Internet Malaysia
Talking apostasy
Some 1,000 Malays renounce Islam a month. Apostasy, long under wraps, given a frank web airing - among Malays. Excerpts from Malaysiakini.
Dec 27, 2007

In July when the Sharia court sentenced four Kelantan Malays to 20 months jail for apostasy, the rights of Muslims to quit Islam has come under intense discussion over the Internet.

They had renounced Islam (apostasy) in 1998 before a Commissioner of Oaths.

While the federal constitution guarantees freedom of worship in Malaysia, Islamic laws forbid a Muslim from renouncing his religion.

According to the Islamic legal system (sharia), the state must impose mandatory punishments for certain specific crimes said to be committed against God and his rights - and apostasy is included in this list.

The Kelantan sharia Court charged them with contempt in 2000 for refusing to attend "repentance" classes, which were part of their original sentence.

One writer said in malaysiakini on July 28, "Our federal constitution under Article 11 guarantees and affords its citizens the right to chose and practice the religion of his or her choice.

"But the sharia court doesn't seem to think that this right of choice extends to Malay Muslims."

This makes it almost impossible for Malay Muslims to convert, since they must first apply to the sharia court for permission to change their religion.

Courts are reluctant to grant this permission, since ethnic Malays are considered Muslims from birth. The same does not apply to other ethnic groups, for example ethnic groups in the states of Sarawak and Sabah, who are predominantly Christian.

Shad Salem Faruq, professor of law at the University of Technology MARA, believes the government is most worried about Christian proselytising.

Malaysia is 60 percent Muslim, 20 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 6 percent Hindu. However, "Hinduism and Buddhism historically have had less of a tradition of proselytising than Christianity," Faruq told the Asia Times.

A pastor who spoke anonymously to the Asia Times said he believed there was an average of 100 Muslims per month converting to Christianity throughout Malaysia.

One Christian group estimated there were 30,000 Malay converts in total. Official figures are much lower, but many Malays convert secretly in order to avoid harassment.

Some converts report having gates rattled at midnight and phones tapped by the police. Others report visits from security police requesting them to stop all Christian activities -- including social work.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi recently addressed a meeting of the World Council of Churches, the first time he had spoken to an all-Christian audience.

According to a report in the Australian Financial Review on August 4, Badawi gave an emotional appeal for Christians and Muslims to work together for the sake of peace and justice.

"In the eyes of many Muslims, events [since September 11, 2001] seem to lend credence to the view that the Christian West is, once again, at war with the Muslim world," he told church representatives.

He added that there was "less trust and goodwill between Islam and Christianity than there was a few years ago."

Since then the debate has intensified, mainly between fundamental Muslims and liberal Malays.

On Oct 1, Dr Syed Alwi Ahmad, with a doctorate in philosophy, said it was the onus on Muslims to make Islam attractive.

"In today's world, scepticism, secular humanism and scientific progressivism has made religion unattractive," he added. There was no need to return to the 7th Century.

"Malaysia is not Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the Taliban. Elfie (who had advocated zero tolerance for apostasy) can continue to practice whatever religion he believes in.

"That's his business. Just don't tell me how to practice mine. Stay out of the personal, religious affairs of others. Modernity is here to stay whether or not Elfie approves of it."

In his letter, Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi had opposed any state review of the apostasy laws as tantamount to mocking Islam.

"It is without a doubt that apostasy is a very serious offence in Islam, and there are no 'ifs' and 'buts' about it," he added. Elfie said these 'liberal' Muslims were supporting a Western cause.

"Singapore is not Malaysia. If Muslims in Singapore want to tolerate apostasy at their whim and fancy, it is their business. That they are so far apart from the practice of Islam speaks for itself, " he said.

As a practicing Muslim in Malaysia, Elfie said "legitimising apostasy would be detrimental to Islamic values as practiced by Muslims in Malaysia."

This drew a reply from a Singaporean, Shairul Fazleena who said: "I am a Singaporean and a proud Muslimah and I feel that Malaysian apostates are more angry with the Malaysian government than they are with Islam."

