CONTEMPORARY MALAYSIA

con·tem·po·rar·y - Modern times in its generic sense, living, occurring, or existing, at the same time; often also used as a synonym for "modern" Ma·lay·sia - A country of southeast Asia consisting of the southern Malay Peninsula and the northern part of the island of Borneo.

Seems like this is the beginning of more to come…

GEORGE TOWN (May 8, 2008): In a landmark ruling, the Penang Syariah High Court today allowed a Muslim convert to renounce Islam.

This is the first such decision by a Syariah High Court in the country since the Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Penang) Enactment 2004 came into force and is viewed as significant because apostasy, or renouncing the faith, is one of the gravest sins in Islam. Apostates can be jailed.

Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah, 39, whose Chinese name was Tan Ean Huang, expressed relief that the two-year court wrangle is finally over.

"I will celebrate this decision with a big family dinner this Sunday (May 11) and at the same time celebrate Mother's Day with my mother."

After speaking briefly to the media, Siti Fatimah, accompanied by relatives, went to the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling to give thanks.

In delivering his decision, Perlis Syariah Court Chief Judge Othman Ibrahim, who had initially presided over the case before he was transferred, said the grounds for allowing Siti Fatimah's application were the testimonies heard in court and her affidavit which proved she never practised Islam.

"The court heard that she had continued with her Buddhist faith even after converting to Islam by praying at temples and was even accompanied by her husband who had brought her into Islam," he said.

He said her husband, as the person who brought her into the religion, had also failed to guide and assist her in her new faith as a Muslim.

The judge also took into account Siti Fatimah's affidavit which stated that she had continued consuming pork, praying to deities like Guan Yin, Thni Kong and Tua Peh Kong and that she did not understand Islam or its practices.

"The defendant, the state Islamic Affairs Council, did not take appropriate action as it was their responsibility to care for and look after the welfare of Muslim converts," Othman said.

He said the Syariah Court viewed this case seriously but it had no choice but to allow Siti Fatimah to renounce Islam based on those grounds.

He also ordered the council to cancel her Islam conversion certificate.

However, he disallowed her application for a court order to the National Registration Department to change the religious status on her identity card from Muslim to Buddhist as it was beyond his jurisdiction. He advised her to apply directly to the NRD.

Othman criticised the state Islamic Affairs Council for failing to carry out its duties in guiding Siti Fatimah in her new faith which resulted in this situation.

He said the council had also not bothered to appoint representation until the case neared the end.

Later, outside the courtroom, Siti Fatimah’s lawyer Ahmad Jailani Abdul Ghani described the decision as a new beginning for syariah law as a non-Muslim is now allowed to continue practising her own religion.

Siti Fatimah filed the application to renounce Islam in May 2006. She had converted in July 1998 to marry Iranian, Ferdoun Ashanian, in 1999.

She claimed Ferdoun left her a few months after their marriage and she stopped practising Islam. She has no knowledge of Ferdoun's whereabouts.

Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz, who represented the council, said the council may appeal the decision.

In August 2007, the Syariah court had ordered Siti Fatimah to undergo counselling at the Department's Unit Ukhwah (a unit on brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam) before it could deliver a decision on her case.

The case was then postponed to December 2007 and was deferred yet again when she did not attend most of the counselling sessions.