In a report addressed to the 2018 Universal Periodic Review, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the St. Charles Institute (SCI) document concerns of human rights violations regarding religious freedom in Malaysia. These violations are derived from Malaysians being prohibited or punished for changing their religion. While many Malaysians have never practiced Islam nor claimed it personally as their religion, many are forcibly assigned Islam as their religion through forced conversions, marriage arrangements, or clerical errors.
Examples of Malaysians being prohibited from adopting a non-Muslim religion or being legally forced to subscribe to Islam are far too commonplace. Aisyah, a female who never ascribed to Islam, became registered by law as a Muslim due to her parents Islamic faith. In an attempt to change her religion status before civil authorities and Syariah courts, her request failed and she was forced to remain legally Muslim. Women who converted to Islam during marriage have also been prohibited from changing their religion after they have divorced. Both Grace and Wang Shu, respectively of Christian and Buddhist beliefs, have been prohibited by the state in legally changing their religious affiliation.
These examples are clear violations of religious freedoms that are protected in the Malaysian Constitution. Enshrined in this constitution is the right of all its citizens to practice their faith freely. Additionally, the Constitution of Malaysia prohibits against discrimination on religious grounds. Thus, citizens are protected to express their faith in public settings. Malaysia is also a voluntary member of the United Nations, which upholds religious freedom. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most significant document in the UN’s history of protecting human rights, assures religious freedom for all groups. Both documents bind Malaysia to protect and uphold religious freedom as a fundamental right afforded to all citizens.
The suppression of religious freedom in Malaysia should concern Christians because our brothers and sisters in Christ are being prohibited from legally expressing their chosen religion. Restrictions placed on religious liberties contradict God’s design of human beings and of government. The criminalization and use of punishment to impede religious freedom also constitutes a grave threat to human dignity and the well-being of our neighbors.
For decades Malaysia safeguarded religious liberty. However, the dominance of Islamic polity has threatened religious liberties long afforded to Malaysian citizens. The consciences of Christians and other minority groups are being violated by laws and proceedings that hinder individuals from freely expressing their religious beliefs. As a result, it is imperative that the Malaysian government revises its legal framework to ensure religious freedom for all.
For more on forced religious conversions in Malaysia, read the joint letter submitted by ERLC and SCI to the UN Universal Periodic Review.