Shariah Court of Appeal ruled Tan’s conversion to Islam wasn’t valid
The Shariah Appeals Court in northern Penang state upheld the lower court’s verdict, dismissing the appeal by Islamic authorities to forbid Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah from returning to Buddhism, said Ahmad Munawir Abdul Azis, lawyer for the state’s Islamic Affairs Council.
|Siti Fatimah (R), an ethnic Chinese woman formerly known as Tan Ean Huang, smiles with her lawyer Ahmad Jailani Ghani outside the Sharia court in Malaysia’s northern island of Penang March 16, 2009. A Malaysian religious appeal court in Penang granted a woman’s wish to formally renounce Islam on Monday, in a rare case where Muslims are allowed to leave the faith. Reuters/Ghazali Hariri|
Ahmad Munawir said the court “has made it clear that Muslims can’t simply renounce the religion as long as their conversion is done in a proper way and he or she is accepted as a Muslim.”
But Tan, whose first name before she converted was Ean Huang, said she never practiced Islam and converted in 1998 only to marry an Iranian Muslim. In 2006, she filed a request to renounce Islam after her husband left her.
Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus have increasingly complained in recent years that they face discrimination, including unfavourable court decisions in conversion cases and temple destruction.
Tan’s case follows another victory for religious minorities earlier this month when an Islamic court ruled in favour of a Christian man who was given an Islamic name at birth. The National Registration Department had refused to allow the man to drop his Islamic name when he applied for a new identity card.
But in many other instances in past years, courts have ruled in favour of Muslims, including refusing to let those who are Muslim-born leave Islam and accepting claims that people converted to Islam before their deaths despite family objections.
Malaysia has a dual court system for civil matters- Shariah courts for Muslims and secular courts for non-Muslims, which make up more than a third of the country’s 27 million people. In interfaith disputes, the jurisdiction of the courts has often clashed, and Shariah courts usually have the last word.