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Global issue 20

Arena Politics Malaysia’s Islamisation Sharia law is becoming more dominant in Malaysia, with Muslims no longer allowed to change their religion and non-Muslims feeling increasingly marginalised Kate Bystrova The glass fronts of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline hide a more sinister religious incursion on human rights and freedom of speech The locale was a comfortable, dimly lit bar around the corner from London’s Green Park in England. Down the stairs in the basement we ordered coffee and pulled out our notebooks, hushing our conversation as the speaker we’d come to see looked around the room and began. “In Malaysia, things aren’t well.” A prominent Malaysian lawyer and politician, Zaid Ibrahim has been involved in politics for more than a decade. “Things have changed: there is a ‘new’ Malaysia. The civil law courts are no longer… we have the Sharia. Here, religion is negating the freedom of practising Islam. The rule of law is challenged every other day,” Zaid says. “People need to understand these issues.” Zaid has had roles including Minister of Legal Affairs and Judicial Reform in the Prime Minister’s Department; a senator in the Dewan Negara (the Malaysian parliament’s upper chamber); a member of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO); and the member of parliament for Kota Bharu from 2004 to 2008. The meeting had been organised by The Round Table and Commonwealth Journalists Association as an opportunity for Zaid to speak about recent and concerning developments in Malaysia, to which the West appears all but blind. This includes attempts to curtail freedom of speech, rising Islamism and a court ruling that has, in effect, banned non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’ when referring to God. One of the main problems is the implementation of a dual legal system. “The split of the court system into civil and Sharia, running parallel, is unprecedented. This has caused grave injustice in certain cases and made enforcement of court orders problematic for the police when there are conflicting court orders,” says Zaid. “You can’t have one set of rules for some people and another for 40 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global


Global issue 20
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