Thousands rally in Malaysia to back Islamic penal code bill

Feb 21, 2017


Tens of thousands of Malaysians rallied in the capital on Saturday to support the adoption of a strict Islamic penal code, a proposal religious minorities fear could infringe their rights.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has thrown his weight behind the contentious bill, which seeks to incorporate parts of the Islamic penal code, or "hudud", into Malaysia's existing Islamic legal system.

Najib, who is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal, is hoping to burnish his Islamic credentials in order to boost his chances in national elections that must be held by August 2018.

Critics of the bill warn that it could pave the way for full implementation of hudud, which prescribes punishments such as amputations and stoning, and disrupt the fabric of Malaysia's multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

"The so-called 'empowerment' of the Shariah Court will only exacerbate the unequal treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims before the law," said Bebas, an NGO that organised a smaller counter-rally.

No official figures were available on how many people attended Saturday's peaceful support rally in Kuala Lumpur, but estimates were in the tens of thousands.

Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, deputy president of the hardline Islamist opposition Parti Islam-se Malaysia (PAS), one of its organisers, said 100,000 people were expected to attend.

The PAS presented the bill in parliament last year but later withdrew it in order to fine tune the legislation. It is now expected to be reintroduced in the next parliamentary session, in March.

Najib, who has resisted calls to resign over a scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), where he was an adviser, backed the bill despite the anger of members of his own United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) ruling coalition.

Lawsuits filed by the U.S. Justice Department in July last year said nearly $700 million of the misappropriated funds from 1MDB flowed into the accounts of "Malaysian Official 1", who U.S. and Malaysian officials have identified as Najib.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

Presidents of three parties representing the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups in Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have threatened to quit their cabinet posts if the bill passes.

For decades, PAS has been pushing for Malaysia to adopt hudud in the northeastern state of Kelantan that is governed by the party, arguing that it is the responsibility of the country's Malay-Muslim majority to support Islamic law.

Criminal cases are currently handled by federal law in Malaysia, where Malay Muslims account for more than 60 percent of the 30 million population.

The Shariah courts come under the jurisdiction of each state and are limited to family law covering issues such as divorce and inheritance.

Supporters of the legal reform said Saturday's rally also aimed to allay the fears of minority groups.

Ismail Borhan, 33, an engineer who attended the rally, said the objective of the bill was to allow commensurate action that can act as a deterrent to wrongdoing.

"Those opposed to the bill have a lack of understanding and exposure (to Islam), simply opposing for the sake of opposing," he said.

15 Suspected ISIS Members Planning Terror Attacks Have Been Arrested in Malaysia

Simon Lewis
March 24, 2016

The sweep comes after bomb attacks in Brussels claimed by the extremist group killed at least 31 people.

Malaysian authorities say they have foiled a plot involving at least 15 people, including a police officer and an airplane technician, who were allegedly attempting to obtain bombmaking materials and launch terrorist attacks in the Southeast Asian country.

Citing a statement from police on Thursday night, the Associated Press reports that 15 people suspected to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were arrested over three days beginning on Tuesday, the day of multiple bomb attacks in Brussels that have been claimed by the group.

Malaysia’s national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said in the statement that the suspects — ages between 22 and 49 — include a mosque cleric, a student, the police officer and technician, and four women believed to be planning to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

A Malaysian man fighting with the group in Syria had ordered those arrested this week to carry out attacks on Malaysian soil, AP said.

Muslim-majority Malaysia is on high alert after attackers killed two civilians in the center of neighboring Indonesia’s capital in January. Malaysia has detained more than 160 people allegedly linked to ISIS in the past two years.

Malaysia lost its tolerance

Stephanie Sta Maria
FMT News
May 19, 2012

Irshad Manji says that moderate Muslims in Malaysia are not only 'useless' but that their 'silence and passivity' allow extremists to get away with violence and intimidation.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Muslim moderates have two choices; either become reformists and contribute to society, or remain as they are and fuel Malaysia’s economic downturn.

So went Canadian author, Irshad Manji’s, message to the religious figureheads of a country that she said has lost its sense of openness, tolerance and pluralism.

