Hindu Extremists in Eastern India Attack Christians Coming Off Bus

Prayer service of a native ministry whose workers were attacked by Hindu extremists in Bihar state, India. (GEMS)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Christians on their way to a recent Christian camp in eastern India shared the purpose of their trip with fellow bus passengers, not realizing one of them was a Hindu extremist.

He began to argue about conversion with the Christians, mostly women and children, including a native missionary from a ministry based in India. Soon the hard-line Hindu began cursing and accusing the Christians of “always converting innocent and poor villagers.”

When they arrived at the bus station in Bettiah, Bihar state, on Feb. 26, after the 60-kilometer (38-mile) trip from Bagaha, 60 to 70 angry Hindu extremists were waiting for them. The hard-line Hindu had made phone calls to Hindu nationalist groups.

The mob separated out the native missionary for the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS), D. Joseph, as well as another Christian, Baldev Singh, and assaulted them, said the Rev. Mariosh Joseph, coordinator of GEMS in Bihar.

He said D. Joseph sustained several internal injuries and was hospitalized in a state of deep shock, and that Singh also was hospitalized with multiple injuries, including internal damage to his ear that caused some loss of hearing.

“It was evident from the mob that it was a pre-planned attack,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph told Morning Star News. “There was a media person present to record and publish the entire episode in the media, along with the Hindu extremist mob.”

The Hindu mob interrogated the Christians, asking them the purpose of their visit, said the GEMS zonal superintendent, identified only as Pastor Palanivelu.

“They told the Christians that they were visiting to lure the innocent and poor villagers with money and benefits and fool them into becoming Christians,” Pastor Palanivelu said.

Native missionary D. Joseph told the mob about the camp and denied their allegations, and the Hindu nationalists began to use foul language as they threatened the Christians, Pastor Palanivelu said.

“Even being in a public place, no one came to their rescue, and passersby were mere spectators as the mob beat both the Christians mercilessly, while the other Christian teammates cried for help,” he told Morning Star News.

Traffic officers heard the commotion and tried to rescue the Christians, but they were overpowered by the mob, he said. Additional police were called to get the situation under control.

“Some of the women got so frightened that they fled the site and returned home from the bus station itself without attending the camp,” he said, adding that at least 11 women from the bus went on to the camp.

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said the mob was trained in the ways of Hindu nationalist violence.

“The right-wing groups are specially instructed to hit in a way that they do not bleed anyone externally, but cause gruesome injuries internally,” he told Morning Star News.

Police Bias

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said police initially told him that they were investigating a complaint of forcible/fraudulent conversion, and that the superintendent of police later told him they were treating it as a case of human trafficking.

“The police in most of the cases are biased and try to see how they can frame the victims, rather than doing the other way around,” he said.

Police recorded the statements of D. Joseph and Singh but refused to file a First Information Report, though a Medico-Legal Case was filed against unknown persons, he said.

The camp took place as planned on Feb. 26-28, Pastor Mariosh Joseph said.

“Though such an incident of violence against the Christian believers happened, the meeting continued, and the people were blessed and inspired by the Word of God,” he said.

GEMS reported 12 incidents of persecution against its native missionaries last year, and since January three such cases have already been reported. GEMS works in five states in India, primarily Bihar.

“Of late there have been a lot of incidents that have been happening against Christian believers,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph said. “Even if there is a disagreement, violence is not a way.”

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.


As More Christians Are Killed in Somalia, Number of Orphans Grows

Mogadishu, Somalia. (Wikipedia).

NAIROBIKenya (Morning Star News) – Orphans in Somalia whose parents were killed for their faith by Islamic extremist, Al Shabaab rebels are becoming more numerous – and hungrier, an underground church leader said.

The pastor started a care center for the orphans three years ago in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as more children of secret Christians were orphaned.

“Last year we lost a Christian family killed by the Al Shabaab, and the number of children rose from 30 to 35,” he said. “The Al Shabaab are now hunting down the children in Mogadishu, and we have moved the care center to a bit safer location.”

The leader has taken the children in because they had nowhere else to go, but he lacks resources to take care of them – the Christian orphans are crying for food, he said.

“The children look devastated and malnourished, so we as a secret church do appeal to our brothers and sisters in the free world to consider extending a hand to these persecuted children,” the pastor said.

The children receive little support from Somalia’s impoverished underground Christian community, and their needs are increasing as some have begun attending school, he said.

