In a report conducted by the Religious Freedom and Liberty Partnership (RFL), a non-governmental organization in Kuala Lumpur promoting religious liberty for all Malaysians, numerous concerns are raised about the erosion of this freedom in Malaysia. While religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Malaysian Constitution, it is in jeopardy as the country considers further expansion of the powers of Syariah courts. Consequently, such expansion threatens Christians and other minority groups from freely expressing their religion of choice.
Currently, non-Muslim Malaysians are subject to the discretion of Syariah courts that make it difficult to change their religion from Islam. Many non-Muslims who were converted to Islam by circumstances outside of their own control, are unable to change their religion from Islam. This happens by forced conversions, marriage arrangements, or clerical errors. Additionally, criminal charges and extreme punishments are often levied against non-Muslims to impede their religious exercise.
Religious freedom is also infringed upon as individuals are being coerced into Islam. For example, a spouse who converts to Islam can simultaneously convert their children to Islam without the knowledge or consent of the other non-Muslim spouse. Others have also been converted to Islam in unethical circumstances that make it nearly impossible to leave the Islamic religion. Some Malaysia states even authorize non-Muslim individuals to undergo counseling or therapy that coerces them from leaving Islam.
Forced coercion and the obstruction by government entities to religious choice stand incompatible with the Malaysian Constitution. While Islam is the religion of the state, the Malaysian Constitution clearly outlines provisions that afford all religions the right to practice in peace and harmony. Religious freedom is thus safeguarded by the Constitution that allows every citizen to profess and exercise the religion of their choice without obstruction or discrimination. Additionally, Malaysia, a member of the United Nations, is subject to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which upholds that religious freedom is to be afforded to all parties.
The hegemonic push by one religious group to dictate how other religions operate and practice should be of considerable concern to Christians. In believing that religious liberty is a characteristic equally endowed to all by our Creator, it is necessary that religious liberties are not sacrificed but protected for the flourishing of human dignity.
Baptists have always stood for religious freedom for all. The ERLC stands to defend the free exercise of faith for people of all faiths or no faith at all. As a result, it is critical that the Malaysian government revises its legislative framework and reaffirm its constitutional principles to ensure the protection and free exercise of all religions.
For more on the heroic work of ERLC’s partners in Malaysia, read the letter submitted by the RFL Partnership to the UN Universal Periodic Review.