Discrimination in areas such as conversion, court jurisdiction, property, and inheritance under Malaysia's dual legal system has led religious minorities to become increasingly resentful towards the Muslim majority, sources say. To avoid religious conflict, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur called on Christians to play a positive role in Malaysia society and back the administration of the newly-pointed Prime Minister.
In a speech delivered on Merdeka (Independence) Day, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam reminded the audience that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullâh Ahmad Badawi had been stressing the need for “moderation” and encouraging a “dialogues among cultures and religions” to rid the country of “racial and religious fundamentalism” which fuel “violent radicalism”.
According to Italy-based AsiaNews, in a speech before the Ecumenical Council of Churches, Badawi presented himself as “a Muslim who wants to speak to all Malaysians, Muslims and non Muslims alike, someone whose duty is to promote a message of tolerance among the people, in particular in the Muslim majority”.
For Badawi, with humanity and Malaysia facing so many problems, those who love peace and tolerance must act like “beacons of hope.” Religion, in his opinion, must bring out what is good in people, not what is bad. Religion should not be used to fight wars and carry out acts of terror; instead, it should lead people towards solving conflicts, towards peace and a more equitable world order.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and a federation. Under the constitution Islam is the federation’s official religion, but other religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shamanism, traditional animist religions) can “be practiced in peace and harmony”.
The document goes further in protecting religious freedom for it states that “no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own” and that “the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.” On the basis of these principles, Malaysia’s bishops maintain that “it is not in the best interests of the child” that a parent convert him, or her or do so without the knowledge of the other parent. For this reason they urge government and parliament to adopt laws requiring courts to uphold and protect constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion and parental rights.
When the Federation of Malaya was first founded in 1948 (changing its name to Malaysia in 1963) the newly-independent country adopted a constitution designed to reconcile its many races and religions and guarantee their rights.
However, according to the Voice of the Martyrs, the government not only considers Islam to be an essential part of the ethnic Malay identity, but they consider all ethnic Malays legally Muslims. VOM reports that while non-Malays are free to convert to Islam, conversion from Islam to any other religion is strongly discouraged. Fortunately, legislation to punish converts from Islam was rejected by the government, as long as those who do convert does not defame Islam after their conversion.