Friday, June 8, 2007


Date: Friday 8 June 2007
Subj: The Islamisation of Malaysia
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

This is an extended posting in two parts.

First there is an examination of the 30 May 2007 ruling in Malaysia's Federal Court that finally and officially severs Malaysia's Muslims from their fundamental and constitutional right to religious freedom (Article 11 of Malaysia's Constitution) and shackles them to Sharia (Islamic Law, which prohibits apostasy: "The Prophet [Mohammed] said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' " Bukhari:V4B52N260).

Secondly there is an examination of the Islamisation of Malaysia.

"Sharia" is spelled variously through this posting as I have elected to retain the spelling in the various articles rather than standardise it.

We must now ask: Is Malaysia essentially an Islamic state that is in the process of bringing its citizens and institutions and even eventually its minorities into submission to the Sharia (which is the constitution of political Islam)? Fundamentalist Muslims have successfully appealed to Sharia to protect Muslim Malaysia from apostasy. So will they now also be able to appeal to Sharia to protect Muslim Malaysia from "blasphemy" and "indecency"? And if as it appears, Islam, openness, liberty and progressive modernity cannot travel together, then where is Malaysia headed now?


On Wednesday 30 May 2007, a three-judge Federal Court panel ruled by a 2-1 majority in the case of Lina Joy v Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan and 2 Ors that only an Islamic Shariah Court has the authority to confirm a Muslim's apostasy and authorise the removal the word 'Islam' from the religion category on their government identity card.

The ruling was based on the 1988 amendment to Malaysia's Constitution which dictates that once a person is legally recognised as a Muslim all their religious legal issues are to be dealt with by the Sharia courts, not the civil courts.

The 1988 constitutional amendment, Article 121 (1A), states that civil courts have no jurisdiction on any matter which falls within the jurisdiction of the Syariah (Sharia, Islamic Law) courts. This amendment was introduced to resolve the conflicts between decisions of civil and syariah courts. The intention of the parliament was to oust the jurisdiction of the civil courts from hearing any matter which is within the purview of the Syariah courts. Before the enactment of clause 1A, decisions of the Syariah courts could be reviewed by the High Courts. According to the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, Muslims were not happy with civil courts overriding the decisions of syariah courts.

The question then arose: does apostasy (conversion out of Islam) fall within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts? This question was put to the courts in 1999 in the case of Soon Singh a/l Bikar Singh v Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia (PERKIM) Kedah (1999) 1 MLJ 489.

The Singapore Law Review reports: "The Federal Court considered whether the Syariah Courts' jurisdiction could be implied from other provisions in statutes relating to Syariah Courts. The appellant in this case was a Sikh and he converted to Islam when he was a minor. Upon reaching 21 years old, he renounced Islam and executed deed poll declaring that he was a Sikh. Before the High Court, he sought for a declaration that he was no longer a Muslim. Respondent contended that the High Court had no jurisdiction since the matter came under the Syariah Court's jurisdiction. The High Court agreed with Respondent and dismissed the application. On appeal, the Federal Court pointed out that all State Enactments and Federal Territories Act contain express provisions vesting the Syariah Courts with jurisdiction to deal with conversion to Islam. Relying on Craies on Statute Law 7th edition page 112, Albon v Pyke (1842) 4 M & G 421,424, Bennion's Statutory Interpretation 2nd Edition page 362, the Federal Court held that: 'when jurisdiction is expressly conferred on the Syariah Courts to adjudicate on matters relating to conversion to Islam … it is logical that matters concerning conversion out of Islam (apostasy) could be read as necessarily implied in and falling within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts.'" (Link 1)

In other words the court ruled that if the matter of conversion into Islam falls under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts, then it is "logical" and may be "implied" that conversion out of Islam also falls under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts.

This ruling was widely viewed as flawed. Not only is it inconsistent with the law that states that if you are leaving a non-Muslim religion for Islam, then the Syariah Court (not the religion you are leaving) has jurisdiction, it is also a violation of the fundamental right of religious liberty which maintains that no third party should have jurisdiction over a person's faith.

Another outcome of this case was the government's decision to make it mandatory that all Muslims have "Islam" on their identity card.

The case of Lina Joy (a Malay convert to Christianity) v Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan and 2 Ors hinged on a decision by the National Registration Department (NRD) to refuse Lina Joy's request to remove the word "Islam" from her identity card. In October 1999 the NRD had consented to changing Lina's name on her card from Azlina Jailani to Lina Joy. However when her new card was issued under the new regulations which came into force on 1
October 1999, it had her birth religion "Islam" on it, even though Lina had stated on her application form that she is a Christian. (Source: Justice Richard Malanjum's Judgment.)

