Having freedom of religion also means freedom to choose ones faith or to leave a religion, even if that person was a Muslim.

Such is the view of the panelists in a Bar Council-organised forum on Saturday, which discussed about legal issues surrounding Islam and the secular nature of the Federal Constitution.

“The concept of ‘no coercion in faith’ rings hollow if a Muslim is only able to convert into Islam but is not able to leave the faith,” said Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)founder Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa.

Ahmad Farouk reasserted that the Quranic verse meant that anyone can freely choose what he or she believes in.

“Faith is of the same fabric as love. As long as you can’t enforce love, you can’t enforce faith. If you prevent someone for leaving a religion… means you are trying to create a community of hypocrites. It defeats the purpose, what is the point of it?”

Ahmad Farouk said that Muslims should not be proud to have the ‘number’ of believers, as opposed having true Muslims of quality.

The same verse was made controversial late last year when it was reported that PKR leader Nurul Izzah Anwar suggested that Islam permitted Muslims to denounce their religion in the name of freedom of religion.

However, Nurul later said that her statements were twisted by Malay dailies and threatened to sue.
“We had Nurul Izzah making such as statement, and I am trying to reassert the same thing. It
should be both ways,” he said.

“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Whatever you do, ultimate purpose is faith in the religion, not because of this bumiputera status. Your conversion I don’t think it is real conversion if it is forced.”

“Faith is something that is not between you and state, or society. It is between you and God.

“The issue of people who have converted to decide to leave Islam and they were prevented. The law says you can convert to be a Muslim but you cannot convert out. To me, as an Islamic activist and as a person who hold fast to this principle of freedom of religion, that should not be the case.”

Ahmad Farouk further said that freedom to believe in God also meant “freedom in sin”, referring to moral policing happening in Malaysia.

“For Muslims to be true Muslims, they must live in a secular, a state that does not enforce how Islam is being practiced on its citizens.”

“If someone refrains from taking alchohol, for example, it is a moral choice. Means that reasons he refuses to drink is not because he is afraid of JAKIM or what, but because there is God,” he said.

Meanwhile, Syarie lawyer Nizam Bashir argued that enforcing religion was doing injustice to Islam.

“It makes no sense to force someone to do something. It is fundamental in Islam. If you are preventive someone from leaving the religion, that’s injustice to Islam, and doing injustice to God. Freedom is God given,” he said.

Nizam said that a person converts into Islam for many reasons, including marriage, and said that it was “unfortunate” that the current legislation that prohibits from being with each other on whatever faith.
“It is next to impossible for a Christian to marry a Muslim,” said Nizam.

Nizam also agreed with a participant who said that there is no laws on murtad(apostasy) and said that the problem with making apostasy a crime was that the state has to recognize that the person was no longer Muslim.

“If you assume that apostacy that it is a crime in Islam. How do you go to court to ask to commit a crime? Usually the charge is on ‘insult to Islam”.

Lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar concurred, and explained the Catch-22 situation: “Once they charge you for apostacy, they recognize that you are no longer Islam, so they no longer have jurisdiction [in the Syariah court].”

Among the reasons people convert, said Malik, included people were uncomfortable with ‘state-defined Islam’, those who were practicing other religions but was registered as Muslims in one way or another, or those who embraced Islam for the purpose of marriage.

“Those who leave the religion for another religion altogether are very very few,” he said.