Federal Court grants woman leave to appeal over religious status

22 May 2023 03:45pm
Image for illustrative purposes only. - FILE PIX
Image for illustrative purposes only. - FILE PIX

PUTRAJAYA - A 37-year-old woman gets a nod from the Federal Court to proceed with her appeal against a Court of Appeal decision to reinstate her as a Muslim.

This was after the Federal Court three-member bench led by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli allowed the woman’s application to be given leave to pursue her appeal against the appellate court’s decision to the Federal Court.

Both the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the Selangor state government did not object to her application.

Federal Court judges Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof and Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan were the other two judges presiding with Justice Abdul Rahman who heard the woman’s leave to appeal application today.

Following the court’s decision today, the Federal Court will hear and decide six questions of law at the hearing of the appeal proper which will be fixed at a later date.

The woman has proposed four questions of law while Mais and the state government were allowed by the Federal Court to include one question of law each for the Federal Court to decide.

Among the questions of law were if a Syariah Court order is invalid, can that order be challenged collaterally in the Civil High Court and whether Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution is applicable.

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Another question is whether the civil courts have the power to reverse a finding of facts made by the Syariah Court in the determination of matters of Islamic law and doctrine.

In civil cases, litigants must first get leave from the court before they can proceed to file their appeal to the Federal Court.

On Dec 21, 2021, the High Court in Shah Alam allowed the woman’s suit and declared that she is not a Muslim. On Jan 13 this year, however, the Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 majority decision allowed the appeals by Mais and the Selangor state government to reinstate the woman as Muslim.

In her originating summons, the woman, who was born a Hindu to a Hindu father and a Buddhist mother in 1986, said she was turning five years old when she was converted to Islam unilaterally by her mother in 1991 when her parents were in the midst of a divorce. The conversion took place at the Selangor Islamic religious department's (Jais) office.

Her mother then married a Muslim man in 1993 and her father died in an accident three years later.

The woman claimed that despite her conversion to Islam, her mother and stepfather allowed her to continue to practise the Hindu faith. She claimed that she never professed the religion of Islam.

On Dec 12, 2013, the woman filed a summons at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court for a declaration that she was no longer a Muslim. On July 20, 2017, the Syariah High Court dismissed her summons and the Syariah Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal on Aug 1, 2017, prompting her to file a suit in the Civil High Court.

Lawyers Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and A. Surendra Ananth represented the woman while lawyers Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla and Majdah Muda acted for Mais and Selangor State legal adviser Datuk Salim Soib@Hamid appeared for the Selangor state government. - BERNAMA