Friday, January 25, 2008

Apostasy in Malaysia - A Muslim's Perspective

Much discussion and debate has taken place in recent times on the issue of whether Muslims have or ought to have the right to apostasise. Participants in this discussion involve not only muslims but also non-muslims who are vociferous in their insistence that muslims have the right to apostasise.

From the theological point of view, there are Islamic scholars who contend that an apostate who refuses to recant his apostasy is to be punished with death whilst there are other Islamic scholars who contend that the death punishment is only to be meted out where the apostate is guilty also of actions akin to treason as where for example he actively involves himself in "waging war" against the religion of Islam and/or the community of muslims.

In Malaysia the administration of the religion of Islam is provided by the Federal Constitution as falling within the jurisdiction of the State Authority and not the Federal Authority and hence there exists differences in the administration of Islam amongst the various States. In Negeri Sembilan for instance, there exists provision and procedure that govern the situation where a muslim intends to apostasise. These include, amongst others, the requirement that the intending apostate has to undergo counselling by the State Islamic authorities before any further steps can be taken in the matter. In most, if not all other States, there is no specific provision, procedure or guideline providing for such a situation.

Leaving aside the theological aspects of the issue, it is incumbent to also examine the practical aspects surrounding the issue. It is submitted that a muslim should not be allowed to apostasise at his own whim and fancy but perhaps may be allowed to do so only after he has attended counselling by the State Islamic authority who should be empowered to examine whether his choice to apostasise has been influenced by deception, ignorance, threat or inducement.

It must be borne in mind that Islam, unlike other religions practised in Malaysia, has it own comprehensive set of laws that apply to and govern the conduct of its
adherents. Christianity too in its early days had a similar set of laws for its followers but it was later abandoned when Christianity lost its way due to the teachings of Paul a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus.

Where a set of religious laws apply to and is implemented over the followers of a religion, then it is impracticable and illogical to allow any of those followers to freely apostasise for to do so would create chaos in society.

To allow apostasy at a person's whim and fancy can result in a person having one set of laws apply to him on Sunday, a different set of laws on Monday, the earlier set of laws on Tuesday, the latter set of laws on Wednesday and so on and so forth. This will of necessity create chaos in that community.

Even from the non-muslim point of view it is disadvantageous to their own community to have muslims being able to freely apostasise.

To illustrate this we may take an example of a Christian couple. Let us say that after some years of marriage the husband tires of her and prefers another Christian lady. Rather than file for divorce and wait a protracted period of time for his divorce to be finalized, that is assuming in the first place that he has sufficient and appropriate grounds for asking for a divorce, the easiest way for him in this situation is for him and that Christian lady to convert to Islam and to get married even if they do not truly believe in Islam. Thereafter upon his divorce from the first wife being effected and their aim achieved all that is then necessary is for him and his new wife to apostasise and to revert to Christianity. They would have succeeded in defeating the legal system in place and the husband is free to adopt the same procedure again should he later tire of the new wife.The net result would be a mockery of and abuse of the legal system. Where however the husband and that Christian lady are aware that it is impossible or possible only after great difficulty to apostasise out of Islam, they would surely think a thousand times about adopting such a course if they did not truly believe in the religion of Islam, thereby ensuring that the legal system in place is not easily abused.

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