Dec 2, 2009

Hollow freedom of religion in Malaysia

Malaysia is not only for Muslims

Malaysia has a population of just over 27 million. According to the Population and Housing Census figures, approximately 60.4% of the population practiced Islam, 19.2% Buddhism, 9.1% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism, and 2.6% traditional Chinese religions. The remaining was accounted for by other faiths, including Animism, Folk religion, Sikhism and other faiths while 1.1% either reported as having no religion or did not provide any information. However, these figures may be misleading as professing the religion of Islam is a requirement for being a Malay in the sense of the Malaysian Constitution.


Freedom of religion in Malaysia is a controversial issue. Islam is the official state religion and the Constitution of Malaysia provides for limited freedom of religion, notably placing control upon the 'propagation' of religion other than Islam to Muslims, a fundamental part of a number of other religions. However, questions including whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or secular state remain unresolved. It’s easy to convert to Islam but it is so difficult to return to non-Islam religions. Is this the freedom of religion means in Malaysia?

Force in religious believes by the authorities, is it the way to spread Islam?

Muslims who wish to convert from Islam face severe obstacles. For Muslims, particularly ethnic Malays, the right to leave the Islamic faith and adhere to another religion is a controversial question. The legal process of conversion is also unclear, in practice it is very difficult for Muslims to change their religion legally. It’s understood many Malays change their religion secretly.

The issue of Muslim apostasy is very sensitive. In 1998 after a controversial incident of attempted conversion, the Government stated that apostates 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.

But I’m very sure that religious freedom is guaranteed by law, but the Muslim Malay government trying to increase the role of Islam in the country by increasing their population at the same time.

The conversion cases:

T Saravanan/R Subashini

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.

Revathi Masoosai

Revathi, an ethnic Indian woman, has been held in a rehabilitation center run by Islamic authorities since January 2007 because she wants the State to acknowledge she is a Hindu and not a Muslim. Revathi was born to Indian parents who had converted to Islam before her birth. She claims she was raised by her grandmother as a Hindu. She and Suresh were married according to Hindu rites in March 2004. Revathi was advised by the Malacca Islamic Religious Department to make an application at the Malacca Syariah High Court to confirm her status as a Hindu. She did as she was told.

However, the Syariah Court ordered her detained in a rehabilitation centre in Ulu Yam, Selangor under Melaka’s Syariah criminal laws for 100 days. This detention was extended in Revathi’s absence for a further 80 days supposedly because she had not “repented”. In the meanwhile, Revathi’s Muslim mother obtained a Syariah Court order granting her custody of Revathi and Suresh’s 15 month old baby. That order was enforced on Suresh’s Hindu family with the assistance of the police. The family is now torn apart - with the mother in detention, the child with the grandparents and the father in limbo without his family.

Lina Joy

In fact, Many Muslims who have converted to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other religions lead "double lives", hiding their new faith from friends and family. 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 very difficult although not impossible in Malaysia.

Wong Ah Kiu

Legally known as Nyonya binti Tahir, was a Malaysian convert from Islam to Buddhism.Of mixed Chinese and ethnic Malay descent, she was taken in by her grandmother, a Malay Muslim married to a Chinese of Hainan origin who had converted to Islam; however, she was later adopted by a Chinese family and raised as a Buddhist. Her husband died in 1989 at the age of 87; knowing that she would be unable to be buried next to him as a Muslim, she filed two further applications for recognition of her change of religion in 1991 and 1998; these too were rejected. She left behind a written declaration that she was a Buddhist and wanted to be given a Buddhist rather than an Islamic funeral.

Maniam Moorthy (A member of the first group of Malaysians to successfully climb Mount Everest)

A Malaysian Indian born and raised Hindu, a controversy about his religion arose after his death; he was buried as a Muslim against the wishes of his wife in accordance with a Syariah Court ruling that he had converted to Islam without the knowledge of his family. Despite his conversion to Islam, Moorthy remained uncircumcised, still took part in Hindu festivals, ate pork, and drank alcohol; he appeared on television on 31 October 2005, being interviewed about his celebration of Deepavali. On 11 November 2005, he fell from his wheelchair, injuring his head and entering into a coma from which he would never recover.

Indrani Gandhi’s case:

Indra gandhi’s three young children were forcefully converted to Islam by her estranged husband. Indira's marriage is now is a limbo after her husband, K Patmanathan, 40, converted without her knowledge on March 11. She claimed that her husband, who has since assumed the name Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, had also converted their three children - aged one to 12 - on April 12 without their presence and using only their birth certificates. Now Indra Gandhi fearing that she could not reconvert her children to Hindu. Read here- Anguished mom knocks on PM's door and here- Conversion row: Hindu Sangam turns to new cabinet.

And the latest case:

S Banggarma fighting to establish that she is a Hindu has denied a claim by the Social Welfare Department that she was converted to Islam by her father when she was one year old in 1983. Read here- 'Welfare home conversion': Lawyer wants proof


a corcerned citizen said...

we don’t want ‘Ketuanan Cina’ or ‘Ketuanan India’, or to remove the national status of Bahasa Melayu and Islam, or even to the Sultans as our nominal rulers.

We just want to be given our basic human rights and not be discriminated against in official policy. That is what will unite Malaysia – when all are treated equally, as Malaysians.

Anonymous said...

ramai Ustazah-ustazah dan ustad-ustad yang pernah jadi pengikut Ayah Pin di Kampung Batu 13, Terengganu....

tahniah kepada kerajaan kerana tidak mendakwa semua pengikut ayah pin.

haris said...

the S bangramah case is due to his father, u can't blame the authority.

Vinod said...

Mr Haris,
u r wrong!
even if her father converted her, but she want to be a Hindu, the authority must respect her view!

this is not reflect a freedom of religion nation

Kanna said...


Pabitra said...

I don't understand why the kids must suffered in Indra Gandhi's case. To be honest, I feel disgusted by this kind of people. It's another matter if he wants to convert by himself. But, why must he punishes his wife and the childrens? There's even another case where the Muslim-converted-father ran away with his a few months old child. What is happening in Malaysia? Here and there, the politicians are talking aboul building 1 Malaysia country. Is this what they meant by the freedom of religion in Malaysia?

Seriously, I feel sorry and symphaty with the suffering they had to go through.

eN. tEddY said...

dari semua kes2 yang dilampirkan...
semua islamnya diragui kecuali bagi bekas pendaki everest tu...

bagi aku ex everest climber tu dah terlepas...kat mana dia ditanam pun tak apa..kalau dia sudah mengucap dan menerima hidayah pastinya syurga tempatnya...

cuma kes Lina Joy dan juga yang sukarela convert then nk murtad..Ini Celaka!!..ini tidak wajar terjadi kerana apabila dia sudah memeluk islam dan menerima dirinya sebagai islam dan sudah mengucap 2 kalimah syhadah...dia seharusnya terima perjanjiannya dengan Allah...inilah akibatnya bila agama cuma di atas kertas...dan akibatnya Islam dipermainkan...

begitu juga apabila orang itu masuk hindu..dia harus terima hukuman tidak boleh makan lembu..tapi saya tak tahu sama ada ada hukuman atau tak bagi mereka yang melakukan dosa.saya bukanlah orang yang layak nak komen agama hindu atau lain2.

islam bukan sekadar kepercayaan,tetapi way of life...setiap apa yang diibuat ada aturan...islam bukan sekular!!