Additionally, many of the Chinese community, which comprises the bulk of the Buddhist population, actually practise a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religion. As there is no official name for this particular set of beliefs, many followers instead list down their religion as Buddhism, mainly for bureaucratic convenience.
The nation maintains two parallel justice systems in the country (see: Courts of Malaysia). One is the secular justice system based upon laws gazetted by Parliament. The other is sharia (syariah, Islamic law). Ostensibly Syariah Courts only have jurisdiction over persons who declare themselves to be Muslims. Consequently, this results in non-Muslims not having legal standing in Syariah Courts.
Where decisions of the syariah court affect a non-Muslim, he or she can seek recourse in the secular courts who, in theory, overrule the syariah courts as the Syariah courts are limited in their jurisdiction by Article 121 of the Federal constitution. In 2006 a judge ruled that Article 121 limited the federal courts from ruling on matters ruled on by the Syariah court when it touch Islamic matter. This was seen as a misinterpretation of the article by some, and the case is under appeal in the court of appeals.
The rules of sharia are set by the various sultans of the states. Historically a sultan had absolute authority over the state. Prior to independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman managed to convince the sultans to cede some states' powers to the federal government. One of the terms of this agreement is that the sultans still are the ultimate authority of Islamic law in their respective states. The same arrangement was long held even during British colonial rule.
Constitutionally, one of the four tests for being Malay in Malaysia is that one must be a Muslim. Therefore, all Malays are considered to fall under Islamic law. The rationale for this is that Islam is considered intrinsic to Malay ethnic identity which culturally and historically under Sultan rule who is a Muslim.
On September 29, 2001, the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad declared that the country was an Islamic state (negara Islam). The opposition leader at the time, Lim Kit Siang, is now actively seeking support to declare Mahathir's move as unconstitutional by repeatedly clarifying that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as its official religion as enshrined in the Constitution. However, the coalition government headed by Mahathir at the time held more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. A two-thirds majority vote in Parliament is required for constitutional amendments in Malaysia.
Government in general supports Islamic religious establishment and it is the official policy to "infuse Islamic values" into the administration of the country.
However, Sunday which is the Christian traditional holiday is the official weekend holiday in the Federal Territories and ten out of thirteen states, unlike practices in Middle Eastern Muslim countries. The exception are the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, where the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. Most Muslims in Malaysia accept this, although some have expressed disquiet since the most holy period in a Muslim's week is between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, when the congregational Jumaat prayer is held. The practice of having Sunday as the weekend holiday is a departure from traditional Islamic practices, dating to British colonial days when the British started bringing in non-Muslim immigrants into the country.
In May 2001, the government decided not to approve the Falun Gong Preparatory Committee’s application to register as a legal organization. This action is believed to be more related to the government's wish to improve relations with China rather than an attempt to undermine the Falun Gong in favour of Islam. The government has not prevented Falun Gong members from carrying out their activities in public.
For Muslim children, religious education according to a government-approved curriculum is compulsory in public schools. There are no restrictions on homeschooling, although primary school is compulsory. However, private schools and colleges do have some legal requirements.
Several religious holidays are recognized as official holidays, including Hari Raya Puasa (Muslim), Hari Raya Haji (Muslim), the Prophet's birthday (Muslim), Wesak Day (Buddhist), Deepavali (Hindu), Thaipusam (Hindu), Christmas (Christian), and, in Sabah and Sarawak, Good Friday (Christian).
In April 2002, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) initiated an interfaith dialog aimed at promoting better understanding and respect among the country's different religious groups. Participants included representatives from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, the Malaysian Ulama Association, and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS).
In early 2005, much debate was stirred up by a proposed Inter-Faith Commission put forward by various individuals some of which included academics and lawyers from the Bar Council.
The steering committee behind the proposal for a draft bill for the commission organised a national conference that saw about 200+ people from all religious backgrounds attending it. There they hashed out the framework for a commission that could advise the relevant parties on the many inter-faith issues that arise in pluralistic Malaysia - such as conversion from Islam to another faith, which is deemed as apostacy in Malaysia.
However, mainstream Islamic groups in Malaysia boycotted the event, saying that the commission would undermine the religion. Also they believed that many of the issues raised by the commission's founders were due to lack of knowledge of Islam even by Muslims themselves. Contrary to explanations by the commission it was only intended to advise on such matters (because currently people have nowhere to turn to for advice), and not to enforce, many Muslims believe that the commission may have other motives.
