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Whilst we may argue whether democracy and justice gives us the right to believe or not to believe, there must be human compassion and a fair resolution for the sufferings of those kept separate and apart by


Opening Speech at the “Malaysia after Lina Joy – a dialogue”

by Lim Guan Eng



(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Has the Federal Court decision in Lina Joy divided our country even more? Let us look at reactions from one side of the divide against the Federal Court decision:

Denying basic human rights, Infringement of their human rights…. include the right to marry a partner of their choice and to choose their country of domicile, as they would have to leave Malaysia should they wish to marry non-Muslims.  

Their reproductive rights are also affected in that they are denied the right to bear children within a legitimate marriage. All these rights are enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Malaysia ratified in 1995.


Joint statement by All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) and Women’s Development Collective (WDC)  

The majority judgement has denied the individual a right guaranteed under the constitution, a right to freedom of conscience and choice of religion On this our 50th anniversary of Merdeka, we cannot feel a strong sense of celebration when a citizen like Lina Joy, and others like her, are denied their fundamental rights, taken away from them from the very courts that are duty bound to protect the civil liberties of all citizens and treat all as equal under the law.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM)

On the other side of the divide,

For many of us, this is clearly an issue of administrative procedure. However this has unfortunately been championed into a cause célèbre for the complete secularisation of Malaysian society and to undermine the position of Islam in this country by turning it into a human rights issue – that of religious freedom under Article 11, in its wake generating unhealthy tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In our enthusiasm to champion religious freedom, let us not turn our backs on these mechanisms and institutions that have held together our complex society and the source of our much praised religious harmony.

                                                                      Muslims Professional Forum

…those hoping for an opposite outcome to reconsider their position and to consider modifying their expectations to suit what is good and more sustainable considering our realities”.


On 30 May 2007, the Federal Court decided by a 2-1 majority that only the syariah court can decide whether a person can renounce Islam or is still a Muslim. The dichotomy remains between those who hold that our Federal Constitution is secular in nature and content against those who insist that irregardless Malaysia is in reality already an Islamic state. 

The 2-1 Federal Court decision with a strong dissenting judgment reflects the same divide nation-wide unfortunately in the same proportion as our religious make-up. Amongst human rights activists and non-Muslims, this was seen as a wrong decision completely contrary to the Federal Constitution. The 1957 social contract that gave us Merdeka clearly established a constitution with a secular nature but enshrining Islam as the religion of the Federation. 

This was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the Che Omar Che Soh case in 1988 when it declared that the Malaysian Constitution is secular and does not make Malaysia an Islamic state. In that judgment, Chief Justice Tun Salleh Abas ruled that the syariah law was not the basic law of the land and that the constitution was the supreme law. Unless there is a constitutional amendment Malaysia is and never was an Islamic state. 

In the light of that judgement, whilst legal jurists may be able to distinguish and even reconcile the two cases as compatible and consistent, for purposes of clarity there should be a review. Since the Federal Court can review its own decision, there a 9-man bench should be appointed to revisit and reevaluate this position once and for all. 

I leave that to the legal experts in our panel tonight. There is a sense of determination amongst our proponents in revisiting their respective views reflecting the heightened enthusiasm amongst our audience.  

We wish to thank our distinguished panel of speakers for allowing us to hold the first ever dialogue in Malaysia between Muslims and non-Muslims on “Malaysia After Lina Joy” to promote public discourse and respect for freedom of religion and conscience as well as compassion for the human suffering of Muslim and non-Muslim families.  

DAP believes that reason will prevail over emotion and logic will overpower irrationality. Even the police (which we thank) has granted a permit for this forum, that engages both Muslim and non-Mulsims alike in a important multi-religious dialogue that we hope will both empower and inspire our minds and thoughts. 

DAP’s view is that this decision goes against the fundamental human right of freedom of religion as enshrined under Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The Lina Joy case has not only violated and diminished our freedom of belief an conscience. Worse this decision may prove the death blow to the constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion, the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land and above all, the sacred Merdeka “social contract” underlying the constitution that Malaysia is a secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state.  

Legal jurists may question whether the syariah courts exercise exclusive powers of jurisdiction over Muslims that can not be questioned by the civil courts, especially when such exercise is not clearly defined and contrary to our Federal Constitution. What is the meaning of Article 11 of the right of freedom of religion if Muslims who declare that they wish to leave the religion are punished with fines, jail or detention or  ‘rehabilitation’? 

Dr Azmi Sharom, have forcefully argued  that the ‘authority’ vested in syariah courts comes from a line in Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution that says states can make laws punishing Muslims who act against the ‘precepts’ of the religion. Azmi stresses that apostasy is not expressly mentioned, therefore everything hinges on the question as to what makes up the ‘precepts’ of Islam, which is subjective in nature.   

This dialogue will examine the concerns amongst some Muslims is that any different result in Lina Joy may threaten the basis and superior position of Islam as the religion of our country against the fears of non-Muslims that the secular basis of our country is being encroached by a theocratic Islamic state. Whilst we debate over the ideals and principles of rights and obligations we should not ignore the human impact and suffering brought about by Lina Joy’s case. 

We have cases like Suresh from Tebong, Melaka whose wife was taken away and detained for 6 months for purposes of rehabilitation. And his 16 month old daughter was forcibly taken away from him because he was not a Muslim and had no parental right unless he converted to Islam. 

We have a complainant with us here tonight Kasturi A/P Palaniandy who converted to Islam from Hindu faith before she was 18 by the Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor contrary to Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution which accords such rights solely to the guardian or the parent. Now she wants to leave the religion with her husband who had also converted to Islam from Hindu faith but both can not do so. Are they serious about leaving the faith they converted. I will leave them with our Muslim friends to address this matter in the spirit of trust and faith. 

Compassion is necessary. We should understand the pain and suffering of a Malay Muslim family if their child whom they had so lovingly brought up becomes a non-Muslim, as they say “like cutting out one’s own flesh”. Similarly we should also see the pain and suffering of a non-Malay family “of cutting one’s own flesh” when their child converts to Islam against their wishes, and then later wishes to revert back to her old religion but is prevented from doing so. There should be compassion to such human suffering. 

There is a young Chinese lady who left her family and converted to Islam out of love for a Malay Muslim man. They had two children and when the man wanted to marry again, she filed for divorce. The Syariah courts gave her custody of her two young children but she wishes to revert to her original religion.  

Unfortunately, if she does revert to her original religion, she would lose custody of her children to her husband who are considered as Muslims. She wants to marry a non-Muslim who refuses to convert. What is she going to do? After Lina Joy’s case, she fled to Singapore. These are the sufferings of both Muslim and non-Muslim families and if we can see through eyes of compassion instead of religious victories by lessening their sufferings, then we would have made the world a better place. 

Let us take the first step with this historic dialogue filled not with emotion but reason and armed not with violence but compassion and concluding with real commitments rather than vague aspirations.



* Lim Guan Eng, Secretary-General of DAP

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