Malaysia Muslim convert allowed to renounce Islam

GEORGETOWN, Malaysia Mon Mar 16, 2009 10:46am IST

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GEORGETOWN, Malaysia (Reuters) - A Malaysian religious appeal court in the northern state of Penang granted a woman's wish to formally renounce Islam on Monday, in a rare case where Muslims are allowed to leave the faith.

Siti Fatimah, an ethnic Chinese woman formerly known as Tan Ean Huang, had converted to Islam in 1998 in order to marry her Muslim lover. In Malaysia, a majority Muslim country, non-Muslims must convert to Islam before they can legally marry a Muslim.

"It is clear from the evidence that she converted to Islam just for the sake of marrying an Iranian man," Penang state Sharia Appeal Court judge Ibrahim Lembut said in his ruling.

"She has never followed any aspect of the Islamic teachings and has been living a non-Muslim lifestyle right from the day of her conversion. This shows the conversion itself is doubtful," he said.

Converting is a sensitive topic in this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people and Islamic courts rarely allow Muslims to convert to other religions. Often, they prescribe counselling or sometimes even fine them for apostasy.

The country's best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a battle two years ago to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card.

Other issues have also caused friction and the government recently banned a Catholic newspaper from using the word "Allah" to describe the Christian God in a case that has raised concerns over religious freedoms.

Tan, 39, will have to get the details on her identity card changed but in the meantime is to offer prayers in a Buddhist temple.

"I intend to go home and offer thanksgiving prayers to a temple in Nibong Tebal," said Tan after the hearing, referring to her home town in mainland Penang state.

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