Minorities unhappy about state role of Islam in Malaysia

By Ecumenical News International
June 25, 2007

Members of five minority religious groups in Malaysia, including Christians and Hindus, have urged their government to take steps to prevent "personal tragedies" resulting from state policies that favour Islam, the official religion of this south-east Asian nation - writes Michele Green.

In a document that describes the effects of a policy in which Muslims are prevented from converting to other religions, the minority religious groups say that some people are even sent to "rehabilitation camps where they are held and 're-educated' until they lose their desire to convert out of Islam".

The claims were included in a "Note of Protest" issued on 19 June by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

"The Note of Protest highlights the personal tragedies of various ordinary Malaysians suffering anguish as a result, in one way or another, of the misuse of religion [such as] persons who are treated as 'Muslims' against their will," the consultative council said in a statement.

The protest followed a high-profile court case of a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity and sought to have her conversion recognised by the state so she could marry her Christian fiancé. Inter-religious marriages are banned in Malaysia.

The woman's appeal was rejected by the country's highest court which ordered her to seek redress in an Islamic court even though Islamic courts can send apostates to prison for abandoning Islam.

The consultative council cited numerous other cases, including that of a Hindu woman who lost custody of her child because her husband converted to Islam, and of an ethnic Indian woman sent to a re-education camp because she wanted to become a Hindu.

Malaysia is considered one of the world's most relaxed Muslim countries but the treatment of apostates has ignited a heated debate.

Half of Malaysia's 26 million people are ethnic Malays, who must by law be Muslim, while the country's Chinese and Indian minorities include Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. Local officials in each of Malaysia's 13 federal states selectively enforce Islamic law.

The grouping of religions minorities urged the government to allow freedom of religion to all people living in the country, and said it "prayed for a peaceful and just society which would find unity in diversity".

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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