Monday, January 24, 2011

Religious Freedom in Malaysia - Really?

Najib should personally ask the non-Muslim community if there is genuine “religious freedom” under BN’s rule before proudly declaring “BN’s fairness”

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the freedom of religion practised in the country proved that the government is fair to all during a Thaipusam celebration. He said “we can see today Hindu devotees celebrate the Thaipusam freely throughout the country” at the Subramaniya Swami Devasthanam Temple.

Najib must be reminded that the practice of religious freedom should not only be skin deep, where celebrations are held in the open but both written and unwritten restrictions are placed on the various religions in the country.

If Najib truly believe in the “freedom of religion”, he must immediately instruct the Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein to retract the Government’s appeal against the December 2009 High Court decision to permit the use of the term “Allah” by the non-Muslim community. No such rule exists even in the predominantly Muslim Middle East, and history has shown the use of the term for centuries among Christians and Sikhs. However, the Barisan Nasional Government has chosen to unreasonably restrict the religious practices of non-Muslims resulting in the suit filed by the Catholic Church against the former.

There is now a growing list of cases where non-Muslims had to battle government servants who act as the Islamic religious authorities in Malaysia and with lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers who argue that they must go to the Syariah court in order to exercise their constitutional rights to raise their children in their own religion.

These have included the cases of Tan Cheow Hong, Indira Gandhi, Nedunchelian, Shamala, and Genga Devi where their family lives totally disrupted when their children were converted to Islam without their knowledge or consent by a disgruntled spouse.

Rev Dr Thomas Philips is president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) wrote that “the decision of the judges of the Federal Court led by Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi to dismiss Shamala’s case on a mere technicality rather than determine the five constitutional questions she had raised is of much concern. If not the Federal Court who else should the non-converting spouse turn to in order to protect and uphold their basic rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution.”

If Najib truly believe in the “freedom of religion”, he must urgently form an inter-faith panel to openly discuss critical issues affecting religious harmony in the country. The BN government has repeatedly postponed the inter-faith meetings which reflect the degree of intolerance among certain religious leaders in Malaysia, including a petty dispute over the name of the sub-committee.

In fact, it is unfortunate that Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam has asked Datuk Seri Najib Razak during a Christmas function organised by the Malaysian Christian Association to support an inter-faith group by meeting them regularly. “In your busy and overloaded schedule honourable prime minister, may we humbly request you to make time for the multi-religious body MCCBCHST. If you can find the time to meet their leaders regularly for some good-willed feedback,” he said.

On the other hand, Pakatan Rakyat component parties have been active in convening such dialogues and we were the first it in February 2010 attended by more than 100 religious leaders from all faiths.

On the other hand, the extremists in Umno who had demonstrated violently with a severed cow head against the building of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam on the basis that “a majority of the residents are Muslims”. Hishamuddin even held a meeting with the protestors in a show of support for them.

It is hence completely hypocritical for Johor Menteri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman to call PAS extremists, and to claim that a vote for BN is a vote for moderation when it is clear that UMNO today represents the voice of the religious and racial extremist. It is PAS who has demonstrated itself to be part of the Malaysian moderate voice by supporting the use of Allah by non-Muslims and support inter-faith dialogues to promote religious understanding and harmony.
Moderate Malaysians must not be misled by the sweet rhetoric from BN leaders and instead make itself heard to protect the freedom of religion as enshrined in our Federal Constitution.
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