The government promoted Sunni Islam above other religions, including other forms of Islam, and detained individuals for violating restrictions on religious freedom. Members of minority religious groups sometimes faced limits on religious expression and demolition of nonregistered non-Muslim shrines. The government occasionally suppressed public discussions of controversial religious issues such as religious freedom, apostasy, and conversion of minors. The government exerted influence over the content of sermons in mosques and used mosques to convey political messages. Controversy continued over the use of the term “Allah” for God by non-Muslims. Observers continued to express concern that the secular civil and criminal court system had ceded jurisdictional control to sharia courts, particularly in areas of family law involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. Government and social pressure operated to encourage Muslims to dress and act in prescribed ways.
The government reportedly had a secret list of “sects” banned as “deviant” interpretations of Islam which included over 50 groups. With the consent of a sharia court, the government arrested and detained members of “deviant” groups for “rehabilitation” to the “true path of Islam.” The ban on assembly and worship was not uniformly enforced, especially against small assemblies in private residences. State religious authorities generally followed JAKIM guidelines regarding “deviant” behavior.
In November Hatijah Aam, better known as Ummu Jah, the widow of the founder of Al-Arqam, a banned Islamic group, and 17 other followers, including a member of the opposition People’s Justice Party’s Central Leadership Council, pled guilty at the Gombak Barat Lower Sharia Court to a charge of reviving the sect. Judge Kamarulzaman Ali released all on a one-year good behavior bond and ordered them to refrain from activities involving Al-Arqam and to undergo 500 hours of moral rehabilitation under the supervision of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS). Ummu Jah was also fined RM 1,000 ($305) after pleading guilty to a charge of publishing a book containing “deviant” teachings.
The government continued to monitor the activities of the Shia population. In September a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Jamil Khir Baharom, announced in parliament that 16 people had been arrested from January to September for disseminating Shia teachings, which are banned. In August the Perak Islamic Department (JAIPK) arrested two individuals in Taiping for allegedly possessing books, CDs, and posters on Shia teachings.
In December a religious court heard the case against two Shia Muslims accused of possessing Shia publications, allegedly in violation of a fatwa stating that only the Sunni branch of Islam can be promoted. Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi publically stated that Shia teachings deviate from the real Islamic teachings and that recognizing only Sunni Islam is necessary to ensure harmony in society. The case was pending at the end of the year.
In July the Chief Minister of the State of Kedah, Mukhriz Mahathir, announced the state of Kedah would enforce the National Fatwa Council’s ruling that Shia teachings were “deviant.” Mukhriz reportedly stated the reason for banning Shia teachings was to preserve the stability of the Muslim community. Some religious teachers and Muslim nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reportedly praised the announcement saying that Shia teachings confuse Sunni Muslims. Baharom was reported as saying that human rights have limits and the ban on Shia teachings was not related to human rights. In August the Secretary General of Home Affairs, Abdul Rahim Radzi, reportedly called for the eradication of the “Shia movement” to be carried out by the home ministry, the police, the Registrar of Societies, and others. He noted that of the 13 states in Malaysia only Kelantan, Sabah, and Sarawak had not banned the “Shia movement” but were in the process of doing so. He announced in September that the government had set up a special “laboratory” in Malacca to prevent the spread of Shia teachings in Malaysia.
In September the National Security Council organized an anti-Shia seminar for more than 1,000 people to warn Muslims of the “threat” posed by Shia teachings.
The government maintained bans on and confiscated religious materials it found to be “deviant,” although it did not initiate any new bans on religious books.
The government did not release statistics on the number of persons sentenced to religious rehabilitation centers during the year for attempts to convert from Islam, and maintained that historically there were very few apostasy cases. Generally, the only conversions recognized were for non-ethnic-Malay individuals who had previously converted to Islam for marriage, but were seeking to reconvert to their previous religious affiliation after their marriages had dissolved.
There were reports of minors converting to Islam in cases where one parent voluntarily converted to Islam and converted the children without the consent of the non-Muslim parent. Sharia courts usually upheld the conversions of minors despite the opposition of a non-Muslim parent, and the government in most cases did not act to prevent such conversions.
