Leaving Islam for another religion is now such a sensitive issue in Malaysia that many converts lead secret, double lives.
For Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 Malaysian academic and activist Farish Noor cast a critical eye on his country and examined the current debate about religious freedom.
He met some of those who said their lives could be threatened if they changed their religion and asked if the political sway of Islam has overtaken a secular Malaysia.
We asked for your comments on our programme and the issues that it raised, a selection of which are below. This debate is now closed.
I am a former Muslim. I have been a Christian now for six years, since I left my country, but I have not seen my family since I converted. I also live a secret life as, even here in London I know for sure that my life is not secure. I know many believers from Islam who are just like me, they will never tell people that they used to be Muslims. It's really hard to live a life like that, but I know for sure that it's more important to have confidence in what I believe.
I am a Malaysian living in the UK. This is probably one of the issues that we Malaysians are not allowed to talk about in public. We are supposedly a multi-cultural and multi-race country but we lack freedom of speech as Malaysia regards this issue as being sensitive, and a threat to the Muslim community. The Westerners that live in Malaysia will not be exposed to the internal issues of Malaysia. I believe that everyone in Malaysia should have an equal right in deciding their own life. That includes choosing their own religion and not having it forced upon them. If Malaysia is to move forward, the law needs to be changed.
It is painful to know that my country prides itself in having racial harmony and religious freedom, yet one can hardly feel free in such a repressed society.
Why does Islam make it so difficult for its followers to live and let live?
Although I am no authority on any one religion, I know that Islam disallows compunction in faith, and all people are free to follow any religion. However, in undiluted Islamic Law, one born as a Muslim may not apostasise as Islam is believed to be humanity's innate disposition. This apparent paradox is rather troubling to some.
H Mohammad, London, UK
I think Maria would be better off if she emigrated to another country. Islam is not a tolerant religion. Her best bet is to go to a country like Australia or New Zealand where she can practice her Christianity.
Max Fabella, Florida, US
Islam is a religion of peace, I swear to god. Malaysia is a peaceful country. Words by people are always so abstract that many people judge them with their own perceptions. Come to Malaysia and you'll know how the people live, how the people act, live among them. By asking the people especially foreigners who live in Malaysia for so long, then only judgements may be made.
Razak, Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia
I am disappointed with the Church's reaction. I think we should always stand with our Christian brothers and sisters - be prepared to suffer injustice. Muslims always preach there is no compulsion but it is never true.
Patrick Foo, Malaysia
A relationship with God is not a personal matter, it is an "ummah" business - our business, a Muslim scholar's and pope's business. We Muslims do not force you to take Islam as a life. But we want you to know that Islam is the only true religion from God. Many Jewish and Christian friends have found the real truth in Islam. Why is this happened? Because they realised that their early old religion had been modified for the purpose of certain people who wanted to control others. Islam is peace, therefore, let us all find and study this religion of truth and peace. May He, Allah will open your heart to embrace Islam. You won't regret someday or somehow if you join Islam.
Khairul, Penang, Malaysia
The problem in Malaysia is not due to religion, unlike other Islamic countries. Malaysia is a very secular country with freedom and democracy. The problem is identity and culture. Malays, the ethic group, want to be a majority and the ruling class of Malaysia. To do this, they need an unified group based one identity. Therefore, they want all Malays to be Muslim, so they can vote and support unified Malay ideas and also separate Malays from other ethic groups in Malaysia.
Rakib Rahman, Dhaka, Bangladesh
As a Hindu I firmly believe that faith is something personal. Like the Muslim world, Hindu India is being taken over by twisted politics. Muslims need to realise that no Sharia law can stop a person from moving away from Islam. Whether this poor Malay women has legal status or not, she is not a Muslim as she has no personal conviction in the faith.
N Patel, Manchester
Islam is a religion of peace, and more so in South East Asia where it was spread through trade and Sufi missionaries. However, coupled with the Malay's non-confrontational approach to controversial issues; apostasy and other thorny Islamic issues have long been put on the backburner in Malaysia's public discourse. It should be pointed out that the Shariah law implemented in Malaysia is innovative in that it frequently reinterprets some Islamic laws into its own cultural settings.
