Freedom of Religion in Malaysia
Freedom of Religion is one of the fundamental human rights that are embodied in the Malaysian constitution. According to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, ‘’every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion.’ Each person is accorded the right to propagate the religion that they choose; however, federal law may exercise control or restriction on the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims.
The same constitution that allows freedom of religion in Malaysia points out that Islam is the religion of the nation but other religions may also be practiced in a peaceful and harmonious manner. Despite this, the subject of freedom of religion in Malaysia is one that has been dodged with lots of controversies over the years. The issue of Malaysia being an Islamic or secular state remains unresolved. This issue has brought contentions and even tried to tear apart the relationship that exists between the various races present in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government generally supports Islam and religious establishments that conform to the Islamic faith. However, Sunday that is considered as the traditional Christian holiday is officially the weekend holiday in ten of the thirteen federal states. This is contrary to what happens in the Muslim countries especially in the Middle East. Having Sunday as a weekend holiday is a deviation from the traditional practices of Islam that were existent in the colonial era before non-Muslim immigrants started coming into the country.
Muslims exercise protection over their freedom of religion through Sharia law and Islamic courts. This makes it challenging and almost next to impossible for adherents to denounce the religion. However, there are no restrictions when it comes to converting Christians or people of other religions to Islam. In public schools, religious studies are mandatory for all Muslim children according to a curriculum that is approved by the government. Homeschooling is allowed in Malaysia but primary school is compulsory to all children who have attained the recommended age.
Despite the confusion that exists in freedom of religion in Malaysia, there are various religious holidays that are officially recognized like Hari Raya Haji (Muslim), Hari Raya Puasa (Muslim), Wesak Day (Buddhist), Thaipusam (Hindu), Deepavali (Hindu), Good Friday (Christian), Christmas (Christian) among others. With all these, one can be easily convinced that there is freedom of religion in Malaysia. However, there are more underlying issues that also need close scrutiny before that declaration is made.
Based on some of the events and revelations that have transpired in Malaysia, it cannot be justified that there is freedom of religion. Take a look at some below:
- The High Court in Malaysia in 1999 ruled that only the Islamic courts have the jurisdiction to decode on the religious conversion of Muslims.
- In April 2000, a sharia law subjecting those who defy the Islamic faith to one year of ‘rehabilitation’ was passed by the State of Perlis.
- Many Muslims who have opted from the faith to Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism among other religions are currently leading ‘double lives’ for fear of segregation and neglect from family and friends.
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