After much coverage in the local newspapers, the draft bill was put on hold by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, due to the controversy surrounding it.
In 2006, T. Saravanan, a Muslim convert, sought to dissolve his marriage with his non-Muslim wife via the Syariah Court. His wife, R. Subashini, applied to Kuala Lumpur High Court for an injunction against her husband seeking divorce in the Syariah Court. The High Court dismissed her application. This was affirmed in the Court of Appeal, where the court also ordered Subashini to take her case to the Syariah Court. As of September, 2007, their case is pending in the Federal Court after an appeal by Subashini. Subashini is also seeking to stop or declare void the conversion of their children.As of 27 December 2007, R. Subashini failed in an attempt to stop her husband from divorcing her in an Islamic court. She also failed to persuade the federal court her husband should be banned from converting their four-year-old son to Islam. The appeal was rejected on a technicality but court added that she would be able to try again in a few months.
This case was tested by Teoh Eng Huat vs Kadhi mot of Pasir Mas Kelantan in 1986. Teoh Eng Huat's daughter was a ward of the state. She married a Muslim. Hence then a minor, converted to Islam. The high court ruled that the father's right to decide the religion and upbringing of the infant is allowed "subject to the condition that it does not conflict with the principles of the infant's choice of religion guaranteed to her under the Federal Constitution". Through the proceedings, Susie Teoh never appeared in court to testify.
The decision was overruled on appeal to the Supreme Court, who held "in all the circumstances and in the wider interests of the nation no infant shall have the automatic right to receive instruction relating to any other religion other than (her) own without the permission of the parent or guardian".
The Supreme Court further held that this was "only of academic interest" as Susie Teoh was no longer a minor at the time of hearing.
In response several states (Islamic laws are passed by individual states) passed laws providing for conversion by 15 (defined as "baligh" in Islam or the age of majority). Federal law still provides for the age of majority as 18.
The court determined that as a state court, it had jurisdiction over all state matters even those concerning Islam. Further, based upon the Federal Constitution (article 12), The Guardianship of Infants Ordinance (Sabah) 1999, The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976 and The Administration of Islamic Law Enactment 1992 (Sabah) determined the conversion of a two year old child to be void.
In 2003, this issue became prominent again in the case of Shamala Sathiyaseelan v Dr. Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah. In the first hearing before the High Court, Shamala Sathiyaseelan sought (1) to bring committal proceedings against the father of the infants for breach of the interim custody order of the High Court of April 17, 2003, and (2) to declare that she was not bound by any decisions, order or proceedings of the syariah court.
Earlier the High Court had granted custody to Shamala Sathiyaseelan with access for the father. He failed to return the children to her on May 25, 2003. Shamala and Jeyaganesh were married under Hindu rites registered under the jurisdiction of the Law Reform Act. The husband converted to Islam on Nov 19, 2002. On Nov 25, 2002 he converted the children without the mother's knowledge or consent. They were still not divorced at the time.
Without knowledge of Shamala he then obtained a custody order in the syariah court on Jan. 30, 2003. The High Court ruled that the custody order issued by the syariah court "did not change the interim civil court order". They ruled that the syariah court order "is not binding on the plaintiff wife who is non-Muslim". The interim custody order of the High Court and proceedings were binding on the now Muslim husband as matters arising out of the Hindu marriage registered under the Law Reform Act. As his Hindu wife did not file for divorce, she remains "his unconverted wife" under this law.
On April 13, 2004 Shamala once again went to the high court. This time to seek an order that the conversion of the infants was void. As in Chang Ah Mee, she cited the Federal Constitution (Article 12), the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act, 1993.
The Guardianship of Infants Act for the Federal Territories differed from that of Sabah in one aspect as it used the term "parent or guardian" and not "both parents or a guardian" as in AMLE Sabah.
In this case the High Court ruled that only the consent of one parent is required in the conversion to Islam of a person below 18 in the Federal Territories.
Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution reads "For the purposes of cl. (3) the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian."
The High Court interpreted the term parent to mean father. The equality of rights granted to both parents under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1961 was held inapplicable on the Muslim father.
In its judgement the High Court held the fatwa or the Mufti of the Federal Territory as persuasive (legal term). The Mufti stated that the father had the right to unilaterally convert the infants to Islam.
Shamala once again went to the high court on July 20, 2004 to apply inter alia for custody, care and control of the infants. The court awarded it with access for the father. In its judgement, it stated that "the right of religious practice of the two infant children shall be exercised equally by both parents" based on the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961. This was in spite of the earlier ruling that this act does not apply to Jeyaganesh who was now a Muslim.
