(photo: International Christian Network)

A Malaysian woman who was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity is learning the peril that comes with that decision in a Muslim-controlled society.

WND columnist Michelle Malkin is telling the story of the woman who was born Azlina binti Jailani but changed her name to Lina Joy and was baptized a Catholic in a Kuala Lumpur church.

It parallels in many ways the story of Adbul Rahman of Afghanistan, whose decision to choose Christianity netted him a death sentence, and only the intervention of the highest government authorities under international pressure provided his safety.

Lina Joy wants to marry a Christian man and start a family, but while she converted from Islam in 1990 and was baptized several years later, the government maintains her religious designation as Muslim on her identity card.

That’s significant because if she does marry and have children, they could be taken from her under the Islamic religious law which does not allow parents who are “apostate,” or in defiance of God, to raise children.

So she is asking the Malaysian government to stop classifying her a Muslim. She says the government has no right to tell her what she should believe.

Malkin noted that even Joy’s legal advisor, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, has faced death threats because of his defense of her case.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday summarized her plight:

“While Muslim-majority Malaysia is considered a largely moderate, modern society, renouncing one’s Muslim faith still is considered both sinful and illegal by Islamic authorities – who have gained increasing sway of late. Ms. Joy’s apostasy case, now before Malaysia’s highest court of appeal, has inflamed public debate, divided the legal community … and threatens to set off political tremors in this Southeast Asian nation of 25 million people.”

The circumstance is that before the civil government, which is heavily controlled by Islamic belief, can remove the Muslim designation, it says Joy first must get a decision of the Islamic religious court, a parallel court system in Malaysia, declaring her “apostate.”

She is resisting that, because that conclusion would provide the same result for her: a government standing by to take any children she might have.

The court ruling is expected in the coming weeks.

“We are at a crossroad, whether we go down the line of secular constitutionalism or whether that constitution will now be read subject to religious requirement,” Benjamin Dawson, one of Joy’s lawyers, told the Journal.

A previous court opinion in her case said as long as she is ethnic Malay, she is Muslim, even though the civil constitution in Malaysia guarantees freedom of religion. The court’s opinion said that was not freedom of “choice” but a freedom to practice Islam.

A number of groups working with persecuted Christians around the world have noted the loss of right to marry, the loss of the right to work, illegal imprisonment and even torture of Christians, especially those who choose to leave Islam.

An Islamic scholar, Malkin reported, told the Journal why Muslims cannot leave Islam.

“If Islam were to grant permission for Muslims to change religion at will, it would imply it has no dignity, no self-esteem,” said Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, of Malaysia’s Institute of Islamic Understanding.

“And then people may question its completeness, truthfulness and perfection,” he said.

“Got that?” wrote Malkin. “It’s a Religion of Peace of those who submit, and a Religion of Pieces for those who even dare think of leaving.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said the court hearing will focus on whether she does, in fact, need that religious court declaration that she is apostate before the civil court can move.

The Becket Fund said the government’s refusal violates customary international law protecting freedom of conscience as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It also violates the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Malaysia is legally bound, the Becket Fund said.

The earlier case involving Rahman, who now chooses to be identified as Joel, did have a happy conclusion.

As WND reported, he reached Italy where he was granted asylum after he had been charged with the death sentence under Afghanistan’s Islamic law.

International pressure was credited with having prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Rahman, or Joel, reportedly converted to Christianity 16 years ago in Germany while working with an international Christian organization. He was charged with crimes carrying the death penalty after he was seen holding a Bible in Afghanistan.

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