Study: Malaysia in top 10 for restricting religions

Study: Malaysia in top 10 for restricting religions.

Study: Malaysia in top 10 for restricting religions
For once, Malaysia has reached the top 10 in a world ranking – as a country with some of the highest government-led restrictions on different religions.

According to findings of the Pew’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, Malaysia shares this dubious distinction with Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, China, Maldives, Burma, Eritrea and Indonesia.

Based on a three-year study of 198 countries from 2006, the Pew Research Centre also determined that Malaysia is fifth in recording substantial increases in such restrictions.

The centre, based in Washington DC, noted that worldwide restrictions on religious beliefs and practices had risen between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 countries, including Malaysia and Egypt.

Researchers, led by senior fellow Brian Grim, combed over 18 publicly available sources of information including reports by the US State Department, the UN, the Council of the European Union, and several rights groups to score each country on how tolerant it is of different religions.

In Malaysia, several incidents could have contributed to its unwanted ranking.

azlanThese include theseizure of Christian-related books and CDs as represented by the Jill Ireland court case; and the banon the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian publications including Herald.

Action by the Islamic authorities on the Wahabbi and Shia sects and, to some extent, the arrest of former Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin may also have been factors.

There have also been several complaints about the demolition of Hindu temples, leading to the formation of Hindu Rights Action Force and its unprecedented demonstration in 2007.

AFP, quoting the same study, reported that religion-linked violence and abuse rose around the world between 2006 and 2009, with Christians and Muslims the most common targets.

“Incidents of either government or social harassment were reported against Christians in 130 countries (66 percent) and against Muslims in 117 countries (59 percent),” said the study.

In 2009, governments in 101 nations, more than half the globe, used at least some measure of force against religious groups. A year earlier only 91 nations had done so, the report said.

As at 2009, more than 2.2 billion people, or nearly a third of the world’s population of 6.9 billion, lived in countries where religious restrictions had risen substantially since 2006, the study said.

Regional findings

In regional terms, the Middle East and North Africa had the highest proportion of countries in which government-imposed restrictions hampered people’s freedom to practice their faith.

azlanEgypt, under now-deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, stood out, earning itself a ranking in the top five percent of all countries in 2009 for government-imposed restrictions such as a long-standing ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, and for social hostilities based on religion, including attacks against Christians.

The country with the highest rate of religion-linked social hostilities was Iraq, followed by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Israel and Egypt.

Although no European countries made it into the top 10 of either list, five of the 10 countries in the world that saw a substantial increase in religion-related social hostilities were in Europe – Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia and Sweden.

And government restrictions on religion increased substantially in two European countries, France and Serbia.

NONEIn France, President Nicolas Sarkozy(right) said in a major speech on national identity in 2009 that the Muslim head-to-toe covering, the burka, had no place in French society, and lawmakers began discussing whether women should be allowed to wear it.

The Serbian government, meanwhile, refused to legally register evangelical Protestant groups and other minority religions, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which deprived them of the right to air programmes on public media.

Religion-related terrorist violence was included under social hostilities, and terrorist groups with ties to religion were found to be active in more than a third of the 198 countries.

In Russia, the number of casualties – people who were either killed, wounded, kidnapped, displaced or had their property destroyed – from religion-linked terror attacks more than doubled in the two years ending in 2009, compared to the two-year period ending in 2008.

Other examples of social hostilities given in the report were the August 2008 terrorist attack in Xinjiang province, attributed by the authorities in Beijing to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement; and riots in overwhelmingly Buddhist Tibet in 2008, which pitted ethnic Tibetans against Han Chinese.

4 thoughts on “Study: Malaysia in top 10 for restricting religions

  1. Hijacking Islam

    Josh Hong
    12 Aug 2011, 3:15pm

    The raid by Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) officials was a sad and unfortunate incident, which has served only to widen the already serious misunderstanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
    Jais may have acted according to the law and its concerns over murtad (apostasy) may be valid, but the manner in which the investigation was conducted leaves much to be desired nonetheless, and the arrogance shown on the part of the officials only affirms the worst scenario feared by many: haughty ethnocracy replaced with intolerant theocracy.

    And I can barely conceal my anger over Khalid Ibrahim’s leadership failure. Hasan Ali’s defence of Jais’ action is only expected because for him, religion is more often than not a political tool, yet the state government’s inertia now verges on acquiescence of the state exco member’s lack of discipline.

    Pardon my naivety, but I cannot quite fathom why would it be so daunting a task for Khalid to chastise Jais and Hasan for their reckless behaviour while empathising with the apprehension of the Muslim community. Does any Muslim in his or her right mind truly believe the sanctity of Islam can be safeguarded in uncouthness?

