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Malaysia

Malaysian state's Sharia law criminalizes conversion from Islam

New laws aim at educating and bringing offenders back to the right path of Islam, minister claims

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: November 09, 2021 06:29 AM GMT

Updated: November 09, 2021 06:42 AM GMT

Malaysian state's Sharia law criminalizes conversion from Islam

Malaysian Islamic Party supporters wave party flags on the eve of the country's 14th general election in Alor Setar on May 8, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

Malaysia’s Kelantan state has enacted new Sharia laws that create 24 new offenses, including attempts of conversion from Islam to other faiths, triggering concerns from Christian and rights groups.

Authorities in the northeast state made effective the Kelantan Syariah (Sharia) Criminal Code (I) Enactment 2019 on Nov. 1, local media reported.

The new laws are based on amendments to the Syariah Criminal Code (II) 1993 and the existing 1985 Syariah Criminal Code. Sultan Muhammad V, the head of the state, agreed and passed the new laws in July last year.

The state’s chief minister Ahmad Yakob reportedly said that the enactment allows Sharia courts to deliver verdicts on cases relating to a specific list of offenses. The punishments include a maximum jail term of three years, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit (US$1202) or six strokes of the cane.

Among the 24 listed punishable offenses are attempts to convert from Islam, distortion of Islamic teachings, disrespecting the month of Ramadan, destroying houses of worship, disobeying parents, tattooing and undergoing plastic surgery, reported The Star.

Other offenses include sexual intercourse with corpses and non-humans, witchcraft and false claims.

We find these developments concerning and dangerous as they violate fundamental principles of democracy by suppressing critical thought and expression

During a media briefing on Oct. 31, minister Ahmad said that the new laws aim at educating and bringing offenders back to the right path of Islam, not just merely punishing them.

It would would be beneficial in strengthening Sharia law not only in Kelantan but also in other states in Malaysia, he added.

Earlier, Indris Ahmad, minister in-charge of religious affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department, had said that Islamic-related enactments including hudud (Islamic Penal Code) would not affect non-Muslims in Malaysia.

Critics in Malaysia and beyond have expressed concerns over the new laws in Kelantan.

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US-based Christian group International Christian Concern (ICC) said the laws would contribute to “exclusive and intolerant Islam.”

Sisters in Islam, a Malaysia-based women rights group, issued a statement on Nov. 2 to decry the new laws.

It said the chief minister’s statement on law is "restorative and retributive" and his claims that the law aims to educate and bring offenders back to the right path of Islam and not merely punish them is questionable and poses a grave concern.

“We find these developments concerning and dangerous as they violate fundamental principles of democracy by suppressing critical thought and expression through arbitrary provisions and punishing those who do not toe the line,” the group said.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Malaysian citizens, have been targeted with hate speech from radical clerics

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country with its constitution declaring it a secular state. However, observers note there has been a creeping radicalism within powerful segments of the Malay Muslim-majority community that aims to assert a strong Islamic identity for the nation of 32 million.

The creeping Islamism and a rise of religion-based politics in recent years have seen an increase in vilification and oppression of liberals and religious minorities in the country.

In September, the federal government came under strong criticism from a leading interfaith group, minority bodies and churches following revelations the authorities were drafting four new Sharia bills including one aiming to control and restrict propagation of non-Muslim religions. Following condemnation, the controversial bill was put on hold.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Malaysian citizens, have been targeted with hate speech from radical clerics and Islamist politicians who term Christians as “enemies of Islam” engaged in a secret conspiracy to weaken the hold of Islam on the land.

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