Malaysia has long been presented as a moderate Muslim nation, in apparent progressive steps to grant religious freedom to non-Muslims in such a majority Sunni state. To prepare myself for my study abroad year here, my skeptical nature to claims of Islam granting religious rights saw me researching into just how valid these claims are. Unsurprisingly, I found an abundance of cases and instances indicating otherwise. Mainstream media does not reveal that this not so progressive country has been growing to adopt a literal and Puritanical form of Islam, resulting in a progressively restrictive and oppressive nation, in persecution of mainly Christianity.
Malaysia’s legal system is a concoction of English Common Law, Malaysian culture and Shari’a Law. However, it is mostly Shari’a that reigns supreme over the Rule of the Law. Malaysia’s constitution clearly defines all ethnic Malays as Muslim, a group that account for 60% of the population. Christians account for 9%. Muslim Malays are subjected to Islamic law in matters of marriage, land rights, inheritance and religious conversions. The idea of religious conversions is merely a theoretical concept. In reality Malays are forbidden to convert from Islam and Christianity is especially scapegoated and officially discriminated against, to the point where any Christian caught evangelising to a Muslim is fined or imprisoned. As is the case in plenty of Muslim countries, such a law can be easily manipulated into persecuting the Christian population.
A simple accusation of proselyting hurled against a Malaysian Christian can be all it takes for the persecution process to begin.
Apostasy laws in Malaysia render conversions illegal in all but one state and the government monitors Christian literature in the Malay language, with Malay Bibles routinely confiscated. All conversions have to be affirmed by a Shari’a court with the process demanding a period of 3 months to reconsider the conversion in a re-education centre. This blatant act of discrimination leaves any Malaysian wishing to officially leave Islam unable to do so and instead they risk their lives and livelihoods. In the states of Perak, Malacca, Sabah, Terrengganu and Pahang – non-Muslim conversion is a criminal offence punishable by fine or prison sentence. Pahang carries a lashing penalty for ‘convicted’ converts. The Malaysian Prime Minister stated in 2013 that the rights of Malaysians should fall ‘within the barriers of Islam‘. This also gives an insight into how the political climate towards minority groups and faiths is in general opposition.
It becomes increasingly harder to find a genuine Islamic progressive state. Malaysia is a country presented to the world as peace-loving and democratic when in reality it curtails non-Muslims and namely Christians to the point where abandoning the Islamic faith is a criminality – an absolutely illicit decision that is prohibited from coming into fruition.
The West has accumulated a false perception that unless Christians are being butchered in their droves or are held for years on death row, they live in relatively safety with their Muslim counterparts, free to practise their faith. This is not the case in this nation comprising 60% Muslims, enough of which are embracing and adhering to Puritanical Islam in line with this ever-increasing, pernicious climate of non-Muslim intolerance.