Ahmad Azam, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur
How sad it is for these people not to be able to declare themselves as Christians for fear of violence. What type of society are they living in? Very sad indeed. They are no longer Muslims yet it's imposed on them to go to the Sharia courts. Very sad indeed
Uzo Okoye, London
Being a disbeliever in religion (not necessarily in a god) it is disheartening that beliefs are hijacked as a means to hatred, violence and destruction. This is true of all religions not only Islam. Just note how many times American politicians have argued God is on their side in the war on terror (not to mention the crusades, the inquisition, etc). Religion is a blight on humanity causing no end of strife and suffering, it should be banned.
David, Brighton, UK
Whilst many comments here admirably argue for legislation to outlaw the persecution of apostates, what is being missed is that for most Muslims, especially those from countries such as Malaysia, the laws and dictates of their religion (and religious leaders) carry far more weight and importance than those of their government. Until such time as the moderate Islamic leaders publicly condemn this persecution, and the more radical elements begin to either be marginalised or integrated into the mainstream, then unfortunately this situation will continue. I for one hope that Maria will find comfort in her faith, and that she will soon be able to openly and safely declare her beliefs without fear of reprisals.
Paul, Maidenhead, UK
I have to say that I'm really surprised that this young woman is living in fear. I was in Malaysia earlier this year and to me it came across as modern forward-thinking Muslim country. I also thought that the different ethnic and religious groups in Malaysia lived in relative harmony.
Laura, Cardiff, UK
I've dated a Malay Muslim, and consider myself an agnostic theist. Being with her in Malaysia presented a number of problems and restrictions on how we could be in public, and we received plenty of negative, nay hostile, attention from passers-by. Some believe so hard they've forgotten that Islam is about personal faith and impose it on others. However, this is not just a religious issue, it's a cultural issue amongst some Malays who are increasingly paranoid about their loss of power in the country, which is sad, as so many there hold their multiculturalism in high regard - but it's an increasingly delicate business.
Ben B, UK
Right here in America, converts to Islam are not being killed or murdered but not being respected by many. I am Muslim, My wife is Catholic. I encourage her to go to church and be close to her faith. We need to leave people alone and respect them whoever they are.
Nuri Bulut, Nashville, TN, US
The problem in Malaysia is that religion and race are so intertwined with each other. Muslims and Malays have to realise that they are living in an extremely competitive environment, especially in East Asia, where countries are striving for economic progress, and will not pull any punches. If we in Malaysia are unable to be united and work together to overcome such fundamental challenges, there won't be any piece of the cake to fight over in years to come.
Reuben How, Malaysia
I feel incredibly disappointed at this state of affairs in my home country, where the name of the religion you claim to follow is far more important than the personal happiness and freedom of the individual in question.
She was born into a Muslim family. Islam was the religion of her parents, not hers. So why is she denied the freedom to choose her own religion? Religion is personal.
Abang Man, Penang, Malaysia
Malaysia only has a future if there is racial integration. Some Malays may take comfort in the massaged figures showing they are a majority, but ultimately they have to live with a major world power, China, on their doorstep. They will never convert everyone to Islam. The problems Malaysia faces are the problems of Muslims in multicultural societies everywhere including the UK. Christianity in the end had to change to fit a changing world. The Japanese made a cultural shift to do so not so long ago. The Malays are a pragmatic people and without outside interference have every chance to show the Islamic world how to square the circle.
Fundamentalists believe the Koran wholeheartedly, not recognising that the good book was written by men after the death of Mohammed (the Prophet). They injected their backward culture into the good book, including stoning to death, hand cutting, intolerance to other cultures and beliefs, wearing the veil etc. Sadly, a good religion has been hijacked to propagate these intolerant activities.
KCT, Kuala Lumpur
It is the usual. Whilst the Western world is tolerant of other religions, the Muslim world is tolerant of nothing. All the Malaysian and Pakistan stories I read on the BBC say the same thing, people forced to convert to Islam to marry where they are different religions, stoning for converting, and so on. Islam is not a forward-thinking religion. It is truly stuck in the middle ages.
Religion is rubbish and an irrelevance in the modern world - and this is just another of a long line of examples that prove this.
Wow, first it is funny reading about this as I heard people speaking about this issue when I was in Malaysia. I am a mix of Chinese and Indian parentage, born in Malaysia. I am not surprised to hear this and to tell you the truth I don't think much can be done. The majority are Muslims and if you live their country you follow their rules. A convert from Islam to another religion is considered a disgrace. This is a never ending battle that will lead nowhere. Well, this one is sure going to get some minds going wild over this topic.
