Lina Joy

Lina Joy is a Malay convert from Islam to Christianity. Born Azlina Jailani on 28 July 1964[1] in Malaysia to Muslim parents of Javanese descent,[2] she converted at age 26. The Lina Joy case sparkled a debate about apostasy in Malaysia,[3] and her failed legal attempt to not have her religion listed as "Islam" on her identity card is considered a landmark case in Malaysia.[4]

Lina Joy
Azlina Jailani

(1964-07-28) 28 July 1964
Known forCourt Challenge re Religious Conversion

Court case

In 1998, Joy was baptised and applied to have her conversion legally recognised by the Malaysian courts. Though her change of name was recognised in 1999 and so noted on her identity card, her change of religion was not (for lack of a Mahkamah Syariah[5] confirmation document). For this reason, she filed suit with the High Court in 1999, bypassing the Syariah court. She later filed suit with the Federal Court in 2006.[6][7] Joy hopes to live openly as a Christian; she was forced to go into hiding by the publicity surrounding her case.[8]

In a majority verdict delivered on 30 May 2007, the Federal Court rejected her appeal.[9] Her appeal was dismissed 2-1 by Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Datuk Alauddin Mohd Sherif. The ruling stated that "a person who wanted to renounce their religion must do so according to existing laws or practices of the particular religion. Only after the person has complied with the requirements and the authorities are satisfied that the person has apostatised can they embrace Christianity... In other words, a person cannot at one's whims and fancies renounce or embrace a religion."[10]

The dissenting Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Richard Malanjum wrote that "Hence, in my view this is tantamount to unequal treatment under the law. In other words it is discriminatory and unconstitutional and should therefore be struck down. For this reason alone, the relief sought for by the appellant should be granted, namely for a declaration that she is entitled to have an identity card in which the word 'Islam' does not appear."[11]

Legal recognition would have allowed her to have the change of religion noted on her national identity card. It would also remove the legal barrier to her marrying her Christian fiancé (marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men is forbidden under Malaysian law and under the Shariah/Islamic Jurisprudence; the non-Muslim man is required to convert to Islam under Malaysian law; Under Shariah, Muslim men are only allowed to marry Muslims or People of the Book, those who adhere to Abrahamic religions that pre-date Islam, however with conditions and restrictions). In Malaysia, the Shariah Court alone has the power to deal with Islamic issues, including legal recognition for conversion to and from Islam. Conversely, the Shariah Court has no jurisdiction over those who are not Muslims. Joy, by her own admission, is no longer Muslim, but only the Shariah Court can legally recognise this. Conversion is not something unknown, and according to Muslim Lawyers Association spokesman Pawanchek Merican, " Negeri Sembilan, the Syariah court allowed 16 people to renounce Islam."[12]

According to a senior official in the National Registration Department (NRD), for the NRD to change the religion on her identity card would mean that the department would be officially declaring her an apostate, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Shariah Court.[13] The jurisdiction of the Syariah court over converts from Islam to other religions has been hotly debated by the Malaysian public in the past few years, with this and other court cases involving converts closely followed by the media.[14] Joy is not the first person to apply for recognition of conversion from Islam. Another woman named only as "Maria" by the BBC is also pursuing a similar case. In 2006, the Negeri Sembilan Syariah High Court in Seremban granted recognition for the conversion from Islam to Buddhism of Wong Ah Kiu (also known as Nyonya Tahir). However, being raised by a Chinese Buddhist family despite her Malay origins, Wong had never practised Islam in her life and was deceased at the time of the ruling.[7][8]

See also


  1. The Malaysian Bar - Lina Joy v Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan & 2 Ors 2005 [CA]
  2. Learning from conservatism in Malaysia Archived 21 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Lina Joy affair sparks apostasy debate among Muslims, AsiaNews, 20 augustus 2006
  4. Path to leave islam simple but far from easy, The Malay Mail Online, 12 July 2014
  5. Note: The Islamic Sharia law is spelled "Syariah" in Malaysian English in accordance with the Malay romanisation system
  6. Jalil Hamid and Liau Y-Sing (13 August 2006). "Malaysia braces for ruling on Islam conversion". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 6 September 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
  7. Shah Yacob, Imran Imtiaz (27 April 2007). "Doing the Impossible: Quitting Islam in Malaysia". Asia Sentinel. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
  8. Pressly, Linda (15 November 2006). "Life as a secret Christian convert". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
  9. "Lina Joy Loses Appeal". theStarOnline. Archived from the original on 1 June 2007. Retrieved 30 May 2007.
  10. Suaram (30 May 2007). "Lina Joy loses appeal to drop 'Islam' from her NRIC (The Sun)". Retrieved 7 June 2007.
  11. "Lina Joy loses appeal to drop 'Islam' from her NRIC". Sun2Surf. Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2007.
  12. The Sun, Thursday 31 May 2007, p. 2.
  13. "All eyes on Lina Joy case". The Star (Malaysia). 25 June 2006. Archived from the original on 1 June 2007. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
  14. "Commission to study religious-sensitive cases". The Star (Malaysia). 11 April 2007. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2007.
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