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US State Dept: Scant support for non-Muslim religions in M'sia
Published:  Aug 11, 2016 7:06 AM
Updated: 8:33 AM

Non-Muslims and those with interpretations of Islam that differ with the state face difficulties practising their faiths in Malaysia, the United States State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2015 says.

Non-Sunni Islamic schools of thought are considered deviant, with followers open to state action, the US department reports.

It also states that while there is heavy state financial support for Sunni Islam, the same cannot be said for other religions.

"Some government bodies, including the federal government’s Department of National Unity and Integration, were tasked with encouraging religious harmony and protecting the rights of minority religious groups, but many faith-based organisations stated they believe that none enjoyed the power and the influence of those that regulated Islamic affairs," the report reads.

For example, it said, the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) received RM819 million in 2015 for various "Islamic education and mosque-related projects".

However, no specific allocations were made in the government budget for non-Muslim religious groups, beyond the irregular funding that temples and churches say they receive, it reported.

It added that non-Muslim groups report regular difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to build places of worship, prompting them to worship in commercial spaces.

While largely tolerated, it said, it has left the groups vulnerable, with at least one church's use of a commercial shoplot in Selangor declared illegal by the local council.

The Selangor government declared that no action would be taken, but the church is still technically operating illegally and is vulnerable to state action, it said.

Muslim, non-Muslim custody battles

Non-Muslims also lose out in custody battles between a non-Muslim parent and his or her former partner who has converted to Islam, the US Department reported.

"When facing competing orders by civil and syariah courts regarding custody, (civil liberty groups and non-Muslim religious leaders) stated the police generally sided with the syariah (courts)," the report reads.

Intolerance of religious freedom

The report states that there have been continuous reports of societal intolerance of religious freedom, including conversion out of Islam and different interpretations or ways of practising Islam.

"Muslim women and girls faced social pressure to wear the tudung. On social media, Muslim women who did not wear the headscarf or dress modestly were often subject to shaming," it said.

It added that "insult to Islam" has also been accepted as an offence under the Sedition Act, with the conflation of religion and ethnicity complicating matters.

"The government prosecuted some deemed to have ‘insulted Islam’ under sedition laws, often following criticism of the government’s policies on religion.

"Because Islam, Malay ethnic identity and the ruling Umno party are closely linked, it is difficult to categorise many incidents as being solely based on religious identity," the report reads.

It also noted that regulations to bar proselytisation to Muslims and restrictions against evangelical groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, are an infringement of freedom of religion.

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