“If we can get at least $1,000 dollars a month, that will really lighten our burden,” he said. “Please pray for the future of the Somalia underground church. The orphaned children will form the future of Somalia’s underground church.”

The death penalty for apostasy is part of Islamic law according to mainstream schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda adhere to the teaching.

Somali law and societal tradition create an atmosphere of hostility toward non-Islamic faiths similar to that created in regimes that execute apostates. The country’s Provisional Federal Constitution (PFC) does not explicitly prohibit Muslims from converting to other faiths, but leaving Islam remains socially unacceptable in all areas, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom.

The PFC provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion but prohibits propagation of any religion other than Islam, and it makes Islam the state religion. All laws must comply with the general principles of sharia (Islamic law), the report states.

The past few years Al Shabaab has lost ground to government and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping forces.

Rebels from Al Shabaab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, in February 2017 shot to death an underground Christian woman and her son and seriously wounded her husband. The family was asleep at their home at dawn in Afgoi, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Mogadishu, when at least four armed men attacked them shouting the jihadist slogan, “Allah Akbar [God is greater],” and, “We cannot allow the defiling of our religion with a foreign, Western religion,” according to the wounded husband.

The assailants killed his wife, 35-year-old convert Faduma Osman, and the couple’s 11-year-old son, Ahmed Suleiman. The couple’s two daughters, 13 and 7, and their 9-year-old son were able to escape out a backdoor.

Possible Terror Attacks During Holy Week in the Philippines

Philippines on alert for Holy Week terror attacks

Philippine authorities have warned of possible terrorist attacks following reports of a new leader taking the reins of the so-called Islamic State group in the region.

Security officials said Abu Dar, reportedly the new leader of the terrorist group in Southeast Asia, has the capability, resources and connections to carry out attacks.

Philippine military spokesman Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin said authorities are “closely monitoring” Manila to ensure that terrorism does not strike there.

He declined to identify areas that may be targeted by the terrorist group, but he assured that these places “are under close watch from us right now.”

Datuin said the military has information that Dar’s group is “organizing, recruiting and retraining … and we cannot discount the possibility of an attack.”

Catholic Church leaders, meanwhile, warned Filipinos to be vigilant, especially during the observance of Holy Week this month.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said “there are always groups out to make trouble.” The prelate appealed to everyone to respect religious observances.

Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the bishops’ conference said “the public should be vigilant lest we become victims of possible terror acts.”

The priest asked law enforcers not only to tighten security around places of worship during Holy Week but to also “be more visible in public.”

“They should improve and make intelligence gathering efficient and truly reliable,” said the priest.

Thousands of Filipinos head to churches and other places of worship during Holy Week, a week-long holiday in the predominantly Catholic country.

On March 3, security forces arrested a leading figure in the terrorist group that attacked the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines last year.

The arrest of Abdul Nasser Lomondot in Manila fueled reports that terror cells were planning to launch attacks in the capital.

Security officials said there is a “big possibility” that some terrorist fighters who escaped the military dragnet in Mindanao are hiding in Manila.

The attack on Marawi on May 23 last year resulted in the death of 974 terrorist gunmen, 168 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians.

About 350,000 people remain in temporary shelters around Marawi following the destruction of the city.

Religious freedom ‘under attack’ in the UK, MPs hear

Freedom of religion is under attack in the UK today from “aggressive secularists” and the religiously illiterate, a Christian MP has said.

Fiona Bruce made the statement during a debate on freedom of religion and belief in Westminster Hall.

The debate was led by Jim Shannon MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

‘Aggressive secularists’

Bruce said: “The hard-won freedom of religion is under attack in the UK today, whether unintentionally by those who lack religious literacy, more deliberately from aggressive secularists, through attacks by one faith on another, or simply by those who ridicule people of faith in the 21st century.”

Marginalising Christians

Marginalising Christians

When ‘diversity rules’ are used to justify suspending a nurse who offered to pray for a patient’s recovery, as happened to Caroline Petrie on 17 December 2008, something has gone very wrong in modern Britain. This report examines the growing marginalisation of Christians and catalogues cases of discrimination.

The Conservative MP for Congleton went on to criticise the Government’s proposed ‘Equality Oath’ which would have forced doctors, teachers and other public office holders to swear to uphold a vague list of ‘British values’.