The court also held that the applicable law at the time of conversion was civil law. It even ruled that the infants were "still Hindus at the time of conversion" and that the father should have consulted the mother before converting the infants.
However the court explicitly cautioned the mother from "influencing the infants' religious belief by teaching them her articles of faith or by making them eat pork" or she would risk losing her children. The rationale given was that the court "cannot run away from the fact that the two infant children are now muallaf" (converts to Islam).
As the case has gained prominence various religious organizations, human rights organizations and women's issues organizations have registered watching briefs. En. Haris Bin Mohamed Ibrahim has registered a watching brief on behalf of the Women's Aid Organisation, (WAO), All Women's Action Society (AWAM), Women's Center for Change, Penang (WCC) and Sisters In Islam (SIS). A. Kanesalingam, held watching brief for the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS). Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Bar Council are also holding watching briefs for this case.
The various organizations holding watching brief in this case now call themselves loosely Article 11 after the article of the Federal Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion.
In 1999 the High Court ruled that secular courts have no jurisdiction to hear applications by Muslims to change religions. According to the ruling, the religious conversion of Muslims lies solely within the jurisdiction of Islamic courts.
The issue of Muslim apostasy is very sensitive. In 1998 after a controversial incident of attempted conversion, the Government stated that apostates (i.e., Muslims who wish to leave or have left Islam for another religion) would not face government punishment so long as they did not defame Islam after their conversion. However, whether the very act of conversion was an "insult to Islam" was not clarified at the time. The Government opposes what it considers deviant interpretations of Islam, maintaining that the "deviant" groups’ extreme views endanger national security. In 2005 international media attention focused on the Sky Kingdom sect whose founder Ayah Pin claimed to be God, and whose members - mostly Malays - were accordingly charged with religious "deviancy" and "humiliating Islam."
In the past, the Government imposed restrictions on certain Islamic groups, primarily the small number of Shi'a. The Government continues to monitor the activities of the Shi'a minority.
In April 2000, the state of Perlis passed a sharia law subjecting Islamic "deviants" and apostates to 1 year of "rehabilitation" (under the Constitution, religion, including sharia law, is a state matter). Leaders of the opposition Islamic party, PAS, have stated the penalty for apostasy — after the apostates are given a period of time to repent and they do not repent — is death.
General interpretation about the freedom of religion as described in the constitution in Malaysia is that a person has a right to practice his or her religion freely. This freedom does not grant a person a right to change his or her religion "at a whim and fancy. For example a Muslim who wants to convert to another religion must get an explicit permission from a syariah court. The syariah courts rarely grant such requests, except in cases where a person has actually lived his or her whole adult life as a person of different religion, and only wants to change the official documents to reflect this fact. The Islamic interpretation of the situation is that only the syariah courts can decide who is a Muslim and who is not. A person does not have such freedom, and so cannot have a say in the judgement given in a syariah court.
The Lina Joy case challenged this view of the situation by taking the problem of apostasy to the Federal Court in 2007. Lina Joy lost the case and was denied conversion to Christianity. This cleared the situation about the overlapping areas of jurisdiction between the Islamic and the secular courts in Malaysia. Also it is now clear that renouncing Islam is practically impossible in Malaysia.
Statistics indicate that Negeri Sembilan has the largest number of converts, with 840 applications made to renounce Islam in 2005, 62 of which succeeded. An academic has suggested that this is because Negeri Sembilan is the only state which permits conversion. A convert must first apply to the Syariah Court for a declaration that he or she is no longer a Muslim; the convert will then be counseled for about a year by a Mufti. If, after this period, the convert still wants to convert, the judge may permit the application. This process is unique to the state; no other state allows Muslims to officially convert. In 2006, the Negeri Sembilan Court also permitted Wong Ah Kiu, a convert from Islam to Buddhism legally known as Nyonya binti Tahir, to be buried in the Buddhist fashion, although her conversion had not been legally recognised while she was still alive. The case marked the first time non-Muslims had testified in a Syariah court in Malaysia.
In five states — Perak, Malacca, Sabah, Terengganu, and Pahang — conversion is a criminal offense which can be punished by a fine or jail term. In Pahang, convicted converts may also be punished with up to six strokes of the cane.