The NRD contested that Lina needed a Syariah court order certifying her renunciation of Islam before it could make the change. In 2001 Lina filed a suit against the NRD Director-General, the government and the Federal Territory Religious Council.

After losing at both the High Court and Court of Appeal, the matter finally came to the Federal Court with these three questions:

1) Was the NRD entitled to require a person to produce a certificate or a declaration or an order from the Syariah court before deleting "Islam" from his or her identity card;

2) Did the NRD correctly construe its powers under the National Registration Regulations 1990 when it imposed the above requirement, which is not expressly provided for in the regulations;

3) Was the landmark case Soon Singh vs Perkim Kedah – which held that Syariah courts have the authority over the civil courts to hear cases of Muslims renouncing Islam – correctly decided?

The Star reported on 31 May 2007: "Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim has ruled that the National Registration Department had reasonably required Lina Joy to get a certificate of apostasy from the Syariah Court. This would allow the court to proceed to make a deletion (of the word 'Islam') from her identity card.

"The top judge also ruled that since the Syariah Court had the jurisdiction over cases involving conversion to Islam, it should, by implication, have the power to decide on apostasy matters.

"'I do not see any defect in the 1999 Federal Court judgment in the case of Soon Singh (which decided on the same grounds and which led to the provision for Muslims to state their religion in their identity card).

"'To say that she is not under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court – because she no longer professes Islam – is not appropriate,' said Ahmad Fairuz in his 41-page judgment. He added that the way one leaves a religion is set by the religion itself.

"'No one is stopping her from marrying. She is merely required to fulfil certain obligations, for the Islamic authorities to confirm her apostasy, before she embraces Christianity.
"'In other words, one cannot embrace or leave a religion according to one's whims and fancies.'" (Link 2)

According to Associated Press writer Eileen Ng, "Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim on the panel, sided with Joy, saying it was 'unreasonable' to ask her to turn to the Shariah Court because she could face criminal prosecution there. Apostasy is a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centres." (Link 3)

The judgments can be found at the website of the Malaysian Bar:,com_docman/task,cat_view/gid,380/Itemid,120/

- the Islamisation of Malaysia.


In October 2006, Asian Analysis published a piece by Clive S. Kessler (Emeritus Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, The University of New South Wales, Australia) entitled "The Long March Towards Desecularisation" (Link 4).

Kesser regards recent developments in Malaysia as "the latest phase. . . in the long march towards desecularisation, towards arresting and then reversing the implicit secularisation of Malaysian life and the state that the 1957 constitution set in train and intended implicitly to promote."

He writes: "Those who created the independence constitution assumed that, though not yet a fully secular society, Malaya would evolve in that direction: partly because of its own irrepressible cultural and religious pluralism and partly because that seemed the trajectory of modern nationalism and modernity itself. The 1957 constitution was a compromise that acknowledged the public, emblematic significance of Islam as the state's official religion yet tried to provide potential space, even support, for freedom of, from and in religion.

"Not everybody was happy with this expedient, and within two years of independence that discontent found expression in the spectacular political success of Malaysia's Islamist party PAS (then known as PMIP) in Kelantan and Terengganu. With that began the protracted, intensely competitive and ever escalating 'Islamist policy auction' between the dominant UMNO, anchor of the ruling Alliance and later Barisan Nasional coalitions, and PAS."

Concerning the systematic nature of the Islamisation Professor Kessler writes: "The cascading events over the last year (2006) are all part of this strategy: to place the secularists and religious pluralists on the back foot; by tactical positioning and rhetorical identification, to isolate progressive and modernist Muslims from the Malay Muslim mainstream and to stigmatise their
concerns as heretical and disloyal, and them as friends and dupes of the enemies of Islam, in the eyes of conventional Muslim majority opinion; to block and counter the momentum that any secularist tendencies or non-'Islam-centric' religious pluralism might generate; and thereby not just to advance desecularising processes but, driven by the pious new Malay Muslim middle-class activists, to move Malaysia into a post-liberal or 'post-progressivist' political phase and era. With them a new Islamist politics has not merely come of age but moves towards and is now capturing the centre of Malaysian political life."

On 3 May 2007, YaleGlobal online published a piece by Sadanand Dhume (Asia Society, Washington, DC) entitled, "Malaysia Backpedals on Modernity". (Link 5)

YaleGlobal prefaces Dhume's article with this introduction: "A fundamentalist streak of Islam within Malaysia is coming into conflict with the flourishing civil society that has made the nation a model of peaceful and democratic development in Southeast Asia.

"Muslims in Malaysia, unlike their Hindu or Christian compatriots, are ultimately subject to strict Islamic law, known as sharia. In fact, the national judiciary cannot override a ruling by a sharia court. These Islamic religious authorities intrude more into the everyday life and private matters of Malay citizens, preventing conversions to other faiths and separating children deemed Muslim from non-Muslim parents. The national government not only acquiesces to the assertiveness of the Islamic authorities but has itself become increasingly outspoken on behalf of Islam worldwide.