The custody and religious conversion case of the children of M. Indira Gandhi, dating from 2009, continued to attract publicity. Gandhi’s estranged husband, K. Patmanathan, had converted their three minor children to Islam without her knowledge. In July the high court annulled the conversion of the children. In August Patmanathan and JAIPK filed an appeal against the high court’s decision. In October Gandhi obtained a court order to cite her ex-husband for contempt for refusing to hand over their youngest daughter, despite Gandhi’s having won custody of all three children in 2010. At year’s end, the police had taken no action to return the youngest child to Gandhi, and the case was ongoing.
In July the Malaysian cabinet withdrew from parliamentary consideration a controversial child conversion bill that would have permitted unilateral conversions of minor children to Islam with the permission of only one parent. Although this is allowed under sharia law in the states of Perak, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Sarawak, and Malacca, the controversial bill would have allowed the practice throughout the country. The cabinet withdrew the bill amid vigorous criticism originating from the opposition, civil society, and some members of the ruling party.
In January an appellate court ordered the Penang High Court to hear an application brought by Siti Hasnah Vangarama Abdullah questioning the validity of her conversion to Islam when she was seven years old. Vangarama stated she was an orphan when a Muslim Welfare Organization officer took her to the State Religious Department to renounce Hinduism and embrace Islam. As a Muslim, Vangarama was unable to register her marriage to a Hindu man because the law does not permit Muslims and non-Muslims to marry legally unless the spouse converts to Islam. On October 1, the Federal Court heard submissions on whether the civil court or the sharia court has the jurisdiction to hear the case, but it reserved its judgment to a date that was not decided on at year’s end.
In May the Sharia Court in Kota Kinabalu allowed a 40-year-old restaurant manager, Riduan Masmud, to marry a 13-year-old girl after he was charged with raping her in February. Masmud defended his actions by stating that it was by mutual consent and acceptable under sharia. The attorney general’s chambers filed a suit against Masmud for statutory rape. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
The Publications and Quranic Text Control Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs supervised the publication of religious texts, and restricted the use of the words Allah (God), baitullah (house of God), Kaabah (location toward which Muslims pray) and salat (prayer) to Muslim groups only, asserting that these words were the sole jurisdiction of the Muslim community.
In a long running controversy stemming from the government’s ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malay-language Bibles and other Christian publications, on October 14, the court of appeal overturned a 2009 decision by the High Court of Kuala Lumpur and upheld the government’s decision that the Catholic Herald cannot use the word “Allah” to refer to God in its Malay language edition. The court ruled that the freedom to practice a religion other than Islam is limited by Islam’s status as the religion of the federation and the constitution’s guarantee that “other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony” was intended to protect the sanctity of Islam. The court of appeal held that: the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims would create confusion among Muslims; the word “Allah” is not “an integral part” of the Christian faith; and the use of the word “Allah” in the Malay version of the Herald would potentially harm public order and safety. Following the ruling, the attorney general emphasized that the court of appeal’s decision was confined to the publication of the Malay-language text of the Herald. Deputy Home Minister Junaidi Jaafar reportedly stated the ruling was meant for the weekly publication of the Herald only and would not affect other Christian publications or the Malay-language version of the Bible, the Al-Kitab, used widely in Sabah and Sarawak. The Catholic Church planned to file an appeal against the verdict in the Federal Court.
In May a former Selangor state lawmaker filed a police complaint against the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia (NECF), accusing them of attempting to convert Malays to Christianity through Facebook. In response, JAIS began an investigation into NECF’s use of the word “Allah” on their Facebook site.
In January the Pahang mufti, appointed by the State Islamic Authority, declared that non-Muslims were prohibited from using the word “Allah” and 34 other words associated with Islam. He told reporters that non-Muslims were barred from using the words in statements, speeches, publications, or in any broadcast as it could “mislead” and affect the faith of Muslims. He said that doing so would violate the law, which, with a conviction, carries a fine up to RM 5,000 ($1,526) and/or imprisonment up to two years.
On October 24, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission questioned two radio producers after they conducted an interview with American religious scholar Dr. Reza Aslan, who criticized the Malaysian government over the ban of the use of word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
In August the Sultan of Johor, the highest Islamic authority in the state, called for a Muslim prayer hall at a privately-owned resort to be demolished after a group of Buddhists used the hall for religious meditation. The relevant municipal council carried out the destruction August 28. The owner of the prayer hall was detained and subsequently charged with “injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.”
