1984: It became illegal for non-Muslims to use 49 ‘Islamic’ words including Allah [God], Alhamdulilah [Praise be to God] and Insya Allah [God willing].
1985: The then Deputy Prime Minister [PM] Datuk Musa Hitam said, “The government has set up a committee to co-ordinate the various aspects of Islamic Syariah and civil laws in line with efforts to infuse Islamic values into the Administration.” [New Straits Times (NST) 9 March ‘85]
Aug 1986: ABIM proposes to government that, “Islamic laws be the basis of legislation in Malaysia.” [NST 25 Aug ‘86]
Sep 1986: The Federal and State governments agreed to the integration of Syariah and Civil Courts. The then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas said this integration was a first step toward the Islamisation of laws in the country. He also said that changes should not be made drastically … the best changes are those which are imperceptible. [The Star 25 Sep ‘86]
The above situation led to a written protest by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism [MCCBCHS], and a nationwide church and temple signature campaign denouncing the plans.
1988: The then Minister of Education Anwar Ibrahim, directed all Principals, aged fifty-five and above who were religious, to stop service with immediate effect. The Principals who took over were mostly Muslim.
Moral Education replaced Christian religious education in these schools. The majority of Moral Education teachers were Muslim. Crucifixes in mission schools were removed. School history textbooks glorified Islam and Islamic civilisation over other religions. “Islamic Civilisation” was introduced as a compulsory subject for all university students.
1988: Article 121 of the Federal Constitution was amended by Art. 121 (1A), to state that, the Civil Courts “shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts.”
The result of this amendment led to the Civil Courts being unable to adjudicate in cases where the Islamic ingredient is present notwithstanding the fact the person seeking judicial relief or remedy is a non-Muslim, especially in matters related to conversion, matrimony, children’s custody and burial.
Over the years, case law has shown:
a person who converts to Islam can get his/her civil marriage dissolved by the Syariah court, automatically gains custody of children and is allowed to convert them without the non-Muslim parent’s consent [Subashini v Saravanan].
a person who converts out of Islam cannot change religious status on his/her Identity Card without permission from the Syariah Court [Lina Joy case].
a person who applies to the Syariah Court to convert away from Islam is forced into rehabilitative detention [Revathi Masoosai case ].
State Islamic authorities are given power by the Syariah Courts to claim, exhume and bury deceased persons who they deem as Muslims, regardless of the insistence of family members to the contrary [Moorthy Marian and Rayappan Anthony cases].
1980s: In line with Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution: “State and federal law may restrict the propagation of any other religious doctrine among Muslims”, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment was passed in six states. The penalties for such violations are a maximum RM10,000 fine or one year’s jail, or both.
Five persons including a former Muslim were detained without trial under the ISA for allegedly performing missionary work amongst Muslims.
During the 80s the print media attempted to portray that Christian evangelism was a threat to the Muslim faith. As an example, on 9 Oct ’87, the NST reported that, “Christians attempted to convert Muslims with bribe money”. On 5 Oct ’87 Mingguan Islam alleged that US$100bil was provided by the “World Federation of Churches” for the Christianisation of Muslims. The Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism [MCCBCHS] asserted that both these stories were false. Furthermore, there is no such body as the “World Federation of Churches”.
1980s to present: Approvals for building of non-Muslim places of worship became increasingly difficult. Unusual conditions were imposed – height restrictions on steeples, design restrictions temple domes – Sikh gurdwaras are barred from building their traditional domes for fear that it may cause confusion for looking too mosque-like.
The Church of the Divine Mercy in Shah Alam took no less than 28 years to be approved and built due to vexatious bureaucratic delays and protests from residents.
To date, over 10 Hindu temples have been demolished by local councils on grounds that the structures were illegal.
1980s to present: Muslims by virtue of paying their tithes [zakat] are allowed a tax rebate of the amount tithed. This has resulted in Muslims having a lower effective tax rate, while non-Muslims with the same level of income are taxed a higher percentage.
1993: Banks and finance companies were allowed to offer Islamic banking services.
1993: Kelantan State Legislative Assembly, which is under the control of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia [PAS], passed the Syariah Criminal Code [II] Bill, which included Hudud laws that call for stoning to death and chopping of limbs – these laws could be applied to those from any religion. [As the Federal Government does not recognise these laws, to date, they have not yet been enforced.]
