Malaysia's Islamic court allows Muslim convert to return to Buddhism

A Malaysian Islamic court allowed a Muslim convert Thursday to return to her original faith of Buddhism, setting a precedent that could ease religious minorities' worries about their legal rights. Lawyers said the Shariah High Court's verdict in the northern state of Penang might be the first time in recent memory that a convert has been permitted to legally renounce Islam in this Muslim-majority nation. A rising number of disputes about religious conversions has sparked anxiety among minorities _ predominantly Buddhist, Christian and Hindu _ because in the past courts virtually always ruled against people seeking to leave Islam. Penang's Shariah court, however, granted Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah's request to be declared a non-Muslim. She embraced Islam in 1998 because she wanted to marry an Iranian, but claimed she never truly practiced the religion. "I am very happy," Siti, a 39-year-old ethnic Chinese cake seller, told The Associated Press by telephone. "I want to go to the temple to pray and give thanks."