Country overview: Malaysia
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia. It consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 330,803 square kilometres (127,720 sq mi) separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo).
Ethnic Groups: 50.1% Malay, 22.6% Chinese, 11.8% Indigenous, 6.7% Indian, 8.8% other.
Religion: Sunni Islam (official) 61.3%, 19.8% Buddhism, 9.2% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism, 1.3% Confucianism, Taoism and other Chinese religions.
Population : 30,989,000 (2016 estimate)
Imposition (if anything)
Article 3 states that “Islam is the religion of the Federation” and “Parliament may by law make provisions for regulating Islamic religious affairs.” Article 160 defines ethnic Malays as Muslim from birth. The constitution identifies the traditional rulers, also known as sultans, as the “Heads of Islam” within their respective states. Sultans are present in nine of the country’s 13 states; in the remaining four states and the federal territories, the highest Islamic authority is the king. The law allows citizens and organizations to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom. Federal law has constitutional precedence over state law, but the constitution provides that issues of Islamic law are state, rather than federal, matters (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) within the prime minister’s office establishes federal guidelines concerning what constitutes “deviant” behavior or belief. The government forbids religious assembly and worship for what the government deems as “deviant” sects such as Shia, Ahmadiyyah, and Al-Arqam. Members of banned sects may not speak freely about their religious beliefs. The government may detain Muslims who deviate from accepted Sunni principles and subject them to mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that teach and enforce government-approved Islamic practices. State-level Sharia courts also have the authority to order individuals who seek to convert from Islam or who profess belief in a “deviant” Islamic sect to enter religious rehabilitation centers. The government forbids individuals to leave such centers until they complete the program, which varies in length, but can often last approximately six months.
- The law strictly forbids proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims, but allows and supports Muslims proselytizing others. Muslims who wish to convert from Islam face tremendous obstacles because neither the right to leave Islam nor the legal process of conversion is clearly defined in law.
- The government places some restrictions on religious assembly and denies legal status to certain religious groups. The Registrar of Societies, under the Home Ministry, determines whether a religious group may be registered and thereby qualify for government grants and other benefits. The registrar has no consistent policy or transparent criteria for determining whether to register religious groups. In cases where the government refuses to register a religious group, the group may pursue registration under the Companies Act. Examples included Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Registration under the Companies Act confers some protection of religious freedom, but precludes government funding.
- The National Fatwa Council, an organization within the prime minister’s office whose membership is comprised of state muftis (jurists of Islamic law) and other Islamic scholars, issue fatwas (religious edicts) on a variety of subjects. A fatwa issued by the National Fatwa Council is legally binding for Muslims in the country’s federal territories, but because Islam is a state matter, the decision to comply with or enforce edicts of the National Fatwa Council rests with each state’s religious authorities.
- The government provides financial support to Islamic religious institutions, and more limited funding to non-Islamic groups (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- National identity cards specify religious affiliation, and are used by the government to determine which citizens are subject to Sharia law. The cards identify Muslims as such on the card’s surface; for members of other recognized religions, religious affiliation is not printed, but is encrypted in a smart chip within the identity card. Married Muslims must carry a special photo identification of themselves and their spouse as proof of marriage.
- Controversy continued over the use of the term “Allah” for God by non-Muslims. Observers continued to express concern that the secular civil and criminal court system had ceded jurisdictional control to Sharia courts, particularly in areas of family law involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. Government and social pressure operated to encourage Muslims to dress and act in prescribed ways. On occasion, government officials used anti-Semitic language.
- In October an estimated 3,500 people gathered to celebrate the birthday of the late founder of Al-Arqam, a banned sect of Islam. The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raided the gathering and arrested 20 individuals. On November 6, 17 of the 20, including a member of the opposition party People’s Justice Party (PKR) Central Leadership Council, were formally charged with trying to revive the banned movement.
- There were reports of minors converting to Islam in cases where one parent voluntarily converted to Islam and converted the children without the consent of the non-Muslim parent. Sharia courts usually upheld the conversions of minors despite the opposition of a non-Muslim parent, and the government in most cases did not act to prevent such conversions.
- The Internal Security Ministry (which later merged with the Home Ministry) banned the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malay-language Bibles and other Christian publications in 2008, the Roman Catholic Church filed a lawsuit against the ban. While the case was pending, the Home Ministry renewed the Catholic Church’s permit to publish the Catholic Herald (published in Malay, Tamil, and English) conditionally, and directed the church to cease publishing its Malay-language section, to restrict sales to Catholic Church property, and to print a disclaimer on the front page saying the paper was meant only for Christians.