"The paradox of a country that dreams of becoming a global technology and innovation hub, yet actively sponsors a repressive self-governed community in its midst, may soon become untenable. After all, an advanced economy runs on its people. By denying the full protection of its laws to half its citizens, Malaysia endangers the future prosperity of all."

Sadanand Dhume contends that three and a half decades of progressive Islamisation has produced a Malaysia that is increasingly authoritarian, repressive, intolerant and heading backwards. "In a globalised and increasingly competitive world, Malaysia cannot expect to modernise its economy without modernising its society. In practical terms, this means
choosing the universal values of freedom of conscience and freedom of inquiry over the narrow dictates of Islamic orthodoxy."

Dhume details several examples (as does Kessler) that demonstrate the "ongoing clash between the modern and the medieval". He notes the recent case of Revathi Masoosai who was born to Indian Muslim parents and raised by her Hindu grandmother. After she married a Muslim man and had a child, the authorities intervened, forcibly separated the couple and removed their 16-month-old daughter to the custody of Revathi's Muslim mother. According to Pakistan's
Daily Times, Revathi was then put in an Islamic rehabilitation camp. Her 100 days detention was subsequently extended for another 80 days an account of her non-cooperation. Her husband was not permitted to visit. He wept as he told Daily Times, "We are treated like animals." (Link 6)

Dhume also notes the scandalous Muslim burial given to Malaysian Hindu
rock-climber M. Moorthy; and Lina Joy's struggle to have her conversion from Islam to Christianity legally recognised. He notes the government's assault upon the Sky Kingdom cult and the razing of dozens of Hindu temples over recent years.

Dhume then contends: "The nub of the problem lies in Malaysia's inconsistent approach to modernisation. Unlike neighbouring Singapore, which stands for equality before the law and a strict meritocracy, Malaysia has sought prosperity against a backdrop of deepening Islamisation and handouts for ethnic Malays, deemed by law to be Muslim. Until recently the Malaysia of vice
squads and apostasy laws did not intrude upon the Malaysia of glittering skyscrapers and high-speed airport trains.

"But the rise of China, India and Vietnam, and the demands of a shift from low-cost manufacturing to more knowledge-intensive work, raise serious doubts about the viability of the Malaysian model. The country needs freedom of inquiry to unleash the creativity of its people. It needs to foster an atmosphere of tolerance to staunch the outflow of the country's brightest
non-Malays and to attract overseas talent and investment. Neither is likely without rethinking the twinned and contentious issues of ethnic preferences and religious supremacism."

Dhume notes that Malaysia's rise in the field of information technology has been particularly challenged by the fact that Malaysia "finds it hard to attract and retain Indian and Chinese engineers. Meanwhile, many of the country's brightest students – especially non-Malays – migrate to Australia, the US and Singapore, where everyone enjoys freedom of conscience and equality before the law."


The Islamisation of Malaysia has been built around the same core framework as Islamisation in virtually all other Muslim states the world over:

* the globalisation of Saudi Arabian Sunni fundamentalist (Wahhabi) doctrine which is founded on Muslim supremacy and is pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, intolerant, agressive and imperialistic. (The Saudis starting exporting ideology globally in the early 1970s.);

* inspiration from the Iranian Islamic Shiite Revolution of 1979 (which was a product of Shia Islam plus Maxist Revolutionary ideology);

* the shifting into high-gear of Saudi Arabian Sunni fundamentalist global dissemination of doctrine through the 1980s. (This was done to counter Persian Iran's Shia revolution. Wahhabi ideology is also virulently anti-Shia);

* the globalisation of Islamic jihad (a product primarly of the 1979-88 Afghan war).

As noted by Dhume, "The OPEC oil boom of 1973 allowed Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to bankroll efforts to Arabise the Muslims of South and Southeast Asia. The ripples of the 1979 Iranian Revolution were felt directly on Malaysian college campuses. During the 1980s the headscarf became ubiquitous among Malay women. Meanwhile, in a bid to outdo the Islamist opposition in terms of piety, the ruling party UMNO [United Malays National Organisation] went on a mosque-building spree. Religious students made a beeline for the Middle East and Pakistan, and in a show of pan-Islamic solidarity, visa rules were eased for visitors from many Muslim countries."

