problem in Malaysia is that Malaysia has a form of “affirmative action” that favors the Malay ethnic group. It is basically intended to give them a leg up on the economically dominant ethnic Chinese. The ethnic Malay group (the bumiputras in Malay, from Sanskrit bhumiputra “son of the land”) is defined, among other things, as Muslim. So defections from Islam are not only unacceptable apostasy from a Muslim religious point of view, they also undermine the political program of giving preference to Malays over other ethnic groups.

  13. #13 DarthWilliam
    May 31, 2007

    Doesn’t anyone else think it odd that Islam is a religion, but it has its own courts? Courts?!? WTF? Churches, temples, mosques – those are what a religion has, not courts!

    And religion on the ID card – what a load of crap that is. Glad I don’t live under that tyranny.

  14. #14 daenku32
    May 31, 2007

    Lets invade.

  15. #15 wolfwalker
    June 1, 2007

    darthwilliam: Islam isn’t alone in having religious courts. The primary difference between Islam and other religions in this area is that islamic courts claim authority over secular issues as well as religious ones. Other religions’ courts confine themselves to judging religious issues which the secular courts can’t deal with. The Catholic Church has ecclesiastical courts that judge issues such as marriage annulments and misbehavior by priests. In Judaism, rabbis can act as judges on a variety of issues.

    However, to the best of my knowledge no other modern religion actively prevents people from converting out of that religion. The Catholic Church used to do it, but that pretty much ended over a century ago. Those who mistakenly seek to establish a moral equivalence between other religions and Islam would do well to remember that: the Islam of today routinely acts in ways that other religions turned their backs on long ago.

  16. #16 Chris Krolczyk
    June 2, 2007

    My mind was already boggled by this when I heard about the ruling on NPR, but consider the jurisdictional questions that crop up on issues less thorny than this one is. How do questions concerning property law get answered in a system like this, for example? Both British-based common law and Sharia law have different takes on such questions, so which legal system takes precedent over which, especially if one party is a Muslim and the other is either Chinese or Hindu?

    I’m at a loss, but I’m sure a student of comparative legal systems has an answer for this.

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