Sunday, January 27, 2008

Religious intolerance in Malaysia

January 25, 2008
Malaysia: Troubling Development of Religious Intolerance

Malaysia’s slide into a Sunni Islamic Theocracy seems to continue unabated at the expense of the country’s 40% minority Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious adherents’ expense.

Earlier this month I published an article which focused on the alarming increase in violations of the country’s religious minorities freedoms of religion,, during the past calendar year. However, several events that have occurred during the past several weeks which have necessitated a re-visitation of the country’s deteriorating religious freedom situation.

The government of Malaysia has recently issued new restrictions on visas for foreign clergy. Foreign priests already in the country have only been given six-month renewals and told they must leave after expiry said the head of the Malaysian Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. According to the president of the Council this change in policy will disproportionately affect the country’s Hindu minority, leaving this religious community without an insufficient number of clergy to meet their spiritual needs.

The government has continued to enforce publishing bans on non-Muslim groups because of the fact the materials in question maybe “offensive to Islam.” The government recently banned the usage of the word “Allah”, a common expression for God among Christian groups in many countries around the world and Sikhs and Christians in Malaysia itself, by non-Muslims. The government has now banned the physical manifestation of prophets in non-Muslim publications. The government recently confiscated numerous Christian Children’s books for this reason. This is especially suspicious considering depictions of significant religious figures, besides Muhammad, are acceptable and common place in Shi'ite Islam. This specifically Sunni ruling adds more credence to fears about religious persecution among Malaysia’s religious minorities.

In response to accusations the government’s recent bans were targeting Christians; Deputy Internal Ministry Minister Johari Baharum had the following to say, “We do routine checks all year long. We don’t only seize Christian books, but other [religious] books as well.”

The northern state of Kelantan, which is the only Malaysian state ruled by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, has recently begun to reinforce many draconian views on the population Muslim and non-Muslim alike in the state. The most recent example of this was the recent decision by the authorities in Kelantan to impose fines on grocery stores that allow men and women to use the same checkout lines.

The opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has also decided to try to introduce Sharia condoned punishments such as amputations for theft and stoning for the country’s Muslim population. If this measure were to gain traction in the country. Malaysia would join the likes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the former Taliban controlled Afghanistan in enforcing these rules on its population.

Malaysia’s interethnic harmony is beginning to fade away. However, it is not too late. The people of Malaysia need to realize that in a country where 40% of the country is non-Muslim interethnic compromise and true freedom of religion are the only ways to ensure stability among the country’s varying ethnic groups. Stability among these groups is key to the growing economic prosperity and physical security that all Malaysians have come to rely on and enjoy over the past several decades. If Malaysia continues on this path it will not just be the Hindus, Christians, Taoists, and Sikhs who suffer but every Malaysian of every religious background. In the case of Malaysia, religious freedom is not only the right thing do morally, but the only true manner in which peace and prosperity can be ensured for all Malaysians.

Posted by Andrew Zoeller

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