1999: The ruling Barisan Nasional [BN] party suffered its biggest setback in its history when apart from Kelantan, also lost the state of Terengganu to PAS in the General Elections.
PAS, with its vision of setting up a Syariah-based Islamic State, replaced the Democratic Action Party [DAP] as the main opposition party in Parliament.
This led to a race between the BN and PAS to try and ‘out-Islamise’ each other by posturing themselves to appear more ‘Islamic’.
2001: In an apparent attempt to thwart support for PAS’ plans of an Islamic State should it come into power, the then PM Mahathir Mohamed declared that Malaysia was already a “model Islamic Country”. Despite public outcry from the non-Muslim population, the non-Malay component parties within the ruling coalition were either compliant or silent on the issue.
2002: The policy “Absorption of Islamic Values” into government administration was launched. According to the booklet, “Malaysia is an Islamic Country”, the “policy will be implemented on a continuous basis until the goal of entrenching Islam into the nation’s system is fully achieved.” The booklet was later withdrawn but the policy is arguably still in force.
2004: PAS was ousted by the DAP as main opposition party in Parliament when it lost Terengganu to the BN and retained Kelantan by the narrowest of margins in the General Election. The BN, helmed by new PM Abdullah Badawi, experienced its biggest victory to date winning nine tenths of the contested Parliamentary seats.
Badawi then introduced the new concept of Islam Hadhari [Civilisational Islam].
2005: Plans to set up an Interfaith Commission, a statutory non-adjudicative body to assist the government in shaping coherent policy pertaining to religious harmony, were scuttled by widespread protests from Muslim activists who alleged the Commission would “interfere with the holiness of Islam”.
2005: City Hall enforcement officers arrested a non-Muslim couple for hugging and kissing in a public park. The couple appealed to the Federal Court, which ruled that City Hall was correct. The decision has now empowered local council authorities to act as morality police.
2006: An elderly American couple on holiday in Langkawi were harassed and humiliated by State religious enforcement officers who raided their apartment on suspicion they were Muslims committing khalwat [close proximity] – an offence under Syariah law.
2006: A coalition of non-governmental organisations [NGOs] formed “Article 11” [named after the constitutional provision which enshrines freedom of religion], with the intention of reminding the government to defend the Federal Constitution and reaffirm the country’s secular nature. Their nationwide fora were repeatedly disrupted by Islamist activists. The PM stepped in and assuaged the protestors by putting a halt “Article 11’s” activities.
2006: The Attorney General’s Chambers now has a Syariah unit whose functions, inter alia, are to “take steps toward the realisation of a set of laws and specific body that will be responsible for the harmonisation of civil law and syarak [laws of Islam]”.
This could be seen as a resumption of the 1985-1988 initiative towards the integration of Syariah and Civil Courts.
2007: Islamic authorities have been observed to have grown more tyrannical in their enforcement, as evidenced by the recent Revathi Masoosai case where they forcibly took away her child on the grounds that she was a Muslim who illegally practised Hinduism, despite her claim that she had been a practising Hindu since childhood.
A “Building Bridges” seminar of prominent Muslim and Christian scholars under the auspice of the Archbishop of Canterbury scheduled for 7-11 May 2007 was abruptly postponed by officials of the Prime Minister’s Department. No new date has been yet fixed.
July 17 2007: Deputy PM Najib Abdul Razak said Malaysia has never been a secular state as the government has always been driven by the fundamentals of Islam, according to state Bernama news agency.
‘Hudud Laws, The Constitution and the Penal Code’ by O.C. Lim, SJ.
‘Islamisation of Malaysian Laws’ by Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ.
‘Why the MCCBCHS Rejects the Application of the Syariah on Non-Muslims’ by Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism [MCCBCHS].
‘Journey of the Catholic Church in Malaysia’ by Maureen Chew, IJ.
‘Unity Threatened by Continuing Infringements of Religious Freedom’ by Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism [MCCBCHST]
Catholic Asian News : March, May, July, Sept 2006, May 2007.
For further reading, download the booklet “Report on the State of Religious Liberty in Malaysia for the Year 2006” by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship [NECF] http://www.necf.org.my/
The booklet, “Unity Threatened by Continuing Infringements of Religious Freedom” by Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism [MCCBCHST] is available free from MCCBCHST, Buddhist Maha Vihara, 123, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, 50470, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-22739304 From the Catholic Asian News