The liberal Muslim activist was in Malaysia to launch a Bahasa Malaysia translation of her latest book “Allah, Liberty and Love” despite Putrajaya having banned all her public events here.

Islamic Affairs Minister Jamil Khir Baharom said earlier today that the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and the Home Ministry had forbade any events by the Ugandan-born writer due to concerns that her ideology would have negative implications for Muslims here.

But Irshad and her local publisher, ZI Publications, succesfully pulled off the launch in KLSCAH where the 50-odd crowd were eager to hear her views on Islam especially in Malaysia.

In a brief interview after the book signing, Irshad told FMT that Malaysia’s reputation as an “open, tolerant and pluralistic” country was long gone.

And the reason for this, she believed, was because the moderate Muslims were in fact not very moderate.

The 44-year old New York University (NYU) professor then likened the Muslims in Malaysia to the Christians in America during the 1960s.

“When (civil rights activist) Martin Luther King said that the Bible was being use to justify racism, the Christians told him to stop creating tension,” she explained. “And he reminded them that tension already existed if the Bible was being used for such purposes.”

“I think the same message needed for Muslims today especially in Malaysia where the word moderate seems to have this wonderful tone to it but the reality is very different.”

‘Useless’ moderate Muslims

Irshad said that the moderate Muslims in Malaysia were not only “useless” but that their “silence and passivity” allowed extremists to get away with violence and intimidation.

She emphasised that the moderates should end their passivity and start being of use to society and Islam which she equated to becoming reformists.

If they resisted this change, she warned, then Malaysia should brace itself for an economic bust.

“The thriving economy in this digital age requires a population that is able and willing to think creatively and critically,” Irshad explained. “And as I understand it, the education system in Malaysia is not so big on critical thinking.”

“So this message is not just about faith. If Malaysians are apathetic because they don’t want to rock the boat and lose their material comforts then they need to understand that their children may not have those same comforts if they have been raised in an education system that does not encourage critical thinking.”

Irshad, whose work is banned in most Arab countries, further urged Muslims to have more faith in themselves.

“Many Muslims think that they are practicing Islamic teachings by uttering Quranic verses,” she said.

“And then they allow their emotions to heighten and get defensive over a world event that they perceive to be demeaning to them,” she added.

Malaysia and the Myth of Islamic Tolerance

Posted by Rich Trzupek on Jan 22nd, 2010


Malaysia is often held up as the model of what a modern Muslim-majority nation can be. The ruling class, the bumiputra (literally “princes of the earth”) are largely, though not entirely, Muslim. But when Malaysia’s High Court ruled in late December to lift a government ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah,” Christian churches became the targets of fire-bombing attacks. This eruption of violence suggests that there is trouble brewing just beneath the surface even in this supposed paradise of Islamic moderation.

At last count, eleven Christian churches and one Sikh temple have been attacked in Malaysia. That makes twelve attacks against places of worship in half a month’s time. What does it say about Islamic values when the impetus for these attacks was the use of a particular word?

Everyone agrees that the word “Allah” pre-dates the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In Malaysia, as in most of the Muslim of the world, Allah simply means God, the same God that, according to the Quran itself, both Christians and Jews worship. Nonetheless, use of the word Allah among non-Muslims has long been prohibited by law in Malaysia. A December 31 ruling by a Malaysian court overturned that law, a move that upset many of the nation’s Muslims, who make up about sixty per cent of the populace. They claim that non-Muslims will use the word to corrupt Muslims into accepting infidel beliefs.

Once again, we are presented with evidence of Islamic intolerance and insecurity. To his credit, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib condemned the attacks, which undermine both his “One Malaysia” policy and his re-election prospects. But no matter how much tolerance the leader of this nation may preach, the actions of his co-religionists speak much louder. Emboldened by an increasingly aggressive, violent, world-wide Islamic resurgence over the last few decades, this episode reveals what expatriates who have lived in Malaysia have long claimed: that the supposed harmony of Malaysia is nothing but a glossy veneer that barely covers up the inequities and prejudices of this society.

