Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Religious freedom in Malaysia

Haha. Just joking.

In recent months, there has been an increase in the level hostility to non-Muslims living in Malaysia. Several incidents have occurred such as a mob gathering in front of a Church after hearing rumours spread by a top Muslim cleric, cemeteries being desecrated, the bodies of non-Muslims who were suspected to be Muslim snatched from their families upon death for a Muslim burial. Taoist temples being demolished, people being fined for dressing 'indecently'.

These are nothing new. The Church of the Divine Mercy in Shah Alam took 30 years (1977-2005) to complete after the state government moved the site multiple times citing the complaints of Muslims (they don't seem to realize that blaring loudspeakers 5 times a days starting at the crack of dawn is a major nuisance). The moves occurred after foundations were poured costing the Church a lot of money. Despite the design being scaled down, the belfry scaled down and finally omitted and the Church toned down to look nothing like a Church(click on the link to check out the photos), it still took that long. The Church, which is very vibrant, under the leadership of a dynamic parish priest, now looks like a factory from the outside, square and whitewashed, sits in the middle of an industrial zone with a Kentucky Fried Chicken packing plant as its neighbour.

Then there's the celebrated case of Lina Joy who converted to the Catholic Church and is asking the courts for a legal redress of her situation. This has been dragging on for years too, with Lina receiving death threats and the parish priest who baptized her no longer in the country.

All of these incidents were reported on this blog. Here's another incident.

Malaysian family split by faith

By Claudia Theophilus

The couple can only meet through the gates
of the rehabilitation center

Islamic authorities in Malaysia have removed a baby girl from her father's home and placed her mother in a religious rehabilitation centre in what has become the latest case to highlight the country's fragile racial and religious balance.

The case of 15-month-old Divya Darshini, and her mother, Revathi Masoosai, has cast light on the conflict between two parallel legal systems – civil and shariah - in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

Born as Siti Fatimah to a Muslim family, Revathi initially sought to legally change her name before deciding to marry the man she loved, Suresh Veerapan, in a Hindu rite in 2004.
Divya, was born about a year later.
But Malaysian law does not recognise marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and in March religious officials, acting within Malaysian law, removed the child from Suresh's home and handed her over to Revathi's family.
The case began six years ago when Malaysian officials rejected Revathi's application to drop her Muslim name saying she needed a letter of approval from the religious authority in Malacca, her home state.
Suresh says his wife is
no longer a Muslim
Unable to make any headway, Revathi and Suresh eventually went ahead with a marriage ceremony at a Hindu temple.
But early in January this year, she was charged with apostasy and ordered by the Malacca state shariah court to be detained for 100 days at the Ulu Yam Faith Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
According to its website, the centre aims to correct wayward Muslims including apostates, religious deviants and women carrying the children of non-Muslim partners.
The shariah court also barred Suresh, a bus driver, from visiting her.
"My heart is torn," Suresh told Al Jazeera. "After all, she is not a Muslim. She is only Muslim by name, but she has been living as a Hindu."
The bone of contention before the the shariah court hearing was whether Revathi grew up as a Muslim or a Hindu, with opposing claims by her grandparents from both sides.
In the meantime, Revathi's detention period has been extended for another 80 days.
A court spokesman contacted this week confirmed the extension order but declined to comment on grounds that his remarks could be prejudicial to proceedings.
"I can't give you any information at this point in time because the case is still pending in court," he told Al Jazeera.
Similarly, Malacca religious enforcement officers refused to comment and asked for queries to be directed to the Malacca Islamic Affairs Council, who could not be reached.
In Malaysia, the administration of Islamic law is the responsibility of individual states but where there is a conflict with federal laws, the constitution as the supreme law of the land prevails.
Revathi's Muslim parents are seeking
custody of Divya Darshini
Harussani Zakaria, religious advisor to another Malaysian state - Perak in the north of the country - said under traditional Islamic law cases of apostasy are punishable by death.
But as Malaysian law does not provide the death penalty for apostasy, he said the government should consider an alternative law to deter Muslims from renouncing their faith.
Revathi's parents have since sought a shariah court order for custody of their granddaughter, whom they have vowed to raise as a Muslim.
"I will make her a Muslim child," said Zaleha, Revathi's mother.
"That's why I took her... to correct her upbringing. After all, her mother has no choice. Her mother cannot leave this religion anyway."
Zaleha said they disapproved of Revathi's Hindu marriage and had tried to dissuade her from going through with it.
"She asked me if I can allow her to convert out of Islam. I said no way, you must remain in the religion. You cannot leave, it's the law here."
Despite being denied visitation rights, Suresh still regularly makes the three-hour drive to the detention center hoping to persuade the guards to allow him to see his wife.
Suresh wants custody of his daughter who
is with Revathi's Muslim parents
On an earlier trip, Suresh said he had been asked to prove that Revathi was his wife given her legal religious status.
"'She's a Muslim, you're a Hindu. How can you prove that she's your wife?'" he said, relating the conversation with one of the officers at the facility.
Speaking through the center's gate, Revathi told Suresh she had not eaten in days and has been suffering from asthma attacks, and had no access to medication.
Suresh says he will apply for custody of their daughter and raise her as a Hindu.
The conflict stems from Malaysia's constitution which says Islamic law applies exclusively to Muslims, but which guarantees religious freedom for all Malaysian citizens.
Since coming to power Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the prime minister, has been promoting his concept of Islam Hadhari, or civilisational Islam, as the ideal practice for a multi-ethnic nation such as Malaysia, where over 30 per cent of the population is non-Muslim.
Abdullah says the concept acts as a bridge between the West and the Muslim world by observing moderation and equality, saying these are key to establishing good governance in any plural and modern society.
In the last five years, however, numerous cases such as Revathi's have emerged, often posing a constitutional challenge to the country's judiciary.
Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, a constitutional law expert, says there is "very little doubt" that Article 11 of the constitution allows all, including Muslims, the freedom of conscience.
"Arresting people for their religious belief, besides being a violation of Article 11, would be a violation of their personal liberties," he said.

