A Malaysian Islamic court Thursday allowed a Chinese convert to renounce Islam in a rare decision for this conservative Muslim-led nation.
Apostasy, or renouncing the faith, is one of the gravest sins in Islam and a very sensitive issue in Malaysia where Islamic sharia courts have rarely allowed such renunciations and have also jailed apostates.
Penang Sharia Court judge Othman Ibrahim said he had no choice but to allow an application by cook Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah to renounce her faith and return to Buddhism.
"The court has no choice but to declare that Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah is no longer a Muslim as she has never practiced the teachings of Islam," Othman told a packed courtroom.
"I order the conversion certificate to be nullified," he added.
Siti Fatimah or Tan Ean Huang, 38, said she had never practiced Islamic teachings since she converted in 1998 and only did so to enable her to marry Iranian Ferdoun Ashanian.
The couple married in 2004 but since then her husband has left her following which she filed for the renunciation.
Othman said it was clear from witnesses and the evidence presented that Siti had continued to practice Buddhism even after her conversion.
He rebuked the state Islamic religious council for not counseling and looking after the welfare of new converts.
"In this case, it is clear that the council has failed to live up to its responsibilities and the outcome is clear for all to see," he said.
Siti said she was happy with the court's decision.
"I'm relieved that the matter is finally settled after two years and I am now looking forward to doing something with my life again," she said.
Islam is Malaysia's official religion. More than 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people are Muslim Malays.
The Islamic sharia courts operate in parallel to civil courts here but apply specifically to Muslims.
The court's verdict comes amid racial and religious tensions in multiracial Malaysia, where minority religious groups fear their rights are being undermined, even though the country is traditionally seen as moderate.