The Malaysian constitution grants special privileges to the bumiputra, or as they are called in the constitution, Malays. Malays are defined as those citizens who profess the religion of Islam, habitually speak the Malay language and conform to Malay customs. The constitution directs the King of Malaysia (Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy) to safeguard the special position of the Malays and to ensure that a certain percentage of public services and scholarships and other similar educational privileges are reserved by the federal government for the benefit of Malays.

The bumiputra enjoy other advantages as well. A certain percentage of stock in publicly-traded companies is reserved for the bumiputra. Traditionally, they pay less for real estate than other Malaysian citizens. This is clearly a separate and unequal society. Which is not to say that Malaysia is not governed in a more liberal fashion than reactionary Muslim nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Western clothing can be found on the streets of Kuala Lampur. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, if less than equal compared to their Muslim masters, are at least allowed to practice their faith in relative peace.

Or rather they were allowed to worship in relative peace. The government of Malaysia has officially condemned the attacks, even as it tries to have the troublesome court ruling that set off the firestorm reversed. Troops have been dispatched to protect non-Islamic houses of worship, but it seems unlikely that many of the 2.3 million Christians  who live in Malaysia feel safe going to church.

Even in this most mainstream of Muslim-ruled nations, supposed Islamic tolerance has been once again shown to be a matter of style, not substance.

 Malaysian Unequal rights

1. Malaysian Muslim men can take up to four wives, and have an automatic right to divorce.
Under sharia, a woman must prove her case before a judge if their husband objects.
Malaysian men can divorce their wives by saying "I divorce you" three times to his wife. This can be done simply by a text message in Malaysia but it needs to be agreed by a court.
Sharia law in one state is not applicable in another - a divorced man can avoid paying child support by moving.
There were 16,509 Muslim divorces in 2004, more than 5 times the 3291 divorces among the non-Muslims who make up 40% of the population.

I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you

MALAYSIA: Divorce for men is easy under sharia-but women are fighting back

by Elleen Ng in Kuala Lumpur

Aida Melly Tan Abdullah was in marital wilderness for seven years because her abusive husband refused to give her a divorce-despite beating her and secretly taking a second wife.

She lost count of the number of times she was in and out of sharia court, unable to convince judges she was the aggrieved party, the victim.

"I was in a state of limbo . . . It was mentally torturous," recalls Aida, 39, mother of a l year-old daughter.

Aida's case is not unique. Although Malaysia has been hailed as one of the most progressive Muslim nations, women activists say the country has an outdated sharia system that discriminates against Muslim women in family and inheritance matters and violates their constitutional liberties.

Moreover, women say, the situation is growing worse as religious authorities become stricter and political parties increasingly compete for the votes of conservative Muslims.

"Muslim women here are only going backward," Marina Mahathir, an activist and daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, wrote in the Star newspaper.

Aida said even her lawyer, a woman, failed to fight for her rights advising her to return to her husband. In desperation, she studied Islamic laws to represent herself in court. After a high-profile legal battle that attracted nationwide attention, she finally walked out of sharia court a single woman in October 2002.

"Our sharia system needs to be reformed. Malaysia's Islamic family laws are not reflective of principles in the Koran that promise justice for women and children," Aida said.

Religion is part of public life in this Southeast Asian nation, where more than half of its 26 million population are Muslims governed by sharia laws in personal and matrimonial issues. Chinese, Indian and other minorities come under civil laws.

Under Islamic laws, Muslim men can take up to four wives. Men have the automatic right to divorce but women must prove their case before a judge if their husband objects.

An amendment to Islamic family law making it easier for Muslim men to divorce their wives yet take a greater share of the couple's property was put on hold and sent for review after widespread protests. Critics said the amendment promotes polygamy.

Activists say the bill in its present form goes against the vision of progressive Islam espoused by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Already, divorces among Muslims are high: 16,509 in 2004, more than five times the 3291 divorces that year among non-Muslims who make up around 40 per cent of the population.

Sisters in Islam, a women's group

leading the campaign for sharia reforms, said the rights of Muslim women had been gradually chiseled away through various amendments to the Islamic family law since the l990s.

"Malaysia once had the most progressive family law in the Muslim world. Now, countries like Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia are way ahead of us," said its director Zainah Anwar.