She added "I feel that they think Islam is the problem but only on the way Malaysia bases its policy with regards to it. I have engaged some of these apostates on the website and have been trying hard to show them that it is not Islam that has wronged them but people using Islam as an excuse to impose their will.

"I am not writing to you to champion the apostates' cause. I am only doing this so that the Malaysian government may consider reviewing their policy.

"In Singapore, people can renounce their religion as and when they like it and there is no pressure to practice one belief.

"It is wrong to force one to hold on to a religion that one doesn't believe in and this it contradicts the claim that Islam is not about force."

However, she said Malaysian apostates are confusing themselves as to who or what is actually oppressing them and in some way, they have linked this to Islam.

"While I respect the Malaysian government (for) trying to execute Islamic law as well as they can, I think punishing apostates is not relevant any more.

"After all, Malaysia doesn't stone to death Muslims caught for adultery, does it? If that can be overlooked, why not apostasy?"

Other Malaysian comments:

Lisa Jaafar: "Many Malays have no choice but to be Muslims because we were brought up as Muslims by our parents immediately after we were born.

"As children, we had no free will and independent judgement. Children do not read scriptures and compare different religions' doctrines and practices.

"However, as adults we have free will and independent judgement. Some may arrive at understandings and conclusions that may differ from our parents' and grandparents' who may have been illiterate or semi-literate."

Mister Tambourine: I am one of the very many Malay/Muslim Malaysians who are not in favour of changing the status quo of the land as far as the Constitution and rule of law are concerned.

We prefer to keep religion a personal matter and let the Almighty be the absolute judge.

We are liberal, tolerant (as was the holy Prophet), peace-loving who reject (opposition) PAS because it is a party, which imposes its will on us Muslims to comply with its distorted view on Islam and an Islamic state.

Your letter has helped encourage similarly liberal Malays to abandon any thoughts of supporting arrogant, intolerant Islamists in this country who will curtail our already limited freedom to practice and worship as we like.

'Be like Indonesia'

Johan Baba: Mohamad Elfie Nishaem Juferi betrayed his extreme intolerance bordering on fanaticism towards Malay Muslims whose only "crime" is to follow the dictates of their hearts and leave their religion.

In the eyes of Elfie, these people stigmatised as apostates or 'murtad' are even worse than Muslims who are rapists, murderers or people who commit incest.

But what many people are not aware of is that Elfie has all along been harassing and intimidating these apostates, many of whom have fled overseas to escape the wrath of the Malaysian religious authorities with whom he has apparently been liaising with.

They do not want to be forced to blindly embrace Islam from birth onwards.

In other predominantly Muslim societies like Indonesia, apostates are treated just like any other of their citizens with no discrimination.

They should be allowed to return here and live as proud and equal citizens without having to convert back to Islam.

Dr Syed Alwi Ahmad: Muslims generally take their religion very seriously. "There is nothing wrong with that - provided you put religion in its proper context."

However some people go further and assert that religion is the 'absolute truth'. In other words, religion need not be put in context and that it is literal with no burden of proof.

They practice (and want others to practice) - a 10th century interpretation of Islam. I totally reject this.

Academic Dr Chandra Muzzafar called on the government, through Parliament and state legislatures, to resolve the issue rather leaving it to the courts.

It could mean modifying the constitution to remove his special privileges once a Malay has abandoned Islam.

"You can ask them to make a statutory declaration that they are non-Malay because they have left Islam.

"Or you can create a legal niche for the people of this group as non-Malays as opposed to Malays. For (either of) these, you may have to change the constitution."

Article 153 of the Federal Constitution provides for the reservation of certain proportions to Malays in the public services, educational opportunities and business permits and licenses.

'Serious crime'

Last week, academics at a seminar on apostasy held in the International Islamic University (IIU) urged the government to stem the tide of apostasy before it grew to larger proportions.

IIU law professor Abdul Aziz Bari in his paper said failure to restrict the number of Malay Muslims leaving their religion would open up a constitutional pandora's box.
Dec 28, 2004