“Drawing up a new set of beliefs that people have to sign up to could take us back to the 17th century, and attempts to draw one up have been troubled”, she said.

“If the Government are still considering that suggestion, I urge them to reconsider it and to withdraw it”.

‘Secular values’

Foreign Office Minister Mark Field also expressed doubts about the wisdom of an equality oath.

He said: “we might well reflect on [Bruce’s] words about the desirability of insisting that politicians sign up to a pre-election pledge of presumably secular values.

“I hope we can think again before heading down a path that might have the unintended consequences to which she referred.”

Stephen Kerr MP added that freedom of religion “is the right to choose, change, declare and act upon one’s faith. It includes the freedom to worship, but it is much more than that. It is the right to exercise or practise one’s religion without Government interference.”

Bloody clashes in Kaduna as Christian youths resist dating and conversion of Christian girls

Clashes over the forceful conversion of Christian girls to Islam has left 12 people dead in Nigeria’s north-western state of Kaduna.

Several others sustained injuries from gunshots and machetes, while dozens of shops, houses and vehicles were set ablaze in the Kasuwan Magani Community of Kajuru Local Government Area.

The violence erupted  following allegations that Muslim boys were dating Christian girls and converting them to Islam and eventually marrying them.

Abdulwahab Jibo, a local Muslim youth, said tension had been growing between Muslim and Christian youths for two weeks before the clash.

Jibo alleged that the authorities had been informed about the looming crisis but that nothing was done to avert it.

He also blamed Christian youths for what followed, saying: “There are Muslims boys that are dating Christian girls. Some of the girls dating the Muslim boys got converted to Islam.

“But the brothers of the one of the girls who converted and married a Muslim boy opposed the marriage and went to the residence of the Muslim boy to take her away.

“The Muslim boys in the area resisted attempts to forcefully taken the girl and a fight ensued.”

A Christian youth, Sunny Isa, confirmed the existing tensions and said Muslim boys had insulted Christians.

“They called us ‘infidels’,” he said. “They also said we are ‘poor’ and that’s why they date our girls and convert them to Islam and marry them.

“These insults and humiliation from the Muslim boys has been going on for long, so we decided to constitute a committee to stop our girls from dating Muslims, since Muslim girls are even prohibited from dating Christians.”

A pastor with a Baptist Church in the area, Rev. Danlami Gajere, said the issue of Muslim boys dating Christians and converting them to Islam has been a long-standing issue in the community.

“They [Muslim boys] date Christian girls and sleep with them and come to mock the Christians,” he said. “They will tell us that they sleep with our wives and our daughters and call us ‘infidels’.

“On the other hand it is an abomination [for them] for Muslim girls to date Christian boys. [They say:] ‘Who are you to date a Muslim girl!’ They don’t even have regard for non-Muslims.

“That’s the reason why Christian youths constituted a committee to stop Christian girls from dating Muslims – to avoid the insults and humiliation.”

The aftermath of violence which claimed 12 lives in Kasuwan Magani, in Kaduna State. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kajuru, Rev. Makama Mazadu, said that to bring peace the forceful conversion of Christian girls should be stopped.

He recalled a recent case of a forceful conversion of a Christian girl:
“I was called by the Sarkin Kajuru [traditional ruler] for a meeting.

“When I went to the meeting, I saw a lady in hijab [Islamic dress]. The Sarki told me that as CAN chairman, he wants to tell me that the lady named Alheri wants to convert to Islam … that she is [now] a Muslim and they wanted to let me know.

“I told him that this is unacceptable because I cannot handle this alone.
“I requested to take the girl along with me, but he said I can’t go with the girl as she was already a Muslim.

“He said the Muslims had agreed that whoever wants to convert to Islam should, within eight to ten hours be converted.”

Speaking with journalists, the Kaduna state police commissioner, Austin Iwar, called on community leaders in the area to restore calm.

He said about 18 people had been arrested in connection with the violence and that a number of dangerous weapons, including petrol bombs, were recovered.
The violence has prompted a massive deployment of security to contain the violence and stop it from escalating to other parts of the state. So far, it seems calm has returned to Kasuwan Magani.

Dozens of shops, houses and vehicles were set ablaze by youths. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Recurrent phenomenon

Abduction, forced conversion and forcible marriage of Christian girls is particularly prevalent in northern Nigeria, where Islam is the main religion, as opposed to the predominantly Christian south. The 12 northern states of Nigeria adopted Sharia (Islamic law) in the 2000s. Though it was, in theory, meant to be applied solely to Muslims, it has reinforced pressure and discrimination faced by Christians in daily life.