Siti Fatimah was born a Muslim but married a Hindu
From the Al-Jazeera website:
In this episode of Everywoman, we examine the crime of apostasy; how a baby can be torn from its parents because a Muslim woman dared to marry a non-Muslim.

Religious freedom in Malaysia has been under the spotlight recently, with a string of disputes involving the country's non-Muslim minorities.
The most high-profile case is that of Siti Fatimah; she was born a Muslim but she married a Hindu man out of love. She calls herself Revathi, a Hindu name, and together the couple have a 15 month old baby girl.

Their daughter has been
taken from them
But because she was living as a Hindu, Siti has been accused of apostasy - or deserting her religion. She has been detained at a rehabilitation centre, and her baby has been taken away.
Her husband Suresh, who is banned from seeing both his wife and child, spoke to Everywoman about the battle to win back his family.

Joining Shiulie Ghosh to discuss the issue is Zainah Anwar from Sisters In Islam, and Farid Suffian Shuaib, a law lecturer at Malaysia's International Islamic University.
Watch this episode of Everywoman here:

Several other news items related to this case can be found here;

From the International Herald Tribune :Malaysia's Islamic court extends detention of Muslim-born woman living as Hindu
From the Al-Jazeera English site.


Anonymous said...

dear brother Andrew,
any comment form you on that?
pax et bonum

Andrew said...

Hi echnaton.

I think that, regardless the legal aspect of things, morally speaking, taking a mother away from her child who is still nursing merely because of her religion is appalling, abhorrent and, frankly speaking, quite barbaric.

I'm not surprised about the action. I expected it. But I'm surprised about the timing.

Not even the founder of their religion did something like this.

Here's what the Hadith Book 017, Number 4206 records:
He (the narrator) said: There came to him (the Holy Prophet) a woman from Ghamid and said: Allah's Messenger, I have committed adultery, so purify me. He (the Holy Prophet) turned her away. On the following day she said: Allah's Messenger, Why do you turn me away? Perhaps, you turn me away as you turned away Ma'iz. By Allah, I have become pregnant. He said: Well, if you insist upon it, then go away until you give birth to (the child). When she was delivered she came with the child (wrapped) in a rag and said: Here is the child whom I have given birth to. He said: Go away and suckle him until you wean him. When she had weaned him, she came to him (the Holy Prophet) with the child who was holding a piece of bread in his hand. She said: Allah's Apostle, here is he as I have weaned him and he eats food. He (the Holy Prophet) entrusted the child to one of the Muslims and then pronounced punishment. And she was put in a ditch up to her chest and he commanded people and they stoned her. Khalid b Walid came forward with a stone which he flung at her head and there spurted blood on the face of Khalid and so he abused her.

Perhaps she was allowed to wean her child because she was a Muslim. Poor Revathi.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew
thanks for your reply. Actually, I knew this hadith...and I would say one thing: we all are dualistic, as of course even Muhamad was (he has been carefull with her son but harsh with the Mum)...but I would compare this happening with Jesus and the stoning of the prostitute...what a difference!! two words apart!!!
take care
pax et bonum