News – Malaysian precedent

ET staff writer
ET staff writer
01 June, 2008 1 min read

A Muslim court in Malaysia has allowed a previous convert to Islam to reconvert back to her original faith of Buddhism. The case is being seen as a landmark ruling, because of the unusually liberal interpretation being applied to Sharia law.

Penang’s Sharia court ruled that Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah was free to return to Buddhism, following the collapse of her marriage to a Muslim man.

Religious rights are closely guarded in Malaysia which is 60% Muslim, but has large minority faith communities. Malaysians are rarely allowed to renounce the faith – those who do can be prosecuted under stringent laws.

Ordinarily a non-Muslim marrying a Muslim must embrace Islam, and Siti Abdullah, an ethnic Chinese, formally converted when she married an Iranian Muslim man. In many countries this would mean she would be treated as though she were a Muslim from birth and conversion would be prohibited.

However, when their relationship failed she filed a case with the Penang court asking to revert to Buddhism. The judge found in her favour, saying it was clear she had never practised Islam after her conversion and continued to pray as a Buddhist.

Judge Othman Ibrahim blamed the state Islamic council for not fulfilling its responsibility of counselling and guiding new converts.

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