On the right to religion…

For those living in Malaysia, and are mildly in tune with the quasi-legal going-ons in our beloved Motherland, they would have at least heard a tiny bit about Lina Joy and the controversy surrounding her. Who is Lina Joy? Why should we pay attention to what happens to this woman? What are the repurcussions for us, ordinarily mere mortals?

Let me begin by giving you a very very brief overview. Lina Joy was born as Azlina Jailani, to an ordinary Muslim couple. By default, all babies produced by Muslim couples are, obviously… Muslim. There is no two way about this.

The sales assistant has taken her case all the way to the Federal Court because unless the government recognises her conversion, she cannot get married under civil law. While Lina managed – the second time around – to get the National Registration Department to change her name from Azlina Jailani in 1999, accepting that she had renounced Islam, it refused to remove the word “Islam” from her MyKad. The NRD said it could not do so without a syariah court order certifying she had renounced Islam.

As long as the word “Islam” remains on her identity card, Lina cannot marry her Christian boyfriend, a cook, under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976. In 2001, she took her case against the NRD director-general, the Government and the Federal Territory Religious Council to the High Court. She lost – Justice Faiza Tamby Chik held that Malays could not renounce Islam because a Malay was defined in the Constitution as “a person who professes the religion of Islam,” adding it was the syariah court that had the jurisdiction in matters related to apostasy.

Lina appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost again, this time in a majority decision – Justices Abdul Aziz Mohamed and Arifin Zakaria upheld the decision of the NRD but Justice Gopal Sri Ram said it was null and void. In 2006, she got leave to appeal to the Federal Court and asked the panel comprising Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum and Federal Court Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff these questions:

  • WAS the NRD entitled to require a person to produce a certificate or a declaration or an order from the syariah court before deleting “Islam” from his or her identity card;
  • DID the NRD correctly construe its powers under the National Registration Regulations 1990 when it imposed the above requirement, which is not expressly provided for in the regulations?; and
  • WAS the landmark case Soon Singh vs Perkim Kedah – which held that syariah courts have the authority over the civil courts to hear cases of Muslims renouncing Islam – correctly decided?
  • Now, the ruling is in. Lina Joy has lost. She therefore, remains a Muslim in name, cannot marry the man she loves, and will carry the word ‘Islam’ on her identity card although she has in fact, professed herself as an apostate.

    I’ve was taught once, when I was young and foolish, that the alternative to apostasy is death. A Muslim is never to let an apostate, a person who has renounced Islam, live. In short, a former Muslim must be killed. This was taught to me by a kindly old ustazah, no less. In the very same classroom, I was also taught that Islam is a beautiful religion, a complete and whole way of life, with a kind and ever-forgiving God. It is the latter face of Islam I have chosen to embrace. I have managed to push the violent and sometimes authoritarian teachings of Islam out of my psyche, and apply those that are less radical. Reading about Lina Joy’s decision today however, reminded me of how our Muslim society refuses to be flexible and adapt with the changing times, choosing instead to live as if we were still vassals living under the ever watchful eye of a feudal lord.

    It is difficult to imagine, that Lina Joy, by the teachings of our grassroots teachers, should be murdered, simply because she chose a different path than one laid out for her at birth. Should one, not be given the choice to choose their destiny? After all, a main tenet of Islamic teaching says that we are at the mercy of ever-loving Allah, but we must always always make an effort to choose our own paths and improve our lives. God will not change one who does not want to affect a change. Free will is what that separates us from God’s other creatures, and the use of our ‘akal’ is what determines our future in this life and the next.

    Therefore, by this reasoning, Lina Joy, by her own free will, has chosen to leave Islam. If she has chosen so, and God states that we are free to choose our destinies, why are the courts denying her right to religion? It is after all, between her and an ever-forgiving Lord. She has somehow found the peace to live this maddening life, perhaps with one who might be able to make her happy. Who are we, to stand in their way? Why should the syariah courts decide her fate, in this life and the next? Malaysia, after all, claims to adhere to a Constitution that claims the freedom to religion.

    How many times have the basic rights of Malaysians been trampled on by the syariah courts? How many people have been framed by the ‘mat skodengs’ who tell on unmarried couples in close proximity? What about women’s rights in the syariah courts? Some of them, the very same women who claim that when a man marries three other women in the name of religion, isn’t adultery?

    The civil courts had been my final hope, perhaps that however flawed our judicial system might be, it would uphold the rights of ordinary citizens… I guess, that hope too, is biting the dust… After all, we do live in ‘MALAYsia’ where only the righteous, or those that pretend to be righteous loudly enough, are always right…

    Hoping and praying, beyond all hope, that one day, that the basic rights of Malaysians are really the same, regardless of our religious or ethnic backgrounds – Jasmine.

    ps – My apologies, for those who think this particular posting is a little heavy on the thinking… After all, a girl’s gotta use her brains sometime, right?