Religion is determined by one's personal choice, not through birth or race. Islam is a beautiful religion, but its message has been hijacked by narrow-minded interpretations that are intolerant to other opinions. Blame the people, not the religion.
Dan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
It is patently clear that there is a double standard based on hypocrisy and racism against non Muslims. Imagine discussing conversion to Islam in the same terms: apostasy, exclusion... Imagine any Western country making its people carry IDs that mention the bearer's religion.
PG Rossi, Montreal, Canada
I'm not religious. And speaking from the position of a fence-sitter, I think it's lame to impose your own personal mentality on other people. Keep your perceptions to yourself. I think civilised people should not force others what to believe by violence.
The laws pertaining to conversion out of Islam are an affront to religious freedom. It's going to be a long struggle against racial and religious bigotry in Malaysia. It will most definitely help and is very much appreciated that people like you highlight the actual situation in this country internationally.
Michael T, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I'm sick and tired of moderate Muslim politicians in Malaysia pandering to extreme Muslim elements for their political benefit. Islam might well be the official religion, but freedom of religion is also enshrined in the constitution. How can a person be forced to believe something they do not? Does Islam really force one to remain Muslim? I doubt it. But can anyone explain to me the official stance of the religion on this matter?
It is strange that a major religion like Islam will harm or ostracise its members for converting to another religion. What is the fear? A great religion should not rule by fear but by love and understanding. So what if a few members leave, Islam will survive. Just wish the ones that leave all the best and move on.
Jeffrey McPeanne, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Does the Malaysian government agree that all Malaysians have the right and free will to choose? If not, where are the human rights in Malaysia? Malaysia is multicultural, multi-religious and multi-race, so it should be multi-will and multi-choice.
Richard Chang, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand
Islam is all about believing in Allah as the only God, Mohammad as His Last Prophet and Koran as Allah's true word. If someone does not believe it, he or she is not a Muslim. If they want to make it official, I for one, am completely in favour of it and I would urge others to let such people freely practice the religion of their choice. Let everyone, everywhere believe and practice any religion or none, without fear or compulsion. That is what Islam is. Islam has no danger from converts but from those who distort the image of Islam thus making it difficult for others to come close to it.
Ali Akbar, Stuttgart
This sums up my experience living as a Malay Christian in Malaysia. It is indeed a difficult life. Speaking from an Christian point of view, what I found disgusting was the Church's unwillingness to stand with its brethren. That is exactly why I never associated myself with any church back in Malaysia.
AF, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We do not condone apostasy amongst Muslims because we are trying to protect those who have gone astray. We know that the prophet Mohammad is the last prophet sent by God to human beings thus making Islam as the only right religion. By abandoning Islam to take up another "wrong" religion, be it Christianity or another, the apostate is choosing his future as the resident of hell in the after life. That is a major concern for all Muslims the world over.
Bastiah Ahamd, Kuala Lumpur
To Bastiah Ahamd, Every religion thinks they are the salvation of human kind. Stop breeding your indoctrination and conditioning! Religion is a philosophy of the human soul. Each person should be allowed to express their belief without fear or retribution.
TH, NY, US
Many true stories about conversion from Islam to other religions have been highlighted by the independent mass media in Malaysia. But until today many of those converts are facing difficulties in their daily lives. True freedom of expression should be realised in Malaysia (although the Federal Constitution states clearly that freedom). Then all Malaysian citizens will enjoy the basic human rights.
Diddy MB, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I know that nobody can know what goes on behind closed doors but I find this article surprising. I am a Western woman living in Malaysia and involved with different cultures and religions here in Penang. Malaysia is often spoken about as a fine example of how lots of different religions worship and live side-by-side without animosity. It would be a great shame if your programme portrays such great difficulties as in Maria's case, when actually individual cases such as Maria's are very much in the minority. I know personally of families who follow different religions peacefully and with respect.
Amanda, Penang, Malaysia
Religion is supposed to give a person solace, but this fear has completely changed the purpose of it.
We have to ask UN to criminalise whoever terrorises the converts. A relationship with God is a personal business, and should not involve any government or king or Sharia court.
The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.