The case of Nyonya binti Tahir is a landmark ruling, with some massive precedential influences over such future cases. For the first time, the Syariah Courts acknowledged the possibility that Malay in Malaysia isn’t necessarily a Muslim.
Earlier, Siti Sharlina had told the court they had made the application after the deceasedâ€™s identification card, which carried the name “Nyonya binti Tahir”, indicated she was a Muslim. Siti said the word “binti” and name “Tahir” were normally Malay and Muslim, while the records at the National Registration Department (NRD) had also indicated Nyonyaâ€™s race as Malay. She referred to Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, stating that a Malay was a Muslim. However, Siti said the applicants had also asked the court to consider that the deceased had lived and practised the Buddhist faith since young. Siti said the deceased had said in her will that she wanted to be buried according to Buddhist rites.
From the information in the news report, it seems the deciding factor for the courts was that (a) she wasn’t a practising Muslim and (b) her will stated she wanted a Buddhist burial. Its interesting that the two in combination can over-rule the Federal Constitution Article 160 which says:
“Malay” means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and – (a) was before Merdeka Day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or is on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or (b) is the issue of such a person
Without a doubt, a massive decision that will be discussed for a very long time. The next landmark case will involve someone who is actually still alive — a Malay, in his lifetime, makes an application to not be a Muslim.