Malaysia: Christian lawyer loses appeal to practice in sharia courts

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By Mark Ellis

Victoria Martin
Victoria Martin

Christian lawyer Victoria Martin lost her appeal on March 24th to represent clients in Malaysia’s sharia (Islamic law) courts, according to a report by Morning Star News.

In Malaysia, all ethnic Malays are considered Muslim, according to the constitution. Any ethnic Malay who leaves Islam is declared non-Malay. If Malays want to change their religion, they must go to a sharia court first. These courts specify a period of “re-education” for such petitioners and usually reject their requests to leave Islam.

All lawyers who practice in sharia courts in Malaysia must be Muslims, while in nearby Singapore and other countries, non-Muslims are allowed to practice in sharia courts.

In Malaysia, non-Muslims and those desiring to leave Islam are faced with the issue of being represented by Muslims.

Martin studied at the International Islamic University and received a Diploma in Sharia Law, as well as a Master’s in Comparative Law. She applied to practice in the sharia court in Kuala Lumpur. She was turned down because she is not a Muslim, according to Morning Star.

She appealed and won at the appellate level in 2013. In 2015, the case went to the highest court in Malaysia, which decided 3 to 2 against Victoria.

The court did not agree that sharia is beyond the reach of civil law, but it ruled the requirement that only Muslims could practice in sharia court did not violate the Federal Constitution.

In a somewhat related case, a Muslim from a tribal group in the Malaysian state of Sarawak was allowed to change his religion to Christian on his national identity card without a letter of release from a sharia court.

“Judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie said this was in accordance with the applicant’s constitutional right to freedom of religion, as he was now an adult,” the Star Online reported.

The convert, however, did have a letter of release from the state Islamic religious council. It is not known if this case will be appealed.

Meanwhile, the ability of ethnic Malays who become followers of Jesus to openly proclaim their Christianity continues to be suppressed in Malaysia, according to Morning Star News.

 

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