Joy appealed against this decision in the High Court, arguing that she should not be subject to sharia law, having converted to Christianity. In April 2001, Judge Datuk Faiza Tamby Chik ruled that she could not change her religious identity, because ethnic Malays are defined as Muslims under the Constitution. Joy then took her case to the Court of Appeal. On 19 September 2005, the court ruled in a 2-1 majority decision against Joy. Justice Abdul Aziz and Justice Arifin Zakaria agreed that the NRD was correct in rejecting Joy’s application and said it was up to the Syariah Court to settle the issue (Justice Gopal Sri Ram said it was null and void. ). Joy further appealed to the Federal Court of Malaysia, the highest court and the court of last resort in Malaysia. The Federal Court heard the appeal in July 2006, and it was presided by the Chief Justice of Malaysia Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum, and Federal Court Judge Alauddin Sheriff.
On May 30, 2007, the Federal Court, in a 2-1 decision, dismissed Joy's appeal. The Court's panel ruled that only the Syariah Court had the power to allow Joy to remove her religious designation of Islam from her national identity card. Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Federal Court judge Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff delivered the majority decision dismissing her appeal.
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum dissented.
The Federal Court judgment as of 12.21pm, 30th May 2007 on the Lina Joy appeal was a historic one with legal and social repercussions yet to be seen with the decision going against her.
In 2002 the government banned the Bible in Malay (Alkitab) and in Iban (Bup Kudus). The Kudus uses the term "Allah Taala" for God. The ban has since been rescinded. Home Minister Abdullah Badawi (now Prime Minister) claimed it was the work of an overzealous bureaucrat and he had then repealed the ban personally.
Some states have laws that prohibit the use of Malay-language religious terms such as usage of the term "Allah" for God by Christians, but the authorities do not enforce them actively.
Distribution of other materials such as books or tapes translated into Bahasa Melayu (local Malay) or Indonesian is also discouraged. However, Malay-language Christian materials are available. Prior to the banning of the Bup Kudus in 2002, the distribution of Malay-language Christian materials faced few restrictions in East Malaysia.
In recent years, visas for foreign clergy no longer are restricted, and most visas were approved during the period covered by this report. Beginning in March 2000, representative non-Muslims were invited to sit on the immigration committee that approves such visa requests.
The new pre-planned capital of Malaysia, Putrajaya, features a grand mosque as a prominent feature of the planned community.
On November 16, 2005, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam announced that the Malaysian government had generously allocated a parcel of land in Putrajaya to the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur for building a Catholic Church-run community centre. The Putrajaya Catholic Church Building Committee was set up on October 3, 2005. According to the committee, "The architectural planning and design will conform to the Liturgical requirements complimenting the ambience of Putrajaya's lush greenery and landscape. We envisage the Putrajaya church to be a hallmark of the Catholic community in Malaysia and showcase the rich heritage of the Malaysian Catholics."
The Catholic Society of Shah Alam had been lobbying the state government for a permit to build a church in that city for more than 10 years. It was not until recently that permit was finally granted. The church opened its doors on 10 September 2005.
In 2004 the Bar Council of Malaysia journal "Infoline" carried an article which questioned the need for the Azan as it was disturbing to non-Muslims and not needful. The article was condemned.
In December 2004, Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim mentioned in an interview that the Azan may be disturbing. He stated "...the Muslim call for Subuh (dawn) prayer may disturb the sleep of non-Muslims but they have accepted this as a fundamental part of Islam. But how loud the volume of the PA system in the mosque should be, is another matter." (New Strait Times, 20 December 2004)
Excessive noise however is common matter of uneasiness among some Malaysians because non-Muslims also often practise rituals that cause much discomfort to others (Muslims and non-Muslims alike). Among these are Chinese funeral processions that are often accompanied by drums and cymbals, and other rituals not exclusive to the Chinese. However, it must be noted that such practices are relatively less frequent than the Azan and are usually confined to a certain area. Firecrackers for use during Chinese New Year have also been banned, and the remaining practices are not deliberately amplified using loud-speakers.
A local daily, The Star reported that a proposal by Kepong MP Dr Tan Seng Giaw to regulate the Azan so that it will not be too loud or disturb non-Muslims caused a stir in the House. 28-Sep-2005 issue Muslim MPs accused him of being insensitive and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohamad Nazri Abdul Aziz blasted the DAP member for allegedly trying to destroy the multi-religious tolerance in the country.
Sadly when we draw a similar parrelel with the church bells ringing in Malaysia, there are many restrictions the Malay dominated town councils place upon the churches in their localities. This again is a form of religous intolerence practiced by bigotted and misguided individuals.
