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Friday May 9, 2008

Syariah High Court lets Muslim convert renounce Islam and go back to Buddhism

PENANG: The Syariah High Court here allowed an application by Muslim convert Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah, 39, to renounce Islam and revert to her original faith.

The decision by Perlis Syariah Court chief judge Othman Ibrahim, who presided over the case when he was based in Penang earlier, makes this the first of its kind in the country where a living Muslim convert is allowed to renounce Islam since the Syariah Court Civil Procedure (State of Penang) Enactment 2004 came into force on Jan 1, 2006.

My husband loved me very much and I converted to marry him so that I could follow him back to Iran... SITI FATIMAH TAN ABDULLAH

“From the evidence, it is clear that the plaintiff had not practised the teachings of Islam and had maintained her Buddhist faith.

“Although this court views seriously such matters, this court has no choice but to give her the right to return to her original faith,” said Othman.

He granted Siti Fatimah a declaration that she was no longer a Muslim, and ordered the defendant, the state Islamic Religious Council (MAIPP), to cancel her certificate of conversion to Islam.

However, he did not grant her application to change the religious status on her identity card from Muslim to Buddhist, saying that it did not come under the court’s jurisdiction and she had to pursue the matter with the National Registration Department.

Siti Fatimah, whose Chinese name is Tan Ean Huang, filed the application in May 2006. In her affidavit, she said she converted to Islam in July 1998 for the sake of marrying an Iranian named Ferdoun Ashanian in 1999 but had not practised its teachings.

She said Ferdoun left her a few months after their marriage and she had no knowledge of his whereabouts.

Siti Fatimah, a hawker from Nibong Tebal, said she had maintained her Buddhist leanings and prayed to deities like Tua Pek Kong, Kuan Yin and Thi Kong.

Othman said that Ferdoun, as the person who brought Siti Fatimah into Islam, had failed to guide her in her new faith.

He also said he regretted that the council was not concerned about carrying out its duty involving the welfare of Muslim converts.

“The court regrets that the council did not take quick action to save the plaintiff’s faith,” said Othman.

He said the council should establish procedures to ensure proper supervision of new converts: “If this is not done, it is possible that in future there may be further cases of people coming to court to renounce Islam.”

In citing authorities, Othman said that this case had similarities to the Nyonya Tahir case in 2006 except that Siti Fatimah is still alive while the earlier case involved a person who had died.

He also said that the civil courts in the case of Lina Joy clearly stated that the jurisdiction came under the Syariah Court.

The council’s counsel Ahmad Munawir Abdul Aziz said the council would appeal within the 14-day period, adding that among the concerns was the status of Siti Fatimah’s marriage as her conversion did not dissolve the marriage.

Meanwhile, after leaving the court, Tan went to the Kuan Yin Temple in Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling here to offer thanksgiving prayers.

When pressmen approached her, Tan spoke in Mandarin and Teochew and said she had been waiting for this decision for such a long time.

Related Story:
MCA hails court decision

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