    What, I surmise, Jais did at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) has again vindicated the prejudice of those who have long been on a lookout to portray Islam as a religion of hate, if not violence, which of course is not doing anyone any good other than emboldening the fanatics of all persuasions.

    Both Hasan and the Jais officials only form the tiny minority in a vast Muslim population in Malaysia, and their words and deeds cannot be taken as reflective of the very community that they claim to represent.

    Malaysians ought to have some minimal wisdom in differentiating between faith and politics. As a Christian, I rejected all pretence by George W Bush to defend ‘civilisation’ by invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq, just as a devout and sincere Buddhist would discern between the real teachings of the Buddha and the construction of grandiose temples and monasteries by Burma’s paramount leader General Than Shwe through forced labour.

    Before those who relish in finding fault with Islam find a reason to be gleeful, I would argue Muslims are urged by Prophet Muhammad to respect the places of worship of others.

    Pact with the Christians in Najran

    For instance, there was a pact with the Christians in Najran – at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula – under which “the lives of the people of Najran and its surrounding area, their religion, their land, property, cattle… and their places of worship are under the protection of Allah and guardianship of His Prophet… Their present state shall neither be interfered with, nor their rights meddled with, nor their idols deformed.”

    Meanwhile, Prophet Muhammad assured the St Catherine Monastery that no compulsion was to be on Christians and Muslims must protect to the end of the world the integrity of their houses of worship.

    And finally, Prophet Muhammad made it crystal clear that followers of Islam must not harm or molest the Nazarene Christians, who were granted full liberty of worship in their churches and homes. “None of their churches shall be torn down, or altered into a mosque, except by the consent and free will of the Nazarenes. If any one disobeys this command, the anger of God and His Prophet shall be upon him.”

    Prominent Muslim scholar Dr Youssef al-Qaradawi, in disapproving of al-Qaeda terrorism, states that it is not permissible in Islam to attack places of worship such as churches and synagogues, or attack men of religion, even in a state of war.

    Therefore, the disrespect of the Jais officials is clearly at odds with Islamic teachings, which also tarnishes the image of the Muslim communities worldwide. In fact, such frenzy is not acceptable to any right-thinking Muslim, which explains why Khalid’s ambiguous stance is most disturbing and infuriating.

    When the Atlantic Monthly published the convoluted Roots of Muslim Rage by Bernard Lewis in September 1990, it not only successfully defined the parameters of debate on the challenge of Islamic revivalism, but also depicted a collective image of Muslim rage. As we look to the West for modernity, development and knowledge, we receive en masse its construction of others, wittingly or unwittingly.

    Not inherently prone to wrath

    Muslims are not necessarily or inherently prone to wrath. The grave challenges confronting the existing Muslim world: income disparity, war, terrorism and oppression, have their origins in the history of developmentalism and colonialism that cannot be summed up and explained with incidents of the past few decades. Much as one should not ignore the several thousands years of Chinese history but focus on the recent events – such as the senseless and tragic Boxers’ Uprising – in an attempt to make sense of the modern Chinese nation.

    As Professor John Esposito rightly points out in his book The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, Muslims were fervently acquiring knowledge in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Bukhara and even in Spanish Cordova at a time when much of the European continent was chained in the Dark Ages. “Had Muslim armies not been turned back at Poitiers, the language of Oxford, as indeed of Europe itself, might have been Arabic!”

    My point is simple: Islam came to Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula over five centuries ago. Much of the time, Muslims have lived in harmony with non-Muslims in this region. The anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia in 1965 and 1998, as well as the May 13 clash in Malaysia in 1969 had everything to do with racial politics but nothing with religion.

    If the inter-religious ties in our country have worsened in recent years, I trust politics is first and foremost responsible for it.

    However, if terrorist acts committed by several selfish individuals in the name of Islam easily prompt us to question the goodwill of our Muslim compatriots, it only speaks volumes of the fragile trust between us.

    Islam has long been hijacked by politicians, and non-Muslims s should seize the opportunity to reach out to the moderates such as Sisters in Islam, the Islamic Renaissance Front, Dzulkefly Ahmad of PAS, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (left) and Nurul Izzah Anwar of PKR, and many others and help them make their voices heard.

    If one only makes use of the DUMC incident to paint Islam in a negative light, enmity with the majority of the Malaysian population is assured, and that would be a fight that is not only needless, but also unwinnable.

    As for Hasan and Khalid, and those who remain conspicuously silent on Jais’ misconduct, a golden opportunity for them to prove Islam as a religion of peace and love is lost, all for the sake of political convenience.