- The trial of a Shia religious leader and three Shia group members, arrested by religious authorities and police in 2011, was pending at year’s end. The four were arrested at a Shia gathering being held to celebrate the birthday of Fatimah az-Zahra, a daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and were later released on bail.
- Non-Muslim family members, including spouses and children, continued to lose all rights to inheritances in Sharia court in cases of conversion by one spouse to Islam.
- The Selangor Islamic Affairs Council (MAIS) continued to prohibit all non-Muslims from entering mosques and suraus (a small mosque or prayer room) in Selangor without MAIS permission, as a result of a 2010 controversy that occurred when a non-Muslim female opposition parliamentarian entered a mosque without proper head covering. According to a 2010 National Fatwa Council ruling, non-Muslims could enter mosques as long as they were properly attired and did not violate the sanctity of the mosque.
- According to the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Taoists (MCCBCHST), the government continued its practice of restricting visas for foreign Muslim and non-Muslim clergy under the age of 40 as a means of preventing “militant clergy” from entering the country. While representatives of non-Muslim groups did not sit on the immigration committee that approved visa requests, the committee sought MCCBCHST recommendations in most non-Muslim cases.
- The government continued to require all Muslim civil servants to attend approved religion classes, and several government agencies pressured non-Muslim women to wear headscarves while attending official functions. However, this was not strictly enforced.
- In October a public school teacher reportedly slapped four non-Muslim Orang Asli (indigenous) students for not reciting an Islamic prayer. The Education Department, the Orang Asli Development Department (JAKOA) and the teacher involved apologized for the incident; however, one week later the Rural and Regional Development Minister denied the incident. The parents of the students filed a police report and stated that they were unaware that their children, who were attending an exclusively Orang Asli school, were being taught Islamic studies. There was no further action on the case by year’s end.
- Government representatives or individuals acting on behalf of the government made anti-Semitic statements. JAKIM posted weekly sermons on its website as a guideline for government-employed Muslim clerics during Friday prayers at mosques in the Federal Territories and the states of Sabah, Sarawak, Malacca, and Penang. In March the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) issued an official sermon stating, “Muslims must understand Jews are the main enemy to Muslims.” In November a sermon published by JAKIM discussed the “despicable nature” of the Jewish race and stated that “Israel is a nation of ruthless criminals.”
- There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
- “There is much disillusionment” among non-Muslims, said P. Uthayakumar, a Hindu lawyer who has launched a court battle to prevent authorities from demolishing temples. “Every time a temple is demolished, the people’s confidence is shaken further.” The debate and conflict over places of worship for non-Muslims is one of the results of the radicalized communitarian politics,” says Farish Noor, a Malaysian Muslim political analyst. “Thus far the Malaysian government has been talking about being a government for all Malaysians, but sadly we see that the Malay-Muslim agenda still dominates politics at a major level.”
- In the past year, activists allege there have been increasing demolitions, especially involving Hindu temples. The Hindu Rights Action Force lobby group claims more than 70 Hindu temples were razed or threatened with such action in 2006. Many Hindu temples were built by plantation laborers, without official approval, before the country’s independence from Britain in 1957 (http://lubbockonline.com/stories/033107/rel_033107084.shtml#.VwRGdslr0ki).
- Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization. In many cases converts concealed their newly adopted beliefs and practices from their former coreligionists, including friends and relatives.
- The government occasionally suppressed public discussions of controversial religious issues such as religious freedom, apostasy, and conversion of minors. At a November 3 forum on Islam and the state, the vice-president of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) stated that any aspect of compulsion, persecution or discrimination on the basis of religion was prohibited. The pro-government mainstream press subsequently criticized her for allegedly condoning apostasy among Muslims.
- The government did not release statistics on the number of persons sentenced to religious rehabilitation centers during the year for attempts to convert from Islam, and maintained that historically there were very few apostasy cases. In 2011, Islamic Affairs Minister Jamil Khir Baharom stated that the total number of applications by Muslims to change their religious status in Sharia court from 2000 to 2010 was 863, of which 168 were approved. Generally, the only conversions recognized were for non-ethnic-Malay individuals who had previously converted to Islam for marriage, but were seeking to reconvert to their previous religious affiliation after their marriages dissolved.
