Study: Malaysia’s curbs on religion ‘very high’ and worsening

A girl wearing a hijab waits at the Shah Alam stadium during celebrations of Maulidur Rasul, or the birth of Prophet Muhammad, outside Kuala Lumpur January 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

By Zurairi AR, Malay Mail

Malaysia’s government sets “very high” restrictions on religion that are on par with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Afghanistan, according to a report by Washington-based research organisation, Pew Research Centre.

The report released yesterday also said that Putrajaya’s rules governing faith have become more stringent. Malaysia’s score on Pew’s Government Restriction Index rose to 7.6 in 2012 from 7.1 in 2011, and 6.4 in 2007.

A reading of 6.6 or above indicates that a country has a very high level of restrictions on religion.

Malaysia’s neighbours Indonesia and Brunei also made Pew’s “very high” list with scores of 8.3 and 7.0 respectively. Iran and Saudi were tied at 8.6 while Afghanistan was at 8.1 and Sudan at 6.9

Pew Research Center bills itself as a “nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.”

Although Malaysia’s Federal Constitution provides for “freedom of religion”, there is a “substantial contradiction” and only some religious practices are protected, the report said, adding that the government prohibits worship or religious practices of one or more religious groups as general policy.

The government also limits public preaching, the spread of religious texts, proselytising, and conversion from one faith to another, the report said, adding that minority non-approved religious groups in the country have come in for harassment or intimidation.

According to Pew, Malaysia has been guilty of denouncing one or more religious groups by labelling them as dangerous “cults” or “sects”, leading to bans and attempts to eliminate an entire religious group’s presence in the country.

Malaysia’s government has also preferred one religious group over others, and deferred in some way to religious authorities, texts or doctrines on legal issues, Pew said.

Islam is Malaysia’s official state religion but the country’s constitution allows other religions to be freely practised.

Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.

Over the past year, the largely Sunni Muslim country has started a campaign against Shiah teachings.

A five-year-old court dispute over whether the Arabic word for God, “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims as over 60 per cent of the religion’s followers here believe has also drawn deep divisions in Malaysia, with the country’s dominant Malay-Muslims on one side and its sizeable Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Taoists on the other side.