  2. Activists in Arab World Vie to Define Islamic State


    29 Sep 2011; NYT

    CAIRO — By force of this year’s Arab revolts and revolutions, activists marching under the banner of Islam are on the verge of a reckoning decades in the making: the prospect of achieving decisive power across the region has unleashed an unprecedented debate over the character of the emerging political orders they are helping to build.

    Few question the coming electoral success of religious activists, but as they emerge from the shadows of a long, sometimes bloody struggle with authoritarian and ostensibly secular governments, they are confronting newly urgent questions about how to apply Islamic precepts to more open societies with very concrete needs.

    In Turkey and Tunisia, culturally conservative parties founded on Islamic principles are rejecting the name “Islamist” to stake out what they see as a more democratic and tolerant vision.

    In Egypt, a similar impulse has begun to fracture the Muslim Brotherhood as a growing number of politicians and parties argue for a model inspired by Turkey, where a party with roots in political Islam has thrived in a once-adamantly secular system. Some contend that the absolute monarchy of puritanical Saudi Arabia in fact violates Islamic law.

    A backlash has ensued, as well, as traditionalists have flirted with timeworn Islamist ideas like imposing interest-free banking and obligatory religious taxes and censoring irreligious discourse.

    The debates are deep enough that many in the region believe that the most important struggles may no longer occur between Islamists and secularists, but rather among the Islamists themselves, pitting the more puritanical against the more liberal.

    “That’s the struggle of the future,” said Azzam Tamimi, a scholar and the author of a biography of a Tunisian Islamist, Rachid Ghannouchi, whose party, Ennahda, is expected to dominate elections next month to choose an assembly to draft a constitution. “The real struggle of the future will be about who is capable of fulfilling the desires of a devout public. It’s going to be about who is Islamist and who is more Islamist, rather than about the secularists and the Islamists.”

    The moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades in the Arab world, as autocracies crumble and suddenly vibrant parties begin building a new order, starting with elections in Tunisia in October, then Egypt in November. Though the region has witnessed examples of ventures by Islamists into politics, elections in Egypt and Tunisia, attempts in Libya to build a state almost from scratch and the shaping of an alternative to Syria’s dictatorship are their most forceful entry yet into the region’s still embryonic body politic.

    “It is a turning point,” said Emad Shahin, a scholar on Islamic law and politics at the University of Notre Dame who was in Cairo.

    At the center of the debates is a new breed of politician who has risen from an Islamist milieu but accepts an essentially secular state, a current that some scholars have already taken to identifying as “post Islamist.” Its foremost exemplars are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey, whose intellectuals speak of a shared experience and a common heritage with some of the younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and with the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. Like Turkey, Tunisia faced decades of a state-enforced secularism that never completely reconciled itself with a conservative population.

    “They feel at home with each other,” said Cengiz Candar, an Arabic-speaking Turkish columnist. “It’s similar terms of reference, and they can easily communicate with them.”

    Mr. Ghannouchi, the Tunisian Islamist, has suggested a common ambition, proposing what some say Mr. Erdogan’s party has managed to achieve: a prosperous, democratic Muslim state, led by a party that is deeply religious but operates within a system that is supposed to protect liberties. (That is the notion, at least — Mr. Erdogan’s critics accuse him of a pronounced streak of authoritarianism.)

    “If the Islamic spectrum goes from Bin Laden to Erdogan, which of them is Islam?” Mr. Ghannouchi asked in a recent debate with a secular critic. “Why are we put in the same place as a model that is far from our thought, like the Taliban or the Saudi model, while there are other successful Islamic models that are close to us, like the Turkish, the Malaysian and the Indonesian models, models that combine Islam and modernity?”

    The notion of an Arab post-Islamism is not confined to Tunisia. In Libya, Ali Sallabi, the most important Islamist political leader, cites Mr. Ghannouchi as a major influence. Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who is running for president in Egypt, has joined several new breakaway political parties in arguing that the state should avoid interpreting or enforcing Islamic law, regulating religious taxes or barring a person from running for president based on gender or religion.

    A party formed by three leaders of the Brotherhood’s youth wing says that while Egypt shares a common Arab and Islamic culture with the region, its emerging political system should ensure protections of individual freedoms as robust as the West’s. In an interview, one of them, Islam Lotfy, argued that the strictly religious kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the Koran is ostensibly the constitution, was less Islamist than Turkey. “It is not Islamist; it is dictatorship,” said Mr. Lotfy, who was recently expelled from the Brotherhood for starting the new party.