- In September while criticizing an Israeli court decision declaring the state blameless in the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, former Prime Minister Mahathir wrote in his blog, “I am glad to be labeled anti-Semitic. How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies.” Mahathir served as prime minister for 22 years and remained an influential figure (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- The uncountable number of mosques also highlights the fact that Putrajaya doesn’t have a single church or temple – a fact that minority Buddhists, Hindus and Christians see as one example of the second-class treatment other faiths get in this Muslim-majority country.
- Malaysia’s Prime Minister has said his government will not protect LGBTI rights because they are at odds with Islam. Although universal human rights have been defined, we still define human rights in the country in the context of Islam and the Sharia,’ he said, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.‘And even if we cannot defend human rights at an international level, we must defend it in the Islamic context.’Gay sex is illegal in the Muslim-majority country and punishable by fines, whippings or up to 20 years imprisonment. Razak went on to say that extremist and liberal groups were trying to impose their views on the majority.’ These groups are hiding behind the facade of human rights to approve their acts which deviate from Islamic teaching,’ he said. Such groups includes the Islamic State (IS) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community (LGBT) are targeting the younger generation to spread their ideologies – and it seems like they have managed to influence them (http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/malaysia-will-not-protect-un-islamic-gay-rights-says-pm/#gs.7OiTJcY).’
- Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, has a divided legal system: There are, on the one hand, federal civil and criminal courts, but at the state level, Muslims use Sharia courts for religious and family issues. Homosexuality is condemned under both jurisdictions (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-malaysia_us_5615359ae4b0cf9984d7cfae).
- An openly gay and atheist University of Winnipeg student who feared for his life if he was sent back to his home country, Malaysia, will be allowed to stay in Canada, as his claim for refugee status has been accepted. “It was overwhelming and I feel really, really, really loved and appreciated,” Ismail said as he thanked everyone who has supported him.
- Ismail said his family, who are Muslim, disowned him and stopped paying for his education last year after learning he is gay and an atheist. His story became public after a GoFundMe campaign was launched in December to help pay his tuition for the rest of his semester. “I’m trying to fight for survival because Malaysia’s not welcoming of homosexuals.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-hazim-ismail-refugee-hearing-malaysia-1.3521172)
- Conflicts and inconsistencies among the constitution, the penal code, and Sharia law continue unresolved. Although federal law exempts women from caning, Sharia law does not (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- The state also prohibited the sale of lottery tickets and advertisements showing what it considered to be inappropriately dressed women. Kelantan’s dress code prohibited Muslim women from wearing clothes exposing more than their faces and hands. The law also stipulated that non-Muslim women should avoid dressing “sexily or indecently.” Violators of the dress code faced fines up to RM 500 ($156). Kelantan also enforced headscarf requirements for Muslim women, imposing fines for violations. Kelantan regulations required men and women to form separate lines at supermarkets, although the rule reportedly was not enforced. Kelantan courts also fined couples who sat too closely in public areas, such as on park benches.
- Women and girls faced social pressure to wear the tudung.
- There were reports of child marriages, including the marriage of a 12 year-old girl to a 19 year-old man in November. The legal age of marriage is 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim males, although they may marry before those ages with the permission of their parents and the Sharia courts. Civil society activists continued to criticize the practice, as well as statements by government officials supporting child marriages as an approved Islamic practice (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- Based on the statistics issued by the Penang Women Centre for Change, an average 3,000 rapes were reported in Malaysia each year with only two of 10 cases reported, PWDC board of directors member Yap Soo Huey said (https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/322980).
- Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) made public its recent guidelines for gender segregation and appropriate behavior at concerts, all hell broke loose. “I don’t get what the fuss is about. We (women) are definitely safer without the presence of men in the same room with us. I’m all for gender segregation in public places as I think it benefits women more. I don’t welcome the male gaze, and I feel more at ease being among women and children,” Zahira, a university student, confesses. However, for many Malaysians who have grown up in urban society or are exposed to international norms on human rights and practices, being asked to be separated according to gender represents a gross violation of their individual rights.“Malaysia Truly Arabia. I’m sorry that may sound offensive but I couldn’t help thinking we’re going towards that direction. We might as well turn away all the international visitors, investors and performers since God knows what’s going to be implemented next,” says Ram, a lecturer (http://malaysiandigest.com/frontpage/282-main-tile/551764-gender-segregation-for-or-against.html).