"The religious belief of subservience to men is still dominant."

Anwar blamed growing religious conservatism and exploitation of faith for political gains for the worsening legal status of Muslim women.

The latest family law amendment "seems to thumb a nose at the huge strides and contributions women have made in this society by telling them that 'Hey, no matter what you are, you are still under our control'," she said.

The Sisters in Islam group said its legal clinic for Muslim women deals with an average of 700 sharia court cases each year, most of them divorce or child support disputes.

Cases are often lengthy because there is no one single set of laws, experts say. Religious matters come under state jurisdiction, leading to different interpretation and enforcement of sharia in the country.

As such, errant men can circumvent the law because the ruling of sharia court in one state is not applicable in another. For instance, a divorced man can avoid paying child support by moving to another state.

Two states have archaic laws that give Muslim fathers the right to marry off a daughter without her consent.

Malaysia is also one of few Islamic countries which allows Muslim men to make divorce pronouncements outside of a court situation.

A Muslim man can annul a marriage by uttering "I divorce you" three times to his wife.

In Malaysia, men can do so by sending mobile phone text messages, although the divorce needs to be confirmed by the court.

One victim of such loopholes, a 46 year-old woman who would identify herself only as Zainib, wary of using her full identity for fear it would complicate her legal problems.

Despite being divorced for eight years, she says she is still seeking child support for her five children after her ex-husband remarried and moved from the central state of Selangor to eastern Terengganu.

"Why is it so easy for men to run away from their responsibilities while the women and children suffer?"


Culture of unity rattled in 'model Islamic democracy'

By Ioannis Gatsiounis
August 4, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- At a time of rage and intolerance throughout much of the Muslim world, Malaysia stands out as a source of hope that Muslims and non-Muslims can live together in a Muslim-majority nation.

The Southeast Asian nation, whose flag bears the Muslim crescent and moon, has made considerable economic gains.

Its majority Muslim population has coexisted peacefully with the 40 percent non-Muslim population, mostly Chinese and Indian.

In addition, no major incident of violence has been committed in the name of Islam on Malaysian soil.

It's no wonder Muslim and Western leaders hold Malaysia in high esteem.

The hat-tipping is set to continue when Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi delivers a keynote address at the sixth Asia-Europe Meeting in Finland next month.

The European Union wants Mr. Abdullah to share Malaysia's success in the areas of race relations and interfaith issues.

If the past is any indication, Mr. Abdullah will claim tolerance and unity as enduring traits of the Malaysian people. He will swear by Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam), a political and ideological interpretation of the faith that stresses moderation and technological and economic competitiveness.

But back home a different reality is unfolding under Mr. Abdullah's watch, one that raises questions about his commitment to Islam Hadhari and may have far-reaching implications for what is known as a "model Islamic democracy."

Hard-line Muslims have grown irate in recent months over efforts to establish a commission to enhance understanding among Malaysia's various faiths.

The latest protest was on July 22, when a private organization named Article 11 gathered in an upper-floor hotel ballroom in the state of Johor Bahru.

The organization wants the Malaysian government to guarantee equality and freedom of worship as the supreme law of the land. About 300 Muslims scowled from behind a police line at the hotel entrance, brandishing signs that said, "Don't touch Muslim sensitivities," "Destroy anti-Muslims" and "We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for Islam."

In May, hard-liners threatening to storm an Article 11 venue brought the forum to an abrupt end.

Mr. Abdullah has responded to the tensions by cracking down -- not on the hard-liners, but on Article 11.

"Do not force the government to take action," he warned the organization.

He accused Article 11 of playing up religious issues and threatening to shatter Malaysia's fragile social balance by highlighting "sensitive" issues.

It is an article of faith in Malaysia that "sensitive" issues should not be discussed openly.

Yet it is these same issues -- race, religion and a longtime affirmative action program benefiting the majority Malays -- that are dear to many Malaysian hearts.


The issues are discussed passionately, albeit behind closed doors, within one's own racial community. Mr. Abdullah has issued a stern warning to journalists to stop reporting on issues related to religious matters.