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Global issue 20

another.” For example, in 2014 there was a custody dispute between a Hindu mother and a recently converted Muslim father. The mother was granted custody of both of their children by the Seremban High Court, while the father was similarly given custody by the Sharia Court, since he had converted the young children to Islam without the mother’s consent or knowledge the previous year. In this instance, the High Court overruled the Sharia Court and the children were placed in the mother’s custody. But when the father then proceeded to abduct his son, police refused to help, citing the Sharia custody ruling. But even this is a symptom of a graver issue. “For the first time in our history, we have a Prime Minister and Home Minister who have publicly declared, many times over, that the Malays and Islam are under threat,” Zaid writes on his blog. “The threats are from within, of course; where else could they be? So the PM and his Home Minister are referring to non-Malays and non-Muslims as enemies of Islam and the Malays. In this environment, it’s better not to be too expressive.” During the opening of the 57th national-level Quran Recital Assembly in Kuantan, May 2014, according to The Malay Mail, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak condemned humanism, secularism, liberalism and human rights as being threats to Islam. “They call it human rightism, where the core beliefs are based on humanism and secularism as well as liberalism,” said Najib. “It’s deviationist in that it glorifies the desires of man alone and rejects any value system that encompasses religious norms and etiquettes. They do this on the premise of championing human rights.” Najib went on to say that the attempt to spread this “deviant” thinking is the most dangerous threat to the Islamic faith. “We will not tolerate any demands or right to apostasy by Muslims, or deny Muslims their right to be governed by Sharia Courts and neither will we allow Muslims to engage in LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities.” Malaysia is among the strictest countries when it comes to media censorship, with many film scenes cut and around 100 films banned since 2003 on the pretext of upholding morality. Mainstream media is strictly regulated by the ruling coalition, the majority of which is controlled by the Malay party. In 2007 authorities banned the Malay-language section of Catholic newspaper The Herald due to its use of the word “Allah” – a term for “God” that had been used by Christians in Malaysia for hundreds of years. It was claimed that the use of the word would confuse Malay Muslims away from Islam. While the internet remains relatively free, some political sites were censored in 2014 and social media isn’t recognised. “There are constant issues of sedition – there is always someone being charged for voicing their opinion,” says Zaid. “In August the Minister of Communication said ‘ban Facebook’ – I don’t think he was joking.” And this curtailing of freedom doesn’t end with the media. While the Malaysian constitution provides for freedom of religion, the US Department of State 2006 Report on International Religious Freedom states: “In practice Muslims are not permitted to convert to another religion. In several recent rulings, secular courts ceded jurisdiction to Sharia courts in matters involving conversion to or from Islam… In practice Sharia courts routinely denied such requests.” Although Islam is recognised as the country’s official religion, the practice of non-Sunni Islamic beliefs is significantly restricted, with those deviating from accepted Sunni beliefs frequently subjected to rehabilitation. Some high-profile incidents of people attempting to convert from the Islamic faith have made it into Western media. One such case was that of Revathi Massosai, a woman Arena Politics Judicial divisions along religious lines have had a grave impact on education who was raised as a Hindu but whose identity card designated her as a Muslim from birth. Having unsuccessfully petitioned to have the ‘Islam’ label removed from her identity card, Massosai went on to marry a Hindu man in a cross-faith marriage, which is not recognised by the government as it is illegal in Malaysia for a Muslim person to marry someone outside of his or her faith. She was incarcerated as a result. Leader of opposition party the Democratic Action Party Lim Kit Siang wrote about the trial on his blog: “Sharia High Court judge Radzi said Islam is not only between man and Allah but is also the responsibility between the community and country, and to come out of it is ‘treason’.” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak condemned humanism, secularism, liberalism and human rights as being threats to Islam Taken to an Islamic rehabilitation centre, officials tried to force her to pray as a Muslim, wear a headscarf and eat beef, Massosai told the BBC. She was denied guardianship of her baby, forbidden from meeting with her husband and eventually released into the custody of her parents – despite being 29 years old. Similarly, Lina Joy converted from Islam to Christianity, arguing that it came under her right to freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Constitution of Malaysia. She first attempted to renounce Islam and get her identity card changed in 1997. After being refused, Joy challenged the decision in the High Court. In 2001 it was ruled that she could not convert to Christianity as ethnic Malays are defined as Muslims under the Constitution. In 2005 the Court of Appeal ruled against Joy, saying that the Sharia Court had to settle the issue; in 2007 the Federal Court also dismissed the appeal. The proselytising of Muslims by members of other religions is prohibited in ten of the 13 Malaysian states, where it is punishable by imprisonment and whipping, or rotan. As such, it is common practice for religious groups to put a disclaimer on their literature – “for non-Muslims only”. The Malaysian government is obviously working very hard to maintain a majority-Muslim population and www.global global f i rst quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 41


Global issue 20
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