Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Freedom of Worship. Really?

"Visit Malaysia" commercials are the worst form of lie that this government can tell to tourists. Apart from the scenes of our flora and fauna, cinematic shots of different places of worship in those advertisements were intended to convince the world and Malaysians alike that Malaysia practices religious freedom. Is that entirely true? Do Malaysians really have the total freedom to practice any religion apart from Islam?

It's true that non-Muslim Malaysians can to go to their churches, temples and gurdwaras without any fear of arrests. Although Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country but that does not mean it is an Islamic country despite certain groups that believe the contrary. They had either fail or perhaps refuse to understand Article 3 of the Federal Constitution.

We may not see any outward persecution or oppression of non-Islamic religions in this country. However, it would be naive to deny that there isn't any oppression at all by the pro-Islamic government. Please note that there is no such thing as 'restricted freedom'. A bird in a cage is free to move around but only within the confines of the cage. Is the bird free? No.

How is the freedom of worship in Malaysia restricted then? Well, many Malaysians may not know about this but the Ministry of Housing and Local Government of Malaysia have specific guidelines for the construction of non-Muslim houses of worship. They were compiled during the
12th meeting of the National Fatwa Council for Islamic Affairs in 1985. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) have since protested against the guidelines which they deemed restrictive and oppressive towards the non-Islamic religions of this country. You may read the ministry's guidelines for yourself here and the MCCBCHS's proposed alternative guidelines here.
The summary is as listed below:

  1. Non-Muslims can only build a place of worship on the land which they own, provided the site is not in an area where the majority of the population are Muslims.
  2. The authorities have the power to evict any non-Muslim house of worship which was built without the approval of the government.
  3. Non-Muslim and Muslim places of worship must not be in close proximity (less than 1km).
  4. There are size and height limits to the design of a non-Muslim house of worship.
  5. A non-Muslim house of worship that is being built must not resemble a Muslim house of worship. (For your information, a Sikh gurdwara have similar architectural elements to a mosque)
  6. Construction of all non-Muslim place of worship is subject to the approval of the State Islamic Council.
Article 11(3b) of the Federal Constitution states that:

"Every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes."

If that is so, why do non-Muslims need to get the approval of the State Islamic Council to establish a house of worship of their own?

The Federal Constitution guarantees that all religions have the right to be practiced in peace and harmony. The word 'peace' here would mean 'without any interference'. This is one thing the Malaysian government must understand.

To conclude, non-Islamic religions in this country must not be restricted in any manner or by any guidelines if the government wants to preach to the world that there is freedom of worship in Malaysia. Otherwise, the Malaysian government is guilty of not only practicing double standards but also lying to millions of tourists.

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  1. siewkwan said...

    Wow, I din know all of these. Thanks for telling!! :)

  2. Anonymous said...

    We have many rabid fundamentalist trying to push their One True Way(tm).

    Perhaps religion short circuits reasoning, or maybe they are simply not fully aware (read: never thought) of the consequences of their actions.

    These people say freedom this, freedom that, only to say no when it comes to "isu isu sensitif". Enough of these hypocrites.