MP SPEAKS | After more than 60 years of the Umno-led BN reign in Malaysia, there is now an undeniably increasing constriction of religious rights and freedom of all Malaysians.
Among Muslims, there seems to be increasing control of what is deemed the sole interpretation of the scriptures, with no room for debate or discourse, academic or otherwise in the country. We have seen various internationally renowned Muslim scholars and thought leaders banned by the Malaysian authorities.
In 2014, Islamic scholar Ulil-Abshar Abdalla was banned from entering the country to speak at a forum on the threat posed by religious fundamentalism. Ironically, the forum was being held at the headquarters of the Global Movement of Moderates established by Prime Minister Najib Razak himself.
More recently, Mustafa Akyol (photo), a renowned Turkish author and New York Times journalist attached to Wellesley College, Boston was arrested and detained for 18 hours in Malaysia for having purportedly given a “religious talk” without license. The only problem to that charge is that he was merely participating in a roundtable intellectual discussion on the question, “does freedom of conscience open the floodgate to apostasy?”
His books were subsequently also banned by the Home Ministry as a “threat to national security”. Not only foreign scholars have been targeted, progressive young Malaysian scholars such as preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin have also been arrested recently while his book, “Ulama Yang Bukan Pewaris Nabi” (Ulama who aren't the prophet's heirs) was also banned.
On the other hand, conservative and controversial clerics such as Zamihan Mat Zin who, among other things, defended a Muslim-only laundrette was praised as an “asset” by the Home Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
The increasing of [control in] interpretation of what Islam is and the outright condemnation of those who disagree, have also been matched over the past decade with the increasing attempt to demonise other religions, in particular, Christianity.
We have seen the confiscation of bibles, seditious and incendiary talks to incite hate against Christianity by renowned fraudulent ‘scholars’ such as Irene Handono, as well as banning the use of the term “Allah” by other religions.
Christians are the convenient bogeymen for the Umno political elite to continue to strike fear among their core Malay-Muslim supporters to ensure that all other transgressions by the party, such as brazen corruption and outrageous scandals, will be set aside to face a concocted Christian threat head on.
Attack on freedom
However last week, the open attack in Parliament by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Asyraf Wajdi (photo) that atheism is unconstitutional, opens a whole new chapter in diminishing the religious rights of ordinary Malaysians.
He claimed that atheism should be outlawed because it will incite people to leave their religion or to profess no religion. As such, he argued, it violates Article 11(4) of the constitution, which allows state laws and federal laws to control and restrict the propagation of any religious doctrines or beliefs among Muslims. He even said that “anyone who tries to spread ideologies and doctrines that promote atheism and similar beliefs, which tarnish the sanctity of other religions, can be charged under the Sedition Act.”
The deputy minister who apparently possess a doctorate on Islamic banking and finance is talking utter rubbish.
Firstly, the constitution clearly states “every person has the right to profess and practise his religion…” How in the world did Asyraf interpret someone having “the right to profess” to mean everyone “must profess” in a religion?
When the constitution says under Article 10, “every person has the right to freedom of speech” and “every person has the right to assemble peacefully without arms”, would the Deputy Minister with a Doctorate also interpret it as “everyone must speak (and hence cannot remain silent)” and that “everyone cannot refuse to participate in peaceful assembly”?
Of course not. When someone “has the right to profess… his religion”, it clearly means that he has the freedom of choice to believe in a religion. But it does not at any point compel him or her to adopt a religion!
In addition, for an atheist or a free-thinker, the act of not believing in any religion or participating in any religious activities, does not make him or her, by default, run afoul of Article 11(4) which prohibits propagating other beliefs to Muslims. That would be sheer illogical nonsense.
Unfortunately, propagating illogical nonsense isn’t illegal in Malaysia. Hence such illegal nonsense is being abused by the ruling political elite to strengthen their grip by striking fear into the hearts and minds of Muslims – to focus on the purported threat of Christianity, and now atheism; and of non-Muslims, by taking away their freedom, one bit at a time.
TONY PUA is Petaling Jaya Utara MP and DAP national publicity secretary.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.