By / Feb 12

In a moment, the lives of the Koh family changed forever. On February 13, 2017, Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, by “the Special Branch,” an intelligence unit affiliated with the Malaysian police force. Koh’s supposed crime was proselytizing Muslims, which, though not illegal in Malaysia’s federal law, is illegal in state laws of 10 of 13 states. In addition to the anti-proselytizing laws, apostasy laws also exist, making “conversion from Islam illegal in all but one state.” According to Baptist Press, “Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission announced April 3 that circumstantial and direct evidence suggest Koh and Shiite Muslim activist Amri Che Mat both fell prey to ‘enforced disappearance by state agents’ from the national police special branch over matters against Islam.” To this day, Koh’s family has not heard anything from or about Raymond’s status.

Pastor Raymond served an Evangelical Free Church in Malaysia for 20 years before founding Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community) in Malaysia in 2004, a community-based outreach to the poor and oppressed in Kuala Lumpur. Pastor Raymond cared for drug addicts, single mothers, and anyone else in need in his community. Tragically, he was no stranger to persecution and threats. At one point, he had previously received a box of bullets in the mail, warning him to stop his ministry work. Pastor Raymond, however, remained steadfast in his work until his abduction.

What Christians should know and do in light of Pastor Raymond Koh’s imprisonment

Prayer is participation

When he was imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul believed that the prayers raised by the church in Philippi were a form of participation in his ministry (Philippians 1:19-26). In like manner, when Christians around the world pray for Pastor Raymond and his family as they sort through the new details regarding his disappearance, we are participating in the advancement of the gospel. We should remember our brothers and sisters around the world that are in chains because of their faithfulness to Christ. By doing so, we are entering into the fellowship of the gospel alongside them.

Freedom to proselytize is fundamental to religious liberty

A second point that is important to note is that religious liberty must not be allowed to be restricted to only private and personal expressions of religious devotion. A government that forbids evangelism/proselytization, even if it “enshrines religious freedom in its constitution,” is still an enemy of religious liberty. In the case of Malaysia, while their federal government gives a nod to religious liberty, allowing states to forbid proselytization violates the freedom of conscience that sincere religious devotion demands. If the dominate religion in a state cannot hold up to the scrutiny of other religious claims in a free public square, then adherents of that particular religion ought to second-guess its supposed divine origins.

The Gospel is more powerful than government policies

Finally, while Malaysia has strict state laws regarding conversion and proselytization, Christian mission organizations like the Joshua Project continue to report slow but steady growth of the evangelical church. Such reports should encourage us to see that “the Word of God is not bound” even when its servants are (2 Timothy 2:9). This means that while it is right, good, and just to fight for religious liberty on a local and global scale because of our understanding of God’s Word, we also must not assume that state-sanctioned liberty is a prerequisite to obedience or fruitfulness in the work of the Great Commission. The gospel of Christ will always be more powerful than anti-Christ policies espoused by governing authorities. As Christ Himself would tell us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

For those who are interested in learning more about religious liberty in Malaysia, be sure to check out the other resources the ERLC has prepared to promote awareness and advocacy. You can find them here.

By / Jul 26

The history of Malaysia has long reflected a rich harmony of both religious and ethnic pluralism by upholding religious freedom as a fundamental human right. However, proposed legislation in Malaysia, known as the Hudud law, jeopardizes the religious liberties afforded to its citizens.

In a joint letter submitted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, concerns are raised about the implementation of the Islamic Penal Code (The Hudud Law) that would threaten religious liberty and equality throughout the country.

Currently, the Malaysian Constitution gives Syariah courts jurisdiction over personal matters for Muslims, such as property disputes and divorce, while limiting their scope in sentencing. In recent years, however, growing political movements have attempted to expand the jurisdiction of Syariah courts and enact the Hudud law. The punishments for violating the Hudud law are extreme and include amputations and stoning. Notably, in the sphere of religious freedom, the Hudud law criminalizes attempts to leave the Islamic faith, making conversion from Islam dangerous and life threatening.

The Constitution of Malaysia clearly outlines and protects against discrimination on religious grounds. For example, Malaysians are protected to practice and confess any religion in peace and harmony. Malaysians are also protected to express their religion in public settings and are not required to participate in any ceremony or act of worship that violates their religious beliefs. The Hudud law stands in direct violation of the religious freedoms outlined and opposes the pluralistic society envisioned in the Malaysian Constitution.

The ability to change your religion is also a fundamental aspect of religious freedom. Right now, conversion out of Islam is already made difficult in Malaysia due to Syariah courts refusal to allow citizens to alter their religion when previously registered as a Muslim. The enactment of the Hudud law will also make conversion out of Islam much more difficult by criminalizing attempts to the leave the Islamic faith.

This should be of grave concern to Christians. Religious freedom is a fundamental right endowed by God that governments are to protect, not threaten. Being created in the Image of God notably gives people the freedom to live according to their own conscience and deeply held religious beliefs. Discrimination based on religious grounds directly contradicts God’s design of human beings and ultimately endangers human dignity.

In upholding religious freedom, it is imperative that the Malaysian government rejects all legislation attempting to codify the Hudud law. Additionally, it is crucial that the Malaysian government solidifies and strengthens its stance towards religious freedom. Religious liberty should not be sacrificed in Malaysia, but it should be affirmed as a fundamental right intrinsically endowed to all.

For more on the threats of the Hudud Law in Malaysia, read the joint letter submitted by ERLC and RFI to the UN Universal Periodic Review.

By / Jul 26

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.

By / Jul 26

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.