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Malaysian Christians raise new religious freedom concerns


Malaysian Christians have expressed fresh worries that the government may be infringing their religious freedom, after the country’s deputy prime minister described Malaysia as "an Islamic state".

The Christian Federation of Malaysia issued a statement on 19 July urging Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak to retract comments he made two days earlier when speaking to reporters.  Then, the deputy prime minister had said, "Islam is the official religion and Malaysia is an Islamic State, an Islamic State that respects the rights of non-Muslims, and we protect them."

Razak’s remarks follow a series of court cases in Malaysia that dealt with religious matters and that heightened fears among Malaysia’s religious minorities that the south-east Asian country might be losing its character as a secular state with a Muslim majority, and instead is becoming an Islamic state.

"The Christian Federation of Malaysia appeals to the deputy prime minister to retract his aforesaid remarks, and to the government to refrain from the use of the term ‘Islamic State’ in the description of Malaysia, and instead to vigorously advocate the description of Malaysia as a secular constitutional democracy," said Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, head of the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

The federation said the description of Malaysia as "an Islamic state" contradicted the country’s constitution, which, "guarantees the right of all religious communities to co-exist and relate with each other on an equal basis as citizens of a one and united country".

Recently, in a number of high-profile cases, some Malaysians have failed in attempts to get the State to stop recognising them as Muslims.

In one case, a woman who was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity failed to be recognised as a Christian, and thus was unable to marry her Christian fiancé.  Another woman, born a Muslim but raised a Hindu, was taken away from her Hindu husband and sent for religious re-education after the courts had rejected her request for the state to recognise her as a Hindu.

The cases were particularly emotive because under Malaysia’s Islamic laws anyone born into a Muslim family cannot legally convert to another faith, and anyone marrying a Muslim must convert to Islam.  Non-Muslim religious leaders say these court cases are among a string of disputes that have infringed on religious freedom in Malaysia.

Muslims make up about 60 percent of the country’s 26 million population, which also includes Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and other religious groups.

(c) Ecumenical News International