Malaysia’s Shame

By Farish A. Noor

It seems as if there are some folk in Malaysia today who believe that the country cannot get enough bad publicity. Over the past few years the country’s religious authorities in particular have been at the forefront of the effort to show Malaysia and Islam in the worst light imaginable: A few years ago Malaysia made the international headlines when members of the religious morality-police vice squad raided a nightclub in the capital, arresting and detaining all the young Malaysians there who happened to be Muslims, while allowing their non-Muslim friends and companions to party the night away. Those arrested later complained to the media that they were harassed and abused, locked in cages and humiliated by the morality police themselves.

Then came the spate of other raids of peoples’ homes, including a rather embarrassing raid on the flat of an elderly American couple who were woken up in the middle of the night on the grounds that they were suspected of having Malaysian Muslims in their flat and presumably up to no good. The fact that the raid took place on the resort island of Langkawi further dampened Malaysia’s efforts to promote the country as a holiday paradise and second home for retiring couples from abroad.

Over the past three years the country has witnessed angry public demonstrations by conservative Muslims over the issue of freedom of religion; sparked off by the case of Lina Joy, a Malay-Muslim who had converted to Christianity only to be told that her conversion would not be recognised unless she put herself through the religious court system first, thereby incriminating herself in the process.

The latest case involves Massosai Revathi, a Malaysian citizen whose parents had converted to Islam but who was brought up by her Hindu grandmother and who had lived most of her life as a Hindu. Revathi is therefore one of the unfortunate cases of Malaysian citizens whose complex identity was bound to get her into trouble with the religious authorities in Malaysia, and it finally did. Following her marriage to her Hindu husband according to Hindu rites, they had a child who was also brought up a Hindu. Revathi was later called in by the religious authorities and told in no uncertain terms that she was legally a Muslim and had therefore committed a crime in the eyes of Islamic law and Muslim jurists: She was then sent to one of the country’s ‘Faith Rehabilitation Centres’ so that she could be ‘persuaded’ to return to Islam.

The plight of Revathi and others like her has brought to the public’s attention the existence of the so-called ‘faith rehabilitation centres’ that were created as part of the Islamisation programme of Malaysia since the 1980s. Though little is known about these state-funded institutions and what happens in them, Revathi’s case has brought certain facts to light. According to her husband’s affidavit statement made to the court, his wife was kept in the rehab centre and lectured on Islam for weeks on end. As part of her re-indoctrination into Islam, she was made to eat beef — which as many people know, is not allowed for Hindus. Revathi was kept away from her husband and child for six months, until media pressure and constant lobbying by both Hindu and secular NGO groups led to her release this week.

Upon her release Revathi has spoken of her ordeal to the Malaysian and international press, revealing the conditions of the camp and the fact that many who were there had chosen to escape. Furthermore she has been told that she cannot renounce Islam, despite the fact that she was brought up by her Hindu grandmother and had lived as a Hindu most of her life. This also puts into jeopardy her marriage to her Hindu husband and the custody of her child.

Needless to say, none of this bodes well for Malaysia, Islam or the image of Muslims in the country. At a time when religious issues have become ultra-sensitive in Malaysia, cases such as Revathi’s points to the growing intransigence and belligerence of the country’s religious authorities who increasingly behave like a law unto themselves. Furthermore one wonders how many more cases exist out there, of people like Revathi or Lina Joy who have been forced into a life of secrecy and hiding for fear of the wrath of the morality police and shariah enforcers.

Of course, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of a Malaysia that is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary and which is currently celebrating ‘Visit Malaysia Year 2007’. Tourists who come to the country will undoubtedly be bedazzled by the pastiche of post-modern consumerism run amok in the capital, where shopping and capitalism seem to be the real credo of the land. The Malaysian government under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi prides itself with the claim of being a moderate Muslim state where a ‘civilised Islam’ is being promoted under the vague banner of ‘Islam Hadari’. But where, pray tell, is the ‘civilised’ aspect of religious moral policing that locks people in cages, verbally abuses female Muslims accused of indecent dressing, breaks into the homes of citizens in the dead of night? Underneath the glitz and glamour of Malaysia’s polished facade, the unfettered religious bureaucracy of the country points to a growing tide of Malay-Muslim communitarianism that is increasingly intolerant and demanding a greater slice of public space. Some Malaysians living in multiracial neighbourhoods have even been told that they cannot keep dogs as pets, for fear of upsetting their Muslim neighbours.

The victims of this politicised religious politics, like Revathi, are left to fend for themselves with only the help of the country’s small NGO community and the international media to highlight their cases. Yet the verdict is clear: After being detained for six months, Revathi confesses that she ‘hates Islam even more now’. Hardly surprising when one considers what she has been put through in the name of ‘saving her soul’. The question is, what is the current government of Malaysia going to do about the current state of affairs? Malaysia’s religious authorities have proven to be a menace to themselves, and some would argue the country as well.

  1. #1 by oedipus on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 9:39 am

    maybe the muslim scholars should get back into Islamic theology and the law into coherence with it, instead harping on judicial aspect (only) of the faith.

    when the common lay person understands the theology part, maybe the self justice seeking and wonton disregard of human rights may be reduced.

    but i wonder how many muslim scholars can explain islamic theology without contradicting themselves. that is why perhaps a grand mufti may be of help.

  2. #2 by KL Dude on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 9:41 am

    We have heard quite a number of unfavourable incidents relating to the Islamic religion lately. In my view, these incidents may not be caused by the religion itself but by some of its fanatical and shallow-minded followers who seem to be practicing the religion by the rule of their heart and mind and worse still justifying their acts in the name of the religion.

    No religion that I understand has known to be cruel, irrational and create so much problems unless it is a cult. Therefore, the act of some fanatical / shallow minded followers of this religion had eventually tarnished the image of this religion and the country’s reputation actually.

  3. #3 by moong cha cha II on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 9:43 am

    it appears to the so called authorities “Apppearance” is more important than substance.

    Revathi raised by Hindu-grandmother, lived a life as a Hindu but still a Muslim becos of parents were Muslims.

    Lina Joy