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Malaysia: Signs of a deep state

Minorities need clarity on rights and freedom of religion in the country

Malaysia: Signs of a deep state

Malaysian police during a rally seeking to stop a bill to redraw electoral boundaries near the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur on March 28. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia

April 4, 2018

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"Are you Muslim?" Everyday, somewhere around Malaysia, a government officer seated behind a desk at the National Registration Department poses the same question to identity card applicants.

The question reflects how the process of Islamizing multi-cultural Malaysia, a country founded on secular principles, is complete, undermining the secular environment of the South-East Asian nation.

It is no secret that the civil service in Malaysia was being gradually Islamized since the creation of the nation 55 years ago.

Overwhelmingly dominated by ethnic Malay Muslims, the administrative branch of the government has played a decisive role in diluting Malaysia's multicultural character.

Now Malaysians are witnessing some of the effects of allowing religious considerations to fuse with administrative policy.

Minority ethnic Chinese, Indians and the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo, who are mainly Christian, have become increasingly concerned over the growing Islamization of the country.

In 2007 the government declared that the word 'Allah' could only be used by Muslims and outlawed Malay translations of Christian texts including the Bible that contained the word.

A ban on the construction of a Taoist statue in the state of Sabah on Borneo and the destruction of Hindu temples by local authorities increased inter-ethnic tensions the same year.

In the years that followed, government policy indulged Islamic conservatism. Support for more Islamist policies has grown since the ruling coalition lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election — its worst ever electoral performance.

Minority rights and the rule of law have been set back.

In 2014, the chief of police refused to execute a court order in a child custody case.

Islamic authorities rushed defended his stance. But the open defiance of the civil court order raised questions about unbiased enforcement of the law in the country.

The chief of police claimed the reason for his refusal to execute the court order was due to the jurisdictional conflict between the civil and Shariah courts.

Police have yet to locate the man and the child he kidnapped from his mother.

Equally chilling is the failure by the authorities to explain the mysterious disappearances of four social workers including one who was kidnapped in broad daylight just outside of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, last year.

A widely circulated video surveillance clip appears to show what happened. A convoy of black SUVs and motorcycles is seen swooping down on Pastor Raymond Koh's car and boxing it in by the side of the road. It is allegedly the last time anyone saw him.

The apparent abduction took place in under a minute in broad daylight and was witnessed by other motorists who reported the incident to police.

Koh's family believe it was no ordinary kidnapping, and that "religious elements" took the pastor in an act of "vigilantism or terrorism" as they have not received a credible ransom demand.

Koh ran a non-government organization called Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community) in Kuala Lumpur, which helps the poor, single mothers, and drug addicts.

In 2011, the pastor's organization was investigated by Malaysia's Islamic authorities after being accused of attempting to convert Muslims which is an offence in Malaysia. The charges were dropped but he continued to be harassed.

Less is known about the abduction of the Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy — a convert from Islam — and his wife Ruth, who were also reported missing in March last year.

Amri Che Mat, a Muslim social activist was allegedly snatched from his car in November 2016, in the northern state of Perlis. He was accused of preaching Shia Islam, which is banned in Sunni Malaysia.

Lending credence to rumors that the disappearances are connected and that the four are victims of extra-judicial detention, Malaysian police appear to have dragged their feet in their investigations.

It has come to the stage that even Malaysian Muslims are scoffing at the government's promotion of the country as a moderate Muslim nation.

They cite a series of cases as examples; a man slapping a Muslim woman for not wearing a headscarf in public, a youth caught stealing from a mall let off after he showed up in court in Islamic dress, a Muslim employer who tortured her Indonesian maid is let off with a warning.

In February, Catholic Archbishop of Kuching Simon Poh was threatened by a crowd of Muslims outside a court house as police stood by. It was the first time Sarawak state, now the only Malaysian state with a majority Christian population, had witnessed such an incident.

Malaysia's slide towards religious disharmony is inevitable. Ketuanan Melayu (literally Malay dominance) is a political concept emphasizing Malay preeminence in the nation.

The government has allowed the 'state within a state' to grow out of control of the established institutions of the government. The disappearances of the four and the shoddy investigation is emblematic of this.

Islamization in Malaysia starts at the kindergarten level and grows ever outward. Breaking the chain is difficult.

Recent events in neighboring Indonesia, where former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as 'Ahok,' was jailed at a whim, is a stark warning of where Malaysian politics may be headed.

When he was sentenced to two years imprisonment, the presiding judge told the court that Ahok was "convincingly guilty of committing blasphemy."

Yet in Indonesia, which has the largest Sunni Muslim population in the world and recognizes six religions based on the nation's ideology named Pancasila — a set of interrelated principles — all are equal under the law.

The reality is that the fundamental principles of a state matter little when one faith takes precedence  over all others.

We all have our belief systems which we all believe to be true. We also believe that they are personal. So, when we are asked by the state which system we subscribe to, we know we are in the midst of a religious quickening.

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