Religious Freedom In Malaysia Under Microscope

At the end of March 2019, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in cooperation with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), published a new reportscrutinizing the protection and enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Malaysia.

Ewelina U. Ochab

Contributor; Forbes

Malaysia may not be a state that comes to mind when one thinks of restrictions on religious freedom or of religious persecution.

Yet, as the report clearly identifies, there are several challenges pertaining to the right to freedom of religion or belief in the country that need to be addressed.

Malaysia is a predominately Muslim country with 61.3% Sunni Muslim (data published by the Malaysian Department of Statistics in 2010, up to date data is not available). The remaining population consist of 19.8% Buddhist; 9.2% Christian; 6.3% Hindu; 1.3% adherents of traditional Chinese religions and 0.4% other religions. Malaysia is also ethnically diverse. Religion and ethnicity have always played an important role in politics and society. Indeed, as the report confirms “Ethnicity and religion have often been utilized by political parties to advance their agenda.”

The Federal Constitution of Malaysia protects the right to freedom of religion or belief, including religious manifestation by way of professing, practicing and propagating one’s religious beliefs. Despite this, federal law favors the Islamic faith over any other. Article 3 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia equips Islam with special and effectively privileged status within the country. This has the potential to affect the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief by other religious groups.

Religious intolerance has been a pressing concern in Malaysia for some time now.

The issue was raised by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, following a visit to the country in September 2017. However, the situation in Malaysia goes far beyond “religious intolerance.”

Indeed, the report makes it clear that many religious minorities face discrimination and persecution. Among others, it identifies Shi’a and Ahmadiyah communities as targeted groups. 

The report identifies six main challenges pertaining to the right of freedom of religion or belief in Malaysia that are closely related to the special status of Islam and the consequential disadvantaged position of other religious groups:

1) discrimination against religious minorities; 2) limitations on the rights of children relating to personal matters governed by Islamic law; 3) discrimination against persons who wish to change or adopt a new religion; 4) criminalization and prosecution of proselytism among Muslims; 5) and prohibitions on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims; and 6) relationship with freedom of expression and the crime of sedition.”

You can read the full article here

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