Dear Miss Joy,
They shouted Allah Akhbar after Ahmad Fairuz and Alauddin decided you could not have the word, Islam, deleted from your identity card. Did you hear them? You were probably absent that Wednesday morning, May 30 this year, but we are almost certain you at least heard the timbre in the echo. You know what we mean…
It was none of their business, anyway, whether you chose to be Muslim or not. But, shouting outside the Palace of Justice, they claim to speak for their god with the insistence that you be tried as a Muslim, before anything and everything else. It would be a trial based on their faith, not yours.
If this were necessary, they will have to try any Malaysian who decides to give up her citizenship for, say, South Africa. Since this is absurd, they will then turn to another claim; you insulted Islam by the fact of your abandonment. So herein is another absurdity: the creator needing protection from the created, and that for imagined insults. But, more to the point, your god now is not their god ….
Did you read of what Badawi said about following the law? That’s what Fairuz also said in essence: follow the rules. If so, then you might want to ask, what rules? What are the rules you had entered into voluntarily that now require your strict observation?
They had made Islam your birthright like it was your citizenship. That was the law into which you were born. You will never be tried for giving up citizenship, why then for religion?
But Islam, they will answer, is not only special; it must be taken seriously also. That was what Fairuz implied as well, religion is a serious matter. But who says it isn’t?
For three years, you were back and forth to solicitors, to have identity documentations notarised, and to the National Registration Department in Petaling Jaya. Then for another three years, you were in and out of lawyer offices and courtrooms on the same quest. Are these not demonstrations of seriousness, never mind the expense that has depleted your savings and the hours and nights worrying without sleep. Has anyone threatened harm?
For all these efforts and sacrifices, they still say, be serious. Yet for being serious, and for years, the rules took you nowhere. Then there is the Constitution. It is also law, is it not? It counts for nothing to be taken seriously?
They say Islam is special. But that, we know, was never the point of your endeavour. It may be special to people who held it in their hearts, and those who chose voluntarily to accept it as a way of life. But what has it being special to others anything to do with you, especially since it was law that made you Muslim and not the other way around, embracing the faith for the law?
If the law made you a Muslim by default at birth, then offer a law the same way out. But every law has made manifestly clear you shall be first tried or punish in one form or another like they are holding judgement day on behalf of god on earth. Is this what they mean by, special? That it is, easy in and impossible out? That man assumes god’s place on earth?
There are protections offered in the Constitution against such special tyranny and how you may also turn away from it. But every other lawyer and every other judge sitting before you ignore them, spit on them. Who is not following the law?
You wanted nothing more, only to be somebody else in conscience, hence in name. On such a simple, personal matter, how could it be wrong? The name, Lina Joy, was always secondary, wasn’t it? And that’s why you once changed your mind over the second name. It was the conscience part….
“It would (be) extremely difficult to exercise freedom of conscience in the present environment,” one newspaper quoted you to say. These are the actual words of your lawyer, but if it is true that the meaning also belongs to you, you may not be entirely correct.
Conscience is not a horse you make drink out of a well. Yet, this is what they want to make you do. And it is why they will let you have a new name but won’t change your religious status as if they own the religion. They may issue commandments on behalf of their god, but they cannot make you obey them, that is, drink out of their well, for their god is not your god. That, Lina, is ultimate freedom. Think of it. They cannot make you into their image and make you feel and think the way they feel and think. All they have to go on is a name of a religion on an identity card.
That card is yours, we know, and that alone is the problem, which leads to more: who you marry, whether to have children, what you wear, when and what to eat and drink, what names to give the children, what school, what kind of a savings account, who to despise, who to love, and on and on. None of these has anything to do with freedom of conscience. It may have to do with the exercise thereof, and in that sense you are right.
Those things might have been reasons behind your leaving. But, for the same reasons, they are also the methods they like to use to force–keep you. And that is on top of the laws and the rules.
What is to be done now? We don’t know. Perhaps you are yourself uncertain with the answer also. You have come this far, and this says a lot already. It also says how far ahead you are of other persons, including all the eminent specimens of Malaysian society, the ministers, the parliamentarians, the lawyers, the judges, the government officers, and all those minders of religion. You should be Woman of the Year; no, the Century. But they don’t give out such titles, even if they mean anything.
Character counts. And – what, ten years now? – this odyssey has revealed of your person in possession of strength and truth in character, with the steadfastness of thought, the liberty of mind, and the clarity of conscience. If Malaysia is to have a true daughter tomorrow, she too should be named Lina.
All that might have been characteristic of the Malay person, but no more. You are one of the last of the lot. Your misfortune, Lina, is not the fact of your conversion. It is because you were Malay before you were born and before they stuck onto you a religious tag, and the minders of the same religion are now keen to demolish the remnants of it, in your past, in your person.
Can you hear them now? There is a lynch mob at the Palace gates.
Run Lina, run. Never mind the shouting, only save yourself.
Sincerely, and all the best to you,