    Advertisements

    On houseguests and housemates…

    This past month or so, the house has seen an inordinate number of houseguests parading by our little unfettered lives. Some for the better, while others contribute not so much as extra carbon dioxide into the air we breathe, and take up living space. One couple, and their beautiful husky (I’ve talked about them a bit, right here in this blog), was a welcome addition. The other half of the equation, however, was incredibly ingratiating on the nerves. Coupled with their little smelly and stinky sausage dog, a blooming underfed, untrained and unattended dachshund, the combination was a killer.

    It started out alright, with the couple being entertaining, and hearing the stories they shared on their experiences with a hellish housemate, was really eye-opening. It was amazing to what lengths some would go to, in order to make these people leave their abode. It got stale after about 18 hours straight of cock-and-bull stories. It got mind-bogglingly difficult to drown out the voices, and the self-appreciative laughs. The female halve of the equation even began being possesive of her Sino-Irish boyfriend, much to my very-much-attached-and-married chagrin. You keep the boy, and shove it where the sun don’t shine, you silly girl!

    It got progressively worse, as the female was left at home, while the guy went off to complete his mucho due assignments. She left eventually, feeling that she was getting insufficient attention, and went home to her equally maladjusted family home in Ampang. He followed soon after, although he was sick as a dog, simply because she said so…

    On the other end of the spectrum, we were offering sleeping space and living room to the other couple. They were just charming! Even helped with the mad chores that never end in the house. All I can say is, that this opposites of the spectrum, in the initial days, came in as one package. It is amazing to see what differences there are in people. Especially so in these two polar opposites.

    This time around, I’ve learnt my lesson on houseguests and housemates. Do not take the judgement of others to be the gospel truth. Judge people on your own scale of merits, and make your own decision. What one person says is a decent soul, and good person, may turn out to be a goblin in a penguin suit. I’ve been mostly right on my hunches and instant judgement calls about people, and for once, I refused to listed to that little nagging voice, and for that I had to suffer the idiot couple for about a week…

    Next time, I’ll believe that little voice, for it hasn’t done me wrong all these while…

    Waiting for the minutes to tick by till the moment I rush home into your arms, in our beautiful, and now no longer empty home – Jasmine.

    On being unwell…

    I’ve been unwell the past week or so… And I mean really really unwell… Not the garden variety flu to keep me out of action for a week, but a real spine-tingling, close-call-with-hospital kind of unwell. It started out innocently enough, with kinda of a fever, inspired by the lack of sleep and stress. It progressively got worse, with even less sleep and less time to take care of myself…

    You see, the thing is, at the time of my ‘unwell-ness’, my other half was also struck with disease and pestilence… Bad enough to warrant being hospitalized from the emergency ward. Bad enough, for me to spend one sleepless and restless night in the emergency ward, spending the few cents I had to my name, arguing and exchanging ‘ideas’ with the medical staff, trying to make sense out of the madness, getting sicker and sicker as the minutes ticked by. Thankfully, his afflictions weren’t literally as bad as they looked. My handsome boy may look a little ‘off-balance’ for a while, but I’ve been told Bell’s Palsy is temporary and will reverse itself. More importantly for me, at least, is the fact that there is no permanent damage, other than the damage already done, and definitely not because of the Bell’s Palsy.

    Being told that you have an old man’s witches’ brew of diseases in the prime of one’s life must be one of the most depressing things to happen to anyone. It’s not easy to get used to the meds, and endless monitoring of what to eat and not to eat, to remember the injections and doctor’s appointments, and wishfully dream on a lamb chop… I’m trying my darndest best here, to be supportive and make a change.

    It’s indeed good for the both of us, being temporarily unwell. We’re now consuming less fat and red meat, eat more veggies and fish and all manner of healthy things, and I think we’re well on the road to being healthier. Not fighting fit like those fellas who run a mile in six minutes, but well enough to have decent cholesterol levels and not keel over after three flights of stairs…

    I’m still on the road to recovery. After all, I had a nasty viral flu, and at the same time was taking care of someone who was even sicker. Back to work, with my nose in the grindstone so much, it’s being rubbed raw. Back to the madness of impossible deadlines and difficult people. It is after all, what I do for a living. I just can’t afford the time out, the time needed to be unwell and recover, and to go back to work in my own sweet time…

    Being unwell though, has thought me the value of being well and healthy. It’s not ever good for anyone at all to be falling sick, especially when there is no safety net waiting to catch you when you fall. And for that, sometimes the only option seems to be, never ever getting unwell… And for that, I’ve learned my lesson and always will finish my veggies, no matter how yucky they may seem…

    Hoping for you to get well soon, if only to smile at me the way you used to smile at me – Jasmine.