Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Malaysia is Truly Asia - Whatever that Means

Just a few days ago (4th February 2008), the International Herald Tribune highlighted the recent confiscation of 32 Bibles by the Malaysian Customs. Those 32 copies of Holy Scripture were subsequently sent to the Internal Security Ministry’s publication control unit for the appropriate “clearance” or censorship - whatever that means.

It seems that our neighboring country, Malaysia, is becoming more intolerant of differing religious practices. What little common respect and cordiality which should be afforded to a religious minority is taken away, leaving Malaysian Christians wondering if Malaysia is now officially an Islamic State. Perhaps Dr Mahathir Mohamad's pronouncement should be taken literally when he said that his country is an Islamic fundamentalist state. Dr Mahathir further emphasized that, “If we hold to the fundamentals of Islam, we will not become bad as Islam exhorts us to be on good brotherly terms, united, do good things and hence it is not wrong to be an Islamic fundamentalist.”

However, Rodney Yeoh from The Pluralism Project at the Harvard University wrote, “The question of whether Malaysia is an Islamic state remains highly contentious and ambiguous. The former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammad stated explicitly that Malaysia is an Islamic state on September 29, 2001. This was seen as a political move to detract supporters from the rising Islamic resurgence in Malaysia. Mahathir’s statement provoked an outrage from the Chinese and Indian communities who claimed that Malaysia is not an Islamic state under the Federal Constitution.”

Malaysia’s tourism slogan is “Malaysia Truly Asia.” But is Malaysia truly “Asia?” According to a research report by The Pluralism Project, it is highly doubtful that Malaysia’s religious policies are perceived by Malaysians and her neighbors as being conducive to the freedom of religious practices.

"Despite proclaiming themselves as a moderate Islamic government, several religious controversies have challenged this notion. The issue of Malaysians’ freedom of religion is questioned, especially when it comes to Islam. The controversial case of the late M. Moorthy tested the waters of religious tolerance in Malaysia. Moorthy, originally a Hindu, was alleged to have converted to Islam by the syariah court before his untimely death. Hence, he was buried in the traditional Islamic way. However, his wife, M. Kaliammal claimed that she had evidence proving that Moorthy was a Hindu before his death and sought to take the case to the Malaysian court system to have him buried according to traditional Hindu rites. Unfortunately, her case was rejected as it was deemed as not being under the powers of the civil court but the syariah court of Malaysia. Kaliammal has launched another appeal and her case is awaiting hearing in September 2006. ...

"The current controversy surrounding the case of Lina Joy provides another example concerning the freedom of religion of an individual. Joy (her real name was Azlina Jalani) was once a Muslim but converted to Christianity. She wanted to drop Islam from her identification card as her religion but was not permitted to do so by the National Registry Department (NRD). Joy brought her case to the court of appeals and like Moorthy’s case, the civil court dismissed her case based on the same argument that this matter was under the auspices of the syariah court. This controversy underlines the issue of one’s religious freedom in Malaysia, especially when it comes to Malays. Adherents from other faiths can convert to other religions but not Muslims who can be deemed apostates and punished under the syariah court. (The Pluralism Project, Research Report, pp. 21-22)"

From the planned demolition of Hindu Temples to the recent confiscation of 32 Bibles at Malaysia’s Customs, Malaysia’s government does not seem to be bothered by the apparent intolerance for the religious freedom of non-Muslims in Malaysia.

Perhaps Malaysia is Truly Asia in the following sense of the word:

1. Promotion of valuable children's books

2. Allowing the freedom of worship

3. Upholding human rights and architectural ingenuity

4. Making space for nature in the State of Kelantan

5. Doing everything in moderation

This is one reason why I do not contribute to Malaysia’s tourism industry, or whatever is left of it.


Joe Blackmon said...

It is truly sad to hear about anyone being discriminated against due to their religion-regardless of what that religion is. While I certainly would not agree with a Muslim or an orthadox Jew about theology, I would want them to be treated the same as I am with respect to our government. Thanks for postin this. Very eye opening.

Edmund Lau said...

Hi Brother Vincent,

Thanks for your encouraging words on my blogs (just posted a reply there). Also, thanks for posting this much needed entry on the religious situation here in Malaysia.

~ Edmund