The federal and states’ budgets continued to fund Muslim places of worship. Government funding for non-Muslim places of worship came from a special allocation within the Prime Minister’s Department or from state governments. Minority religious groups continued to assert that non-Muslim places of worship were poorly funded and the government made funding decisions on an arbitrary basis. Local NGOs reported that both federal and state governments continued to delay, sometimes for years, permission to build or renovate non-Islamic places of worship, although they granted approvals to build mosques without delay.
Enforcement of sharia in some states placed additional restrictions on Muslims, who were affected by sharia court sentences such as caning for violations including alcohol consumption and khalwat. Islamic officials stated the intent was not to injure, but to make offenders ashamed of their sins so they would repent and not repeat the offense.
Non-Muslim family members, including spouses and children, continued to lose all rights to inheritances in sharia court in cases of conversion by one spouse to Islam.
Religious NGOs contended that sharia courts did not give equal weight to the testimony of women. Several NGOs dedicated to the advancement of women’s rights continued to state that women did not receive fair treatment from sharia courts, primarily in matters of divorce, child custody, and enforcement of alimony payments.
In September JAWI expressed the desire to withdraw the case against Nik Raina, a Muslim employee at a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur who was arrested under sharia in 2012, for distribution of the book, Allah, Liberty and Love, a book which was banned after the sale took place. Despite the lift on the ban in September the sharia court ruled that the case should continue. The case was pending at the end of the year.
According to the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Taoists (MCCBCHST), the government continued its practice of restricting visas for foreign Muslim and non-Muslim clergy under the age of 40 as a means of preventing “militant clergy” from entering the country. While representatives of non-Muslim groups did not sit on the immigration committee that approved visa requests, the committee sought MCCBCHST recommendations in most non-Muslim cases.
The government placed or maintained restrictions on some religious customs and sought to enforce certain religious precepts. Observers reported a continued increase in the quantity and volume of broadcasts from government-run mosques and other Muslim places of worship or learning over public address systems. The government continued to condone some restrictions on religious expression, including with respect to religious teaching, use of religious clothing and symbols, proselytism, and religious publishing. In August Deputy Minister of Communications and Multimedia Jailani Johari suggested that the private cable TV operator Astro was complying with licensing regulations set by the government when it repeatedly placed a warning message during a documentary about Pope Francis that stated: “This program portrays depiction of religious figures and represents views other than Muslims’. Viewer discretion is advised.”
The National Fatwa Council issued a fatwa banning foreign exchange trading by individuals or unregistered moneychangers using an electronic platform, to ensure that financial transactions adhered to Islamic law.
The government continued to require, but did not strictly enforce, all Muslim civil servants to attend approved religion classes, and several government agencies pressured non-Muslim women to wear headscarves while attending official functions.
The government of Kelantan, which some consider the country’s most religiously conservative state, maintained its ban on Mak Yong, a traditional Malay dance drama performed for 800 years, due to its animist elements, and on Wayang Kulit, a form of shadow puppetry, because of its Hindu influences and its focus on folklore and mythical characters considered un-Islamic. The state also prohibited the sale of lottery tickets and advertisements showing what it considered to be inappropriately dressed women. Kelantan’s dress code prohibited Muslim women from wearing clothes exposing more than their faces and hands. The law also stipulated that non-Muslim women should avoid dressing “sexily or indecently.” Violators of the dress code faced fines up to RM 500 ($153). Kelantan also enforced headscarf requirements for Muslim women and imposed fines for violations. Kelantan regulations required men and women to form separate lines at supermarkets, although the rule reportedly was not enforced. Kelantan courts also fined couples who sat too closely in public areas, such as on park benches. In September three salon owners in Kelantan were required to remove posters from their windows displaying different hairstyles. Enforcement officers for the Kota Baru Municipal Council who issued the demand for the removal of the posters reportedly said that various hairstyles featured in the posters were “too sexy” and the models should be covering their hair.
Some indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak continued to report errors in the names printed on their national identity cards, misleading the reader to believe that the card holder was Muslim and therefore subject to sharia.
Unlike previous years, there were no reports of public anti-Semitic statements made by government representatives.