Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Lesson Learnt for All Buddhists

Muslim convert can go back to Buddhism

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Sya­riah Appeals Court has upheld an earlier order made by the High Court here to allow a Muslim convert Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah to revert to Buddhism.
A three-member panel who presided over the case as the highest authority in the Syariah Jurist System here, found that the respondent did not practise Islam from the start of her conversion, which began after she took an oath of allegiance and recited holy words in Arabic.

In delivering the judgment, Justice Datuk Ibrahim Lembut said it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that Siti Fatimah whose birth name is Tan Ean Huang, 39, from Nibong Tebal, did not practise Islam and had not embraced the religion sincerely.

Happy with the outcome: Siti Fatimah (centre) celebrating with her cousin Tan Chin Khoon (left) and aunt Goh Kui Choo after the court session at the Penang Syariah Appeals Court in George Town Monday.

The two other judges were Datuk Muhammad Asri Abdullah and Datuk Abu Bakar Ahmad.
Justice Ibrahim noted that there were differing opinions among the panel members on whether Muslims were allowed to renounce their faith.

However, they agreed that in Siti Fatimah’s case, she was a convert who did not realise the consequences of her actions when she embraced Islam.

After hearing arguments from the plaintiff, which is the state Islamic Religious Council, and the respondent’s lawyer Ahmad Jailani Abdul Ghani, Ibrahim, Justice Ibrahim said Islam was sacred so its followers must adopt its teachings faithfully.

“However, we cannot impose its teachings on non-believers nor force people to embrace Islam,” he added.

The judges took into account two main aspects before making a decision on the appeal by the council to set aside the state Syariah High Court’s decision.

They are whether the court has the legal right to allow a renouncement of the faith and whether it can decide the status of a convert who had not practised the required religious teachings.
Ibrahim said the case was an isolated one because Siti Fatimah had proven that she did not practise the religion. He stressed that if there was evidence that converts had practised the religion after their conversion, the court would have the right to disallow renouncement.

During the proceedings, Siti Fati­mah who is a hawker, testified that she converted to Islam in July 1998 for the sake of marrying an Iranian named Ferdoun Ashanian in 1999.

Fardoun left her a few months into the marriage and she had no knowledge of his whereabouts since then.

Consequently, Siti Fatimah maintained her Buddhist leanings and prayed daily to deities such as “Tua Pek Kong, Guan Yin and Thni Kong.”

Siti Fatimah told journalists that she would be praying at a Taoist temple in Nibong Tebal to express her gratitude that she had finally managed to resolve a disturbing personal issue despite it taking more than 10 years to conclude.


Let this be a lesson for all Buddhists not to place mistaken love (that kind of mushy-mushy boyfriend-girlfriend kind of know what I mean!!) above our faith in Buddhism. We must always place our refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha first. In her case, she should have placed Guan Yin first, and perhaps find a 'Buddhist' boyfriend like herself.

And I know some Malaysian Buddhists have this holier-than-thou attitude in the sense that they think they are more Buddhist than this lady. These group of people think that because this lady is only partially Buddhist, and partially Taoist or maybe mixed, she is dragging Buddhism into this mess and that she doesnot deserve any sympathy from Buddhists. Worse, some people may think that she is trying to draw sympathy, and whatever else criticism they can hurl at her.

However, I personally think this kind of attitude from supposed true Buddhists is incorrect. I think it doesnot matter what label she places her religion and it doesnot matter that perhaps she had made a mistake in her part in placing her love for her boyfriend first over her religion at that time, nevertheless we, as supposed true Buddhists, should help and support her to regain back her faith in Guan Yin officially. She may be confused between what is Buddhism and what is Taoism and she may worship Tua Pek Kong and Tni Kong (God of Heaven, equivalent to Jade Emperor), but all these doesnot matter. If she wants to continue worshipping Guan Yin, whether she thinks of her as a Taoist Goddess or Buddhist bodhisattva, it doesnot matter to me - because Guan Yin is Guan Yin. To me, she has the right to worship her in whatever form. If that is Buddhism to her, I will rejoice over her decision to come back to it.

Of course, unofficially, she may not ahve left her faith in Guan Yin. And even if we cannot help her, we should rejoice over her victory in this court case, instead of condemning her. On her part, I hope she had learned her lessons not to so easily give up our faith in the Buddha, his teachings, and his Noble Order.

I personally hope to see more support from Buddhist organisations, temples and Sangha members in giving more support to people like her, even though I am not sure what form of support that we can give her. Nevertheless, we should not see her as any less a Buddhist than what we are. It doesnot matter what her level of knowledge or belief she has, even if there is just 1% of Buddhism in her, let's all do what we can, even if this means just praying for her well-being. Protecting Buddhism is our responsibility, even if it is just 1 percent.

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