According to Sunday Oibe, the secretary of CAN in Nigeria’s North-West Zone, Christian leaders in the north have consistently raised alarm over the issue but the authorities have failed to stop the trend.

“Abducted girls are always taken to the palaces of some traditional rulers, where the conversion and marriage takes place,” he told World Watch Monitor “and when the matter is reported to the police, nothing is done to bring the culprits to justice.

“Why do Muslims find it convenient to marry Christian girls but [they] will not allow their own daughters to marry Christians?

“We must discourage [this]. Nigeria has a constitution and laws, but the only thing is that our security agencies are not living up to expectations. That is why this issue of abduction and forceful conversation has continued.

“The police should be able to arrest and prosecute all those doing this.”
In November 2013, the treatment of Christian women and girls in northern Nigeria since 1999 was the subject of a detailed report, ‘Our Bodies, their Battleground’, whose authors explored what they called “the facilitating characteristics of the country in which the [Boko Haram] insurgency has come to operate so effectively”.

It showed that the abduction of Christian girls was common practice long before the advent of Boko Haram and it’s kidnapping of 276 mainly Christian schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014.

Central African Republic: church elder among six aid workers hacked to death

A church elder who worked for UNICEF was one of six people killed during a recent ambush by armed men in northern Central African Republic.

Gabriel Ole, 66, was an elder at a Baptist church (Eglise Baptiste Doumbia) in Bangui, the capital.

He was among of a group of six workers – including two officials from the Ministry of Education, and three members of a local group (Bangui Sans Frontieres) that works with UNICEF – travelling to the north-western town of Markounda, near the Chad border, on 25 February, when their car was ambushed.

Some of the victims were shot dead; others had their throats slit. Their car was also torched, local sources told World Watch Monitor.

Ole is survived by a wife and seven children.

“We strongly condemn this senseless act against aid workers who were there to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to the families and the colleagues of the victims.”

CAR’s Prime Minister, Simplice Matthieu Sarandji, honoured the victims during a visit to Markounda on Tuesday, 6 March.

“School is the key to developing a country,” he said. “Any attack against teachers is a crime against the education of our children.”

The Prime minister pledged that “justice will do its job” and this “cowardly criminal act” will not go unpunished.

According to UNICEF, the victims were on a mission to Markounda, where they were to start a training course for volunteer teachers. Over 7,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have sought refuge in the town over the past three months.

Gabriel Ole, was an elder at a Baptist church in Bangui. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The assailants are believed to be members of Mouvement National de Libération de Centrafrique (MNLC), an outfit of Séléka rebels active in the region.

The region has been plagued by violence since December, after fighting erupted between rival armed groups for the control of natural resources.

The violence has claimed more than 100 lives, while 60,000 people have been internally displaced. More than 15,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR.

The February attack is not the first targeting aid workers in the war-torn country. In August 2017, ten Red Cross workers were massacred in an attack attributed to ex-Séléka militants in the south-eastern town of Gambo.

The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) recorded more than 365 security incidents involving aid workers in the Central African Republic last year – more than in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia – making the Central African Republic the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers.

Insecurity reigns in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic has been torn apart by a civil war ongoing since 2013. The violence reached an unprecedented level last year, affecting 14 out of 16 regions. An estimated 20% of the population is displaced either internally or externally.

Bangui has enjoyed relative calm but the situation there is also deteriorating. On 23 February, three people were killed and at least seven others wounded as clashes erupted between armed groups in PK5, the predominantly Muslim district and economic hub of the capital.

Three months earlier, four people were killed and 20 injured after a grenade attack at a peace concert in the same PK5 district. Three other people lost their lives the following day (12 November) in a reprisal attack.

The recent clashes in the capital are serious but represent an exception, according to Fr. Barwendé Médard Sané, director of the Catholic University Centre in the capital.

“Life is relatively normal in Bangui,” he told Catholic news agency Fides. “The situation of young people, who find it hard to complete their studies and find it difficult to find a job, is of particular concern. Many of them live on the street without doing anything all day.”

Kyrgyzstan repair church after arson attack

Fire damage inside Kajisay Baptist church (World Watch Monitor)

An arson attack on a small Baptist church in Kyrgyzstan has not deterred the congregation from meeting.

