Ida Lim | Malay Mail

Rosliza’s identity card currently states that her religion is ‘Islam’ with her Muslim father having in 1994 written down her religion as purportedly being ‘Islam’ when applying for her identity card. – HARI ANGGARA

Selangor resident Rosliza Ibrahim will now proceed to have the government’s official records amended to show that she is a non-Muslim as declared by the Federal Court today, instead of the Muslim status that was previously recorded, her lawyer Aston Paiva confirmed.

Rosliza, now 39, has for years maintained in court that she was born as an illegitimate child to a Buddhist mother and a Muslim father who were not married, and that she is not a Muslim and that laws for Muslims in Selangor do not apply to her.

“She was raised a Buddhist by her mother, she continues to profess Buddhism till this day and wants to continue living her life peacefully as a Buddhist in Malaysia,” Aston said of his client in a press statement.

Rosliza’s identity card currently states that her religion is “Islam” with her Muslim father having in 1994 allegedly stating her religion as purportedly being “Islam” when applying for her identity card, but she has been seeking the civil courts’ recognition over the past five years that she is actually not a Muslim and was never a Muslim in the first place.

Rosliza’s lawyers had previously argued that the application form for Rosliza’s identity card cannot be considered as proof of her actual religion as it was allegedly riddled with conflicting details and inconsistent handwritings.

“As a result, her constitutional right to religious freedom, choice of partner and disposition of property are all adversely affected.

“She cannot go to the Syariah court as, by law, she is not even a Muslim in the first place. Thus, there is no question of leaving Islam,” he explained.

Rosliza had started her legal bid back in 2015 with a lawsuit filed via an originating summons in the High Court to have official recognition that she is actually not a Muslim, with the respondents in her lawsuit being the Selangor state government and the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS).

Previously, at the High Court, Rosliza had shown proof that the Islamic religious authorities of the Federal Territories and 11 states (Selangor, Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis and Terengganu) do not have any records of her mother converting to Islam or of her biological parents entering into a Muslim marriage, as well as provided the court with her late mother’s October 8, 2008 statutory declaration of not being married to Rosliza’s father when she was born.

Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal had previously in June 2017 and April 2018 respectively ruled against Rosliza, which led to her appeal involving two legal questions before the Federal Court.

A panel of nine judges at the Federal Court today unanimously ruled in Rosliza’s favour, which means she had won her appeal.

Seven of these judges, who form the majority of the Federal Court panel, also granted all three court orders that Rosliza was seeking, including a declaration that declaration that she is illegitimate and that the late Buddhist woman Yap Ah Mooi is her mother, as well as a declaration that she is not a person professing the religion of Islam and that all Selangor state laws for Muslims do not apply to her and that Selangor Shariah courts do not have jurisdiction over her.

The majority decision to grant all three court orders that Rosliza was seeking came after Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and the six other judges went through extensive facts and evidence that showed Rosliza was never a Muslim and concluding that there was “no proof” that she was ever a Muslim, and also facts that showed Rosliza’s mother Yap was not a Muslim or a Malay.

Two judges in today’s Federal Court panel also ruled in Rosliza’s favour, but declined to grant two out of three of the court orders sought, including the declaration that she is not a Muslim, as they felt that the Selangor fatwa committee’s opinion on whether Rosliza was a Muslim at her birth should be sought first.

Noting the Federal Court’s decision that Rosliza as an illegitimate child born to a Buddhist mother is not a Muslim and would therefore not be subject to the Shariah courts’ jurisdiction, Aston said Rosliza will now pursue amendments in official records on her identity.

“The appellant is relieved by the decision of the Federal Court,” Aston said, referring to Rosliza as the appellant.

“The appellant hopes that this decision will move the executive to reconsider its law and policy on affixing religion on the identity cards of Malaysians, and the legislature to consider law reform on disputes affecting the legal status of Malaysians like her,” he said, referring to the two other arms of the government — executive and legislative. The three branches of the government are the executive, the legislature and judiciary.

“The appellant will now take steps to rectify all her official records with the government to accurately reflect who she is following the Federal Court’s decision today,” he added.

Other lawyers who had represented Rosliza include Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, Yasmeen Soh, Karluis Quek, Quratulain Atiqah and Michael Cheah Ern Tien.

Commenting on the Federal Court’s decision today, lawyer Philip Koh who was holding a watching brief for the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said the organisation welcomes the majority decision of the Federal Court in finding that both the High Court and Court of Appeal had erred in dismissing Rosliza’s claim that she is not a person who professes the religion of Islam.

With seven out of nine judges on the Federal Court panel deciding to grant all three court orders sought by Rosliza, Koh noted that such orders would enable Rosliza to “secure a change of her religious status” in her identity card from Islam to Buddhist.

“The journey of this Buddhist lady and her late mother in establishing her true identity as Chinese Buddhist has found a just resolution today in our apex court. For that, the MCCBCHST warmly welcomes this decision and congratulates her counsel, led by Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram and Aston Paiva,” he said in a press statement.

Rosliza’s mother, who died in February 2009, had in October 2008 affirmed a statutory declaration stating that she and Rosliza’s Muslim father were not married when she was born, and that Rosliza was not brought up as a Muslim.

The journey that started in 2015

Rosliza has been on a long journey in the courts, with her 2015 lawsuit in the High Court seeing Rosliza providing evidence from the Selangor and Federal Territories state Islamic authorities had no records of her or her mother ever converting to Islam or of a Muslim marriage between her parents. This was on top of the 2008 statutory declaration by Rosliza’s mother stating that she never got married to Rosliza’s Muslim father.

Rosliza’s lawsuit was initially dismissed in the High Court on March 3, 2016 with the judge ruling that she was not able to prove that her parents did not enter into a Muslim marriage, with Aston saying: “This was decided based on the High Court’s speculation that they could have gotten married in any of the other 10 states in Malaysia or outside of Malaysia.”

Rosliza then appealed to the Court of Appeal, with the Court of Appeal on October 11, 2016 allowing her appeal and ordered her case to be sent back to the High Court to be reheard before a different High Court judge.

Rosliza then proceeded to get confirmation from the Islamic religious authorities of the 10 other states that they had no record of her mother converting to Islam or a Muslim marriage between her parents, besides also getting the Immigration Department’s confirmation that her mother does not have a passport — a document required to travel out of Malaysia.

Despite such evidence, the High Court on June 22, 2017 dismissed her case, with Aston saying this was based “on a speculation that her natural parents could have gotten married but did not register the marriage”.

The Court of Appeal on April 25, 2018 dismissed Rosliza’s appeal on the grounds that there was no error by the High Court, and found itself bound by a previous court decision in the Lina Joy case, Aston said. The Lina Joy case involved a Malay who was initially a Muslim but had later wanted to be known as a non-Muslim.

This was despite Rosliza’s case not being an issue of renouncing Islam as she was never a Muslim.

Rosliza had then appealed the Court of Appeal decision, and had on January 20, 2020 obtained leave to appeal at the Federal Court for two questions of law.

This appeal was then heard by a full bench of nine judges at the Federal Court on December 16, 2020 after previous rescheduling including when a lawyer for one of the parties in the appeal had to be quarantined as a Covid-19 close contact, which led to today’s decision by the highest court in Malaysia.