Malaysian academic Farish Noor, in an October 2006 interview with Australia's ABC Radio National Religious Report, also regards the Islamisation of Malaysia as having began in earnest the 1970s. "I think what we are witnessing in Malaysia today is the natural development of something that began in the '70s when both UMNO and PAS were trying their best to, in a sense, engage in what I call the Islamisation race in order to put to the fore the Islamic
credentials, rather than their national credentials, to basically out-Islamise each other; both parties trying to demonstrate how committed they were to Islamic and Muslim concerns. This is obviously intended to bolster their support among their majority Malay-Muslim constituency. But I think at the expense of marginalising non-Malays and non-Muslims in the country." (Link 7)

The 1980s was also marked by the rise of Anwar Ibrahim, who at the time of his co-opting to UMNO in 1982 was the charismatic leader of the Islamic Youth Movement. Anwar Ibrahim became the Islamic conscience of UMNO.

In 1988 the Constitution was amended to raise the status of the Sharia Courts, making them the supreme authority for Malaysian Muslims.

Further to this, as Sadanand Dhume notes, during the 1997 economic crisis, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed became a "global cheerleader for anti-Semitism – publicly peddling conspiracy theories about attacks on the Malaysian ringgit and accusing Jews of 'rule[ing] the world by proxy'." (Link 5)

The 1998 sacking, trial and imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim (on questionable and humiliating sodomy charges) bolstered the causes of Islamic and opposition groups. Observers report that subsequent to this there was a dramatic increase in visible expressions of Islam, such as headscarves and skullcaps, especially on University campuses. There was a revival of Islamic pop music while discrimination against non-Malays and non-Muslims grew. Farish Noor has said
that it was as if the Malay populace decided that in Anwar's absence they had to take responsibility for the Islamisation program. This in turn only encouraged UNMO to work all the harder at establishing its Islamic credentials in competition with the increasingly popular PAS (Islamic party).

Farish Noor, in his ABC Religion Report interview (Oct 2006) also comments on "the emergence of a pan-Malaysian-Indonesian conservative religious front". Noor says that Malaysian and Indonesian Islamic NGOs and political parties have been networking intensively for the past decade and that this networking often extends to Pakistan and Bangladesh. "This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the agenda is hijacked by more conservative forces, that wish
to use these conspiracy theories in order to set up a kind of hate machine directed towards other religious communities, then I think it does become problematic, particularly for countries like Malaysia, with a multiracial, multi-religious background." (Link 7)

Noor contends that some two dozen new Islamic NGOs and lobby groups have sprung up in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent years that are basically carrying on the political struggle through non-political means. Noor and Kessler both describe these Islamic NGOs as sectarian and communitarian. According to Noor, the Islamic NGOs are marginalising and weakening secular civil society in both countries.

Noor observes that the political Islamisation program is being driven by public demand. He notes that Abu Bakr Bashir's fundamentalist Islamic ideas have been around for decades but have only now become popular. "We need to understand how and why there has been this shift, to a register that is more sectarian, more communitarian and even more radically violent." Noor then focuses exclusively on the need to improve the economic situation, standards of living and governance.

While this is undoubtedly critical, the need to address ideology is far more critical, for Islamic intolerance starts with Islamic ideological indoctrination.


On 1 June, Jamaliah (26), an ethnic Indian woman born Muslim pleaded for the government to help her renounce Islam so she could be recognised as a Hindu. On 30 May, after hearing the court verdict in Lina Joy's case, Jamaliah's Hindu boyfriend ended their six-year-long relationship because he could see that there was no hope that they could ever marry. Jamaliah was so distraught she attempted suicide.

According to Associated Press Jamaliah's father had converted from Hinduism to Islam so that he could take a second wife, a Muslim. "Jamaliah was born to his first wife, a Hindu, in 1981 after her father's conversion to Islam. She was abandoned by her mother shortly after birth and was brought up by her father and Muslim stepmother. For that reason, she was registered as a Muslim, although she began practising Hinduism when she was old enough to pray." [Note: In line with Sharia, Jamaliah would have been deemed Muslim as soon as her father converted to Islam.]

"'I don't want to be a Muslim. All this while I've been living life as a Hindu and I only want to marry a Hindu man,' Jamaliah said. 'I want to change my religion but the court's ruling in Lina Joy's case has shattered my hopes for a future.'" (Link 8)

Elizabeth Kendal



2) CJ: NRD's requirement is reasonable. 31 May 2007

3) Malaysian Christian Convert Denied Recognition
By Eileen Ng. Associated Press Writer, 30 May 2007

4) The Long March Towards Desecularisation
Asian Analysis. October 2006

5) Malaysia Backpedals on Modernity
By Sadanand Dhume, YaleGlobal, 3 May 2007
Growing assertiveness of Islamic courts intrudes on the rights of non-Muslims
threatening social harmony in the prosperous nation.

6) Malaysia parts Muslim wives and kids from Hindu men

7) Farish Noor and 'creeping sharia'
ABC Radio National Religion Report, 11 October 2006

8) Malaysian Muslim woman pleads for government help to convert to Hinduism