Zarina Abdul Majid's wedding was disrupted by Selangor Islamic Religious Department officials last month (AFP Photo)
An Indian woman whose Hindu wedding was recently disrupted by Selangor Islamic officials insisting she is Muslim despite her efforts to leave Islam has again put the spotlight on the difficulties in exiting the religion in Malaysia.
Like many Malaysians who dispute their official identities as Muslims, she was told to go to the Shariah courts in order to remove the status from her official documents.
Despite being the standard response in such instances, little is known of the procedure and potential dangers — detention, fines, jail, whipping and even a theoretical death sentence — that one might face in such applications.
In a recent interview with The Malay Mail Online, the Department of Syariah Judiciary Malaysia (JKSM) said that the Islamic courts are the only place according to current laws for Malaysians seeking to be no longer known as a Muslim.
Non-Muslim or apostate?
Explaining the process for a switch in religious status, JKSM identified two types of applications at the Shariah courts, namely to renounce Islam or for a declaration that one is no longer Muslim.
The first involves practising Muslims regardless of ethnicity who want to renounce Islam and convert to other faiths; the JKSM said it could not find any such application in its official records, however.
For the second type of application, JKSM further carves up applicants into three categories. The first subgroup are those mistakenly listed as Muslims because of naming conventions, typically involving residents of Sabah and Sarawak.
Another group covers those who embraced Islam but now wish to revert to being non-Muslims, which includes applicants who had converted when marrying a Muslim but want out of the religion after the marriage fails.
The last includes non-practising Muslims who want to be recognised as non-Muslims, with this third group cutting across ethnicity; this includes those who were born as Muslims and “by virtue of the documents are Muslims, but never practise the religion of Islam”, it said.
Children from an initial non-Muslim marriage who were unilaterally converted by one of the parents who had converted to Islam also fall within this third group. They may apply personally to be recognised as non-Muslims once they are 18 years old.
According to Muslim non-governmental organisation Sisters in Islam, Islamic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir had in 2011 said that the Shariah Courts had only approved a total of 135 out of 686 applications by Muslims seeking to change their religious status for the 2000-2010 period.
Full Story: Path to leave Islam simple, but far from easy
Source: The Malay Mail Online