Education, Arts, Science & Music
- Islamic religious instruction is compulsory for Muslim children in public schools; non-Muslim students are required to take nonreligious morals and ethics courses. Local churches and temple groups unsuccessfully urged the government to include the option for non-Muslim religion classes to be held during the school day. At primary and secondary public schools, student assemblies frequently commence with recitation of a Muslim prayer by a teacher or school leader.
- The government offers grants only to private Islamic schools agreeing to allow government supervision and adopt a government-approved curriculum. Religious teachers in many national schools, particularly in peninsular Malaysia, ensured that Muslim girls wore the tudung (Muslim head covering) at school.
- The government of Kelantan, considered the country’s most religiously conservative state, maintained its ban on Mak Yong, a traditional Malay dance drama performed for 800 years, due to its animist elements, and on Wayang Kulit, a form of shadow puppetry, because of its Hindu influences and its focus on folklore and mythical characters considered un-Islamic (http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd4ad18.html).
- On January 23, 2006, the highest Islamic authority in Malaysia placed a ban on black metal – a rock music variant dominated by distorted guitars and occult imagery.
- “Followers of black metal could be prosecuted under Islamic law,” spokesman of the National Fatwa Council’s panel on Islamic affairs, professor Datuk Shukor Husin, was quoted as saying by the Malaysian state news agency Bernama. “It has been established that black metal practices are way against the syariat and every effort must be taken to stop its spread. Black metal culture is unacceptable for Muslims and can cause listeners to rebel against the the country’s prevailing religion,” he stated (http://freemuse.org/archives/612).
- The Norwegian black metal band Mayhem was scheduled to give a performance in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur on 4 February 2006, as part of their international concert tour through Asia, but following objections from members of Dewen Rakyat, the country’s parliament, the concert has been banned. Officials viewed their slogan “Bringing hell to your doorstep” as an endorsement of “satanic worship and drug use” (http://freemuse.org/archives/622).
- Singer Faizal Tahir is banned by Malaysian authorities from appearing in any entertainment programmes on tv for three months. Reason: he took off his shirt during a live concert on tv. 8TV’s top management took stern action and gave him strict warnings. He was also ordered to perform six months of community service. Besides this, two days after the incident, 8TV held a tearful press conference for him to apologize to all who were offended by his stunt (http://freemuse.org/archives/1110).
- Nasruding Hassan Tantawi, head of the youth wing of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic party (PAS), said the concert of Elton John “must be cancelled”. “Artists who are involved in gay and lesbian activities must not be allowed to perform in Malaysia as they will promote the wrong values,” he said. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, where almost two-thirds of the 28 million populations are Muslim, and is punishable by caning and up to 20 years in prison.
- Malaysia has a history of banning performers who are regarded as being gay and lesbian advocates. In 2011, Lady Gaga’s concert was cancelled after the Malaysian authorities said her song ‘Born This Way’ promoted homosexuality. She was also barred from performing in neighbouring Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, in 2012 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/9705062/Malaysia-Muslims-call-for-immoral-Elton-John-to-be-banned.html).
- Ke$ha is officially too hot for Malaysia. The pop star’s concert at the Kuala Lumpur stadium was canceled after authorities in the Muslim-majority country determined that it would “hurt cultural and religious sensitivities,” the Associated Press reports. Read more: (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/malaysia-bans-ke-ha-concert-over-religion-and-culture-20131026#ixzz45vXYUq5S )
- An irreverant comedy from the Malaysian director and YouTube star Namewee was banned by authorities for promoting homosexual lifestyles, mocking troops and ridiculing national security issues, a government ministry has revealed (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/mar/23/malaysian-film-lgbt-gay-banglasia-namewee).Youtube ;ink of the movie -(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFa6k1pcN7Y)
- “This is very much against the policy of the Education Ministry. A co-ed school is meant to be a co-ed school and headmasters cannot decide to have different policies for their schools,” Mohamad said. Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has asked for a report from the state Education Department on why the male and female students have been segregated at the co-ed school, SMK Senawang Jaya.
The students are not allowed to study in the same class, eat at the same table in the canteen or to conduct experiments in the same lab. “There has to be uniformity. Segregating students defeats the very purpose co-ed schools were introduced,” he said (http://www.wluml.org/node/4338).
Unisa university, South Africa