    Egypt’s Center Party, a group that struggled for 16 years to win a license from the ousted government, may go furthest here in elaborating the notion of post-Islamism. Its founder, Abul-Ela Madi, has long sought to mediate between religious and liberal forces, even coming up with a set of shared principles last month. Like the Ennahda Party in Tunisia, he disavows the term “Islamist,” and like other progressive Islamic activists, he describes his group as Egypt’s closest equivalent of Mr. Erdogan’s party.

    “We’re neither secular nor Islamist,” he said. “We’re in between.”

    It is often heard in Turkey that the country’s political system, until recently dominated by the military, moderated Islamic currents there. Mr. Lotfy said he hoped that Egyptian Islamists would undergo a similar, election-driven evolution, though activists themselves cautioned against drawing too close a comparison. “They went to the streets and they learned that the public was not just worried about the hijab” — the veil — “but about corruption,” he said. “If every woman in Turkey wore the hijab, it would not be a great country. It takes economic development.”

    Compared with the situation in Turkey, the stakes of the debates may be even higher in the Arab world, where divided and weak liberal currents pale before the organization and popularity of Islamic activists.

    In Syria, debates still rage among activists over whether a civil or Islamic state should follow the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, if he falls. The emergence in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria of Salafists, the most inflexible currents in political Islam, is one of the most striking political developments in those societies. (“The Koran is our constitution,” goes one of their sayings.)

    And the most powerful current in Egypt, still represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, has stubbornly resisted some of the changes in discourse.

    When Mr. Erdogan expressed hope for “a secular state in Egypt,” meaning, he explained, a state equidistant from all faiths, Brotherhood leaders immediately lashed out, saying that Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey offered no model for either Egypt or its Islamists.

    A Brotherhood spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, accused Turkey of violating Islamic law by failing to criminalize adultery. “In the secularist system, this is accepted, and the laws protect the adulterer,” he said, “But in the Shariah law this is a crime.”

    As recently as 2007, a prototype Brotherhood platform sought to bar women or Christians from serving as Egypt’s president and called for a panel of religious scholars to advise on the compliance of any legislation with Islamic law. The group has never disavowed the document. Its rhetoric of Islam’s long tolerance of minorities often sounds condescending to Egypt’s Christian minority, which wants to be afforded equal citizenship, not special protections. The Brotherhood’s new party has called for a special surtax on Muslims to enforce charitable giving.

    Indeed, Mr. Tamimi, the scholar, argued that some mainstream groups like the Brotherhood, were feeling the tug of their increasingly assertive conservative constituencies, which still relentlessly call for censorship and interest-free banking.

    “Is democracy the voice of the majority?” asked Mohammed Nadi, a 26-year-old student at a recent Salafist protest in Cairo. “We as Islamists are the majority. Why do they want to impose on us the views of the minorities — the liberals and the secularists? That’s all I want to know.”

    Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli, Libya. Heba Afify contributed reporting from Cairo.


  3. Baby in toilet tank: 23-year-old to be quizzed

    M’siakini: @ 9:56PM on Oct 15

    Police will question the woman, who was believed to have hidden her newborn baby in a toilet’s water tank, after she has fully recovered.

    Kemaman district police chief Supt Abdullah Sani Salat said doctors at the Kemaman District Hospital, where the 23-year-old book shop assistant was admitted, had advised the police to wait until she had fully recovered to question her.

    The woman and baby, who was also sent to the same hospital, were reported in stable condition, he told Bernama when met at a function between the Kemaman police and Kemaman member of parliament Ahmad Shabery Cheek at Bukit Mentok, Kemaman today.

    Abdullah said the woman’s family had been informed of the incident.

    In yesterday’s incident, the woman was believed to have hidden her baby after giving birth to him.

    The baby was found about 3am when the woman’s hostel mate went into the toilet and then heard cries from the tank.

    – Bernama

    (Some of you may wonder why this article is enhanced here… Well, this sort of behavior is only related to how morals and conservative religion will lead when some Muslim women got pregnant unintentionally and do not want authorities or their parents to know about it for fear of punishment and scrutinies).


  4. 26 August 2011 Last updated at 09:25 GMT

    Rise of strict Islam exposes tensions in Malaysia
    By Jennifer Pak

    BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

    Women in Malaysia are under no legal compulsion to wear the headscarf – though many feel pressured to cover up.

    Muslim women without headscarves are a common sight on the streets of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

    But engaging them in a discussion about the hijab is difficult.

    Norhayati Kaprawi is a Malaysian activist whose recent documentary Aku Siapa (Who Am I) deals with the issue of how women in Malaysia should dress. She found some women unwilling to show their faces in her film – not on religious grounds, but because they feared reprisals.

