Govt unjust to Muslims too, says report

A study says there’s a culture of taboos at the expense of the right to religious freedom.

Anisah Shukry, FMT

Both Muslims and non-Muslims face discrimination from Malaysian authorities in the practice and propagation of their beliefs, according to a UK-based study.

The study, conducted by international human rights organisation Equal Rights Trust (ERT) and local rights group Tenaganita, found that Muslims who express beliefs not approved by “official interpreters of Islam” face discrimination from the state and federal government due to provisions in the constitution.

“In the Malaysian context, the belief that only the religiously learned (the ulama) are entitled to opine on religious matters in Islam has created a culture of taboos at the expense of the right to freedom of religion without discrimination,” said a report from the study.

“Today, those Muslims who do not follow the officially sanctioned religion can face persecution.

“As Sunni Islam is the officially accepted branch of Islam in Malaysia, any other forms, practices or schools of Islamic thoughts are vulnerable to being classified deviant.”

The government maintains an official list of 56 sects of Islam it considers deviant and a threat to national security. The list includes Shi’a Islam.

“The government, upon approval by a Syariah court, may detain Muslims who deviate from accepted Sunni principles and subject them to mandatory ‘rehabilitation’ in centres that teach and enforce government approved Islamic practices,” said the report.

In the case of non-Muslims, it said, Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution had been used to place discriminatory restrictions on the religious freedoms of Christians, including the freedom to propagate their beliefs.

Article 11(4) states that “state law and, in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”

This article was used against Christians to ostensibly prevent them from proselytising to Muslims and threatening the supremacy of Islam in Malaysia, the report said.


“Laws prohibiting the proselytisation by non-Muslims were reportedly used by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department to suppress the activities of the Damansara Utama Methodist Church,” it said.

“In 2009, nine Christians were arrested by Malaysian police at Universiti Putra Malaysia … for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.”

Article 11 (4) is also the basis upon which state laws have prohibited the use of words and phrases by non-Muslims, the report revealed.

“The Malaysian government has banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ by other religions, on the basis that Muslims would be confused by the use of ‘Allah’ in other religious publications.”