Malaysian High Court: A Muslim has the right to embrace Christianity

Kuching, Malaysia: The Kuching High Court in Malaysia ruled Wednesday (Mar. 23) that a Muslim man who was converted to Islam by his parents at the age of 10 can legally renounce Islam and embrace Christianity. Justice Yew Jen Kie said that 41-year-old Rooney Rebit, formerly known as Azmi Mohamad Azam Shah may be identified as a Christian.

In making his decision, Yew cited Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. "It is within his constitutional rights to exercise freedom of religion," the judge said in the ruling.

The ruling comes after Rebit applied for a judicial review to allow him to obtain legal recognition as a Christian, not a Muslim. Yew issued multiple injunctions in the matter.

Rising Christian anger in mainly Muslim Malaysia over the government's handling of a case involving seized bibles could complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak's bid to win back the support of minorities ahead of an early general election.

The judge ordered the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council to issue a letter signifying Rebit's release from Islam.

 Bible in Malay

Bible in Malay

Additionally, she ordered the state government to ensure that Rebit's identification card and government records at the nation's registry show that he is a Christian and for his name to be legally changed to Rooney Anak Rebit.

Rebit, who is a part of the Bidayuh ethnicity, was forced to convert to Islam as a child after his parents converted from Christianity.

Since it was never Rebit's choice to embrace Islam, Yew stated that Rebit can't be considered a person who officially professed Islam. Additionally, the judge pointed out that Rebit was baptised as a Christian in 1999, when he was able to make a mature decision about his faith.

The state government had earlier refused to change his religious preference on his identification and government records without an order obtained from an Islamic court, even though the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council agreed to issue a letter of ‘no objection’ to his conversion.

While Rebit was granted his request to be recognized as a Christian, Lina Joy was not as fortunate in 2007 when her appeal to a Malaysian federal court to have her official religion changed on her identification card was struck down. As apostasy laws in Malaysia are handled by state governments, each state has the freedom to apply the law as they see fit when residents renounce the Muslim faith.

Last May, the State Assembly of Kelantan considered a bill that would have allowed the death penalty to be given to anyone charged with abandoning Islam.