    This is a damning reflection on Malaysia’s Muslim society, says Ms Norhayati.

    According to the activist, the pressure to wear the hijab grew after the Iranian revolution in 1979, and it is now the most visible sign of Malaysia’s rising Islamic fundamentalism.

    Muslims account for over half the population of 28 million people and are mainly ethnic Malays. Malaysia often prides itself on being a moderate Muslim nation, which allows other religions freedom of worship.

    And while there are no laws forcing women to wear the hijab, Ms Norhayati says many Muslims feel compelled.

    Crime and punishment
    Increasingly, there is a greater emphasis on Islamic codes of conduct.

    For the first time last year, Malaysian authorities caned women under Sharia law. The three women sentenced were found guilty of having sex outside of marriage.

    And a part-time Muslim model was sentenced to the same punishment in 2009 for drinking beer in public. Islamic authorities eventually reduced Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno’s sentence to community service last year after the story made international headlines.

    Analysts say this emphasis on Islamic practice is superficial. They blame it on the competition for Malay-Muslim voters between the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), and the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), both of which are trying to position themselves as defenders of Islam.

    The youth wing of the PAS has often lobbied the government to ban Western pop artists from performing in Malaysia, deeming them to be un-Islamic.

    Since 2008, when elections delivered a record number of seats to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, of which the PAS is a member, the party has tried to moderate its stance.

    Although the PAS has not abandoned the goal of making Malaysia into an Islamic state, PAS Member of Parliament Khalid Samad says non-Muslims have nothing to fear.

    “We do not think Islam is all about cutting off hands and stoning adulterers,” he says.

    “That’s a very minute aspect of the Islamic law. What’s more important is the question of good governance.”

    In a move to show it can work with non-Muslims, the PAS is planning to open up membership to them.

    “Nobody can say if we come to power, [that] we cannot govern a multi-religious and multi-racial nation,” says Mr Khalid.

    Cause for concern?

    Religion in Malaysia
    Islam – 61.3%
    Buddhism – 19.8%
    Christianity – 9.2%
    Hinduism – 6.3%
    Other religions – 1.7%
    No religion – 0.7%
    Source: Malaysian Population and Housing Census, 2010

    But a resurgence in Islam has many non-Muslims concerned.

    Islamic officials in Selangor state entered a Methodist church without a warrant in early August, breaking up a fundraising dinner. They recorded the details of several Muslims who attended the function.

    The Islamic authorities have said they acted on a tip-off, but have refused to reveal the nature of the complaint.

    Religious officials are wary about Muslims attending church-organised events. There are fears these are attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity – something that is illegal in Malaysia.

    “This action sets a dangerous precedent and makes a mockery of the sanctity and inviolability of all religious places in our beloved country,” said the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindusim, Sikhism and Taoism in a statement.

    Ongoing row
    The fear of conversion has already strained relations between Muslims and the Christian minority, who make up around nine per cent of the country’s population and are typically ethnic Chinese and Indians.

    Over the last two years, churches have been firebombed and Bibles have been seized in an ongoing row between Christians and Muslims over the use of the word ‘Allah’.

    The religious minority insists that they have been using the term for centuries in the Malay language to refer to the Christian god.

    But in 1986, the government banned non-Muslim from using the word ‘Allah’ in publications. This ban was not usually enforced until recently when the government began to act upon it at the behest of some Muslim groups.

    In a move seen as a bid to win Malay-Muslim votes, the government argued that for non-Muslims, calling their gods ‘Allah’ would be confusing to the Muslim-majority and threaten national security.

    As a result, Malay-language Bibles have been impounded by customs officials. Some Muslim activists fear that Christians are using the Bibles to convert Muslims.

    Attacks on places of worship came after the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled in December 2009 that the word ‘Allah’ is not exclusive to Islam. The government has appealed against the decision but no hearing date has been set yet.

    In the meantime the prime minister’s department has made some concessions in recent months and released some 35,000 seized Bibles. The cabinet has also set up a committee for religious leaders from all faiths to resolve the “Allah” issue.

    Reverend Dr Thomas Philips is one of the committee members. He says the meetings have been sporadic but he is optimistic they can reach an understanding.

    “I’m convinced Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country,” he says.

    Norhayati Kaprawi agrees, but fears that the mainstream opinion has been silenced.

    “People who hold more progressive or alternative views,” she says, “don’t dare to speak up in public.”

    Malaysia Direct is a series of reports and articles, online and on TV on BBC World News, which runs until September 4, 2011.


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