Pig farming is allowed in Malaysia with proper controls. This is to prevent epidemics such as foot & mouth disease, JE, and Nipah. In Pahang (one of the states in Malaysia) alone, in 2005, there were 7,535 pigs being reared, producing 746 metric tons of pork valued at RM5.04 million, and in 2004 there were 7,808 pigs producing 773 metric tons valued at RM5.22 million.
During the JE epidemic, from 27 March 1999 until 23 Jun 1999, 186,793 pigs were destroyed, costing the government RM2.3 million for the cost of said pigs plus additional compensation of RM 9.32 million.
Recently in Malacca, the government has ordered some pig farms to close down.
Zakat (or tithe) monies, however, are paid by Muslims directly to official organisations run by state governments. Receipts are issued out and must be submitted to apply for the tax relief.
The zakat organisations themselves are governed by specific Islamic rulings defining the categories of people who qualify to receive the alms as well as the amount to be paid out by a Muslim based on his income.
Zakat is therefore, a compulsory additional tax to be paid out from a Muslim's income - not a voluntary charity.
In contrast, charities in Malaysia are run privately by voluntary organisations, collecting voluntary donations from the general public, not compulsory tithes - thus the difference in treatment by the government.
Additionally, income tax relief granted to companies for donation made to tax exempt charities is restricted to 5% of the agggregate income of the company. Not all non-muslim charities are granted tax exempt status, it is only given to registered and approved charities, partly to prevent abuse. There are stringent requirements to gain this advantage. Having earned this advantage these charities are further disadvantage in that their prospective donors are discouraged from donating monies to these charities because the donors are given tax relief for up to 5% of their aggregate income only.
Movies which depict people considered prophets in Islam are generally censored or banned as the depiction of prophets is considered "haraam" (not allowed) under Islam. One notable case was the banning of The Prince of Egypt when its producers would not accept censorship of the character Moses (Musa in Islam).
However, in a more recent case, The Passion of the Christ was allowed, after the intervention of the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, under strict conditions restricting its viewership to Christians with sales of tickets being carried out by various churches and para-church organisations.
In 2004, Yasmin Ahmad's (herself a Malaysian Muslim) film Sepet was rejected by censors who asked that scenes be removed. 10 scenes were objectionable. Among objectionable material queried in the movie was why the movie did not depict any attempt to convert Jason (the Chinese non-Muslim main character) to Islam after he had fallen in love with a Malay girl.
On December 10, 2007, Malaysian authorities banned the Malay-language section of a Catholic weekly newspaper, The Catholic Herald due to its use of the word Allah. Their reasoning is that the word Allah by Christians would confuse Malay Muslims. The Herald meanwhile, filed suit at the beginning of December following warnings that its permit could be revoked if it did not cease use of the word “Allah” in the Malay language section of its newspaper.Countering the Herald's suit, the Malaysian security authorities on December 30, warned its printing permit would not be renewed if it continued using the word "Allah," which the government continued to say can only be used by Muslims.
The Catholic Church began its challenge of the government gag order prohibiting it from using the word “Allah” in its Herald-The Catholic Weekly- through a judicial review. The government had earlier argued that the church’s application is frivolous and had urged the court to throw it out but Madam Justice Lau Bee Lan disagreed and allowed the application by the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Murphy Pakiam, for leave to sue the government regarding the use of the word “Allah” to proceed. Three points that were raised in the lawsuit. The first is for the court to declare that the government’s action in prohibiting The Herald from using the word “Allah” is illegal and null and void. The second is for a court declaration that the Archbishop as publisher of The Herald is entitled to use the word “Allah” and lastly, that the court should declare that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to the religion of Islam.
In January 2008, children's Christian books with illustrations of prophets were confiscated from several bookstores around the country.
On the 5th of November 2006, a group of Muslims gathered outside the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Silibin, in the town of Ipoh, Perak to protest an alleged conversion of Muslim Malays out of Islam. The allegation was spread via a text message that claimed the church would baptize a group of Muslim Malays. The message proved to be false as the church celebrated only a Holy Communion service for 110 Indian children. The message further alleged that a famous Malaysian sportsman Azhar Mansor was leaving Islam to embrace Christianity. The police had traced the message to a lady who had met Harussani Zakaria, mufti of the state of Perak in a meeting. He has stated that the message was to remain within the confines of the meeting but had made no attempt to verify the authenticity of the message nor report it to the police as converting Muslims is illegal under Malaysian law.
On 17 November, Azhar Mansor declared that he had not renounced Islam , and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that there should now be an end to the speculation.