The 40 Kyrgyz and Russian members of the church feared for their safety when attackers set fire to their church on 2 January. They were told by police that the attack was “organised by those who don’t like your church and Christianity in the midst of a Muslim country”.

Members of the church in Kajisay, a small town in the Issyk-Kul region that borders China, were later told that opposition to the burial of a Protestant man in a nearby village could have led to the attack.

But over the last two months the parishioners have continued to meet on Sundays in the fire-damaged building, as well as meeting for Bible studies at each other’s homes.

“The ‘enemy’ wanted to frighten us through that fire, but it didn’t work – the Christians of Kajisay started to meet for prayer, worship and Bible study more often than before, even though it was very uncomfortable in the burned building,” one of the church members told World Watch Monitor.

The church members are cleaning up and repairing their building, which, one of the church leaders said, “is almost done”.

Although smoke damage is still visible, Kajisay Baptist church members have nearly finished restoring the outside of the church building (World Watch Monitor)

LGBTs force closure of another Christian business

W.W. Bridal Boutique (Penn.)

A business in Pennsylvania provides the latest example of how difficult it is for a Christian owner to fight the LGBT crowd.

Thirty-seven years ago, W.W. Bridal Boutique of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, opened for business and prospered. In 2014, W.W. business owner Victoria Miller, citing her Christian beliefs, turned down potential sales from two lesbian customers who planned to tie the knot.

The same scenario occurred again in 2017. In both instances, Miller referred the same-gender couples to another shop that would serve them.

Diane Gramley of American Family Association of Pennsylvania tells OneNewsNow that the Bloomsburg business came under intense attack because of the owner’s refusal to serve same-sex couples.

“Some phone calls were made, but most of these attacks were via Facebook,” says Gramley. “It was very much a social media attack.”

Interestingly enough, much of the attack came from residents outside the state. It became so intense at one point that the bridal shop closed temporarily and would only serve customers via appointment.

Gramley, Diane (AFA of Pennsylvania)According to Gramley, Miller had hoped to be able to hand the bridal boutique down to her daughters – but now has announced plans to close her business on March 30.

“It’s just outrageous that Christians cannot run their businesses in this nation any longer according to their Christian beliefs and [according to] what marriage truly is in God’s design,” states Gramley.

LGBT activists have a history of harassing businesses that reject their lifestyle, either through hate campaigns or through courts that are inclined to protect same-sex relationships that God rejects.

“It’s just very troubling,” Gramley concludes, “and I believe it’s truly evidence of the agenda of LGBT activists: you comply with us or you will be put out of business.”

Indonesia Christians’ whipping a rare example of non-Muslims punished under Sharia

Non-Muslims in Aceh are allowed to choose between whipping and prison. Photo credit: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Two Indonesian Christians were whipped in public earlier this week in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Sumatran province of Aceh, as a crowd took photos and jeered.

Dahlan Sili Tongga, 61, and Tjia Nyuk Hwa, 45, were being punished for breaking Sharia (Islamic law) by playing a game at a children’s entertainment centre, which the authorities judged to be tantamount to gambling. Tongga and Hwa were whipped six and seven times respectively on Tuesday, 27 February.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia governed by Sharia, and Sharia courts impose hundreds of whippings every year. Previously, the laws only applied to Muslims, but this changed in December 2013, when they became effective for members of all religious groups.

As a local source told World Watch Monitor, life as a non-Muslim is very restricted in the province, which is led by an ex-militia from former separatist group GAM. Aceh’s authorities do not allow new churches to be established, whereas in other provinces that is still possible.

“Sometimes it seems that religion is just a tool to gain and retain power, which is very common in many Muslim countries, as there is no separation between religious and political domains,” said World Watch Monitor’s source. “And in politics, targeting Christians is a classic manoeuvre to garner votes and support from Muslims.”

Furthermore, Aceh’s regulations stipulate a strict dress code, prohibiting all women from wearing tight clothes and requiring them to adhere to hijab (Islamic dress). Citizens in Central Aceh who fail to comply with the Muslim dress code forfeit their right to assistance from local public or private institutions, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The cases of Christians being subjected to flogging are rare because the number of Christians in Aceh is small – they make up around 1.2 per cent (about 50,000 people) of the province’s population.

But although Christians are rarely whipped, World Watch Monitor’s source mentioned multiple cases where Christians were harassed – for example unmarried Christian couples being dragged to a religious office for walking together (Sharia prohibits physical proximity between unmarried people), only for it to be clarified later that they were Christians.

Non-Muslims in Aceh are allowed to choose between being punished under Sharia or civil code. Some prefer whipping over potential imprisonment.

Malaysian Federal Court refuses four people their right to affirm Christian identity

Malaysia’s highest court dismissed an appeal today (27 February) against four appellants who wanted to be formally recognised as Christians.

The five judges of the Malaysian Federal Court ruled that in matters of conversion away from Islam, it was necessary for them to consult the Islamic Sharia courts.

The president of the court, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, said the decision was unanimous.

He added that even though there are no specific provisions in the Sharia ordinance over conversions out of Islam, the religious court still has legal authority on what he termed “apostasy”.

The General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, Herman Shastri said “We fear that we are at the threshold of the undoing of the Constitution so that it becomes compliant to Islamic laws of sharia and hudud.”

Raucous, unruly scenes and shouts of “Allahu akbar” (“Allah is the greatest”) greeted the decision as a mob surrounded the Catholic Archbishop of Kuching, Simon Peter Poh, outside the court complex. He was jostled while being escorted to his car amid fears that he might be assaulted.

Three of the appellants had previously converted from Christianity to Islam when they married Malay-Muslim spouses, but now want to affirm their Christian identity again. The fourth is a Malay-Muslim who embraced the Christian faith and was baptised in 2009.

The Federal Court, sitting in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, yesterday (26 February) heard the joint appeal of the four appellants who want their conversions legally recognised. The judges then adjourned their decision to today.

The lawyer for the appellants, Baru Bian, an opposition politician and a campaigner for the customary rights of indigenous Malaysians, many of whom are Christian, had been optimistic that the judges would base their decision on the substance of the country’s civil law.

He said the argument of the state was that Sarawak Shariah Court Ordinance 2001 “has provisions on conversion into Islam”. Since there is no provision for those who want to leave the faith, he argued that the civil court should have jurisdiction.

Three of the appellants – Mohamed Syafiq Abdullah, who has taken the name Tiong Choo Ting; Jenny Peter, who was formerly Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah; and Salina Jau Abdullah – converted to Islam in order to marry Muslims. All four were asking the Federal Court to have their names and their faith changed on their national identity cards.

In 2006 Jenny Peter divorced her Muslim husband and re-embraced Christianity. The Muslim husband of Salina Jau divorced her in 1992, and she too returned to Christianity. In the case of Tiong Choo Ting, he began to practise Christianity after his Muslim wife died in 2007.

The fourth appellant, Syarifah Nooraffyza Wan Hosen, is ethnic Malay and was raised as a Muslim. In her declaration she said she no longer practises Islam and was baptised in 2009. She wants her identity card to record her new faith and a new name, Vanessa Elizabeth.

According to local media, all four were required to undergo counselling for renouncing the Muslim faith. But they have remained adamant they want to renounce Islam, and have signed statutory declarations expressing this desire.

All four remain Muslims as far as official documentation is concerned.

Critics accused the court of failing to understand its powers to rule on an individual’s choice of religion. “It means that freedom of religion, which is a constitutional right and a matter for the civil court, is subservient to Islamic laws,” one Christian human-rights campaigner said.

Some social-media users said they felt disappointed by the Federal Court’s decision. Some even nicknamed the case the Sharia Court’s “Hotel California” clause, recalling the 1970s song by The Eagles about a hotel you could check into but never leave.

Islam is considered intrinsic to the identity of Malaysia’s majority Malay people, and under Sharia (Islamic law), renouncing Islam is viewed as apostasy, a crime, although liberal Muslim theologians argue that conversion is a matter for the individual. Many of the country’s sizeable Buddhist, Christian and Hindu populations are of non-Malay heritage.

In recent decades Islamists have become increasingly vocal in their demands that Malaysia be governed as a Muslim state, and analysts say the spread of a more conservative interpretation of Islam lies behind the rise in attacks on churches and church leaders.

At the same time, civil courts have handed jurisdiction over Islamic religious matters to the Sharia court system and at times taken a policy of non-interference between the two courts. This has left people wishing to leave Islam in legal limbo.

According to Malaysia’s constitution, the country is a secular state with Islam as its main religion. However, Islamists refute this, saying that the colonial-era charter of rights is no longer valid, and they demand the precedence of religious law.