H.E. Dr. Rajmah Hussain
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Malaysia to the United States
Dear Dr. Hussein,
I am writing to express my tremendous disappointment at the High Court of Malaysia's denial of Lina Joy's request to remove "Islam" from her identity card. According to the High Court, only the Sharia, or Muslim Religious court, could grant Ms. Joy the permission she seeks. It goes without saying the Sharia court will never grant her request.
With all due respect Your Excellency, that is like saying that an innocent person who has been framed by the police and wrongfully imprisoned can only be granted his freedom with the permission of the very same police officers who framed him for the crime he did not commit.
From what I have read, Ms. Joy has been attending a Christian church since 1990 and was baptized in 1998. It is quite evident, based on this, that her conversion has been neither whimsical nor fanciful, as alleged by a demonstrator quoted in a BBC article.
As an atheist, I have no personal preference as to whether Ms. Joy wishes to be a Muslim, a Christian, or a member of any other religion that is recognized under Malaysian law. But what is important to me about this particular case is what I consider to be one of the most important freedoms of all, the right to freedom of belief.
The United States, as you know from being your country's ambassador here, is a majority Christian nation. But our nation's constitution protects the free exercise of religion and respects the rights of all of its citizens to practice the faith of their choice, or in my case, to not practice any religion at all.
Just as important, the laws of my country take no position with respect to a person's decision to abandon one religion and adopt another. There are a number of examples of American citizens who were raised as Christians but who later converted to Islam. Two prominent Americans who became converts to Islam are Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. There was no law that said that these two wellknown public figures could not convert to Islam and they were able to practice their new religion freely.
Having been at one time a devout Roman Catholic, I contend that one's religious faith is a deeply personal belief that links the believer to the Divine as he or she understands it. It is not for the state or any self appointed body of individuals, such as a Sharia Court, to tell the believer whether he or she can convert to a new religion from the one he or she had been raised in since childhood. Otherwise, why can't that same court dictate to a person over whom it claims jurisdiction what kind of music or what flavor of ice cream that person can choose?
I would argue that when a religious body seeks to prevent a person who formerly adhered to that religion from legally identifying with a new religion, that religious body is admitting that it is morally bankrupt. It essentially amounts to saying, "Well, if our God is incapable of touching the heart of this person so that she remains within our faith, then we will use the coercive apparatus of the state to prevent her from legally leaving that faith." In other words, when faith and devotion fail, terror and oppression must take its place.
Since I understand that Lina Joy has exhausted her appeals under the law, I would respectfully request that the laws of Malaysia be amended to deny the Sharia Courts the jurisdiction to decide on the right of Malaysian citizens to change their religion from Islam to another religion recognized under Malaysian law. This is a fundamental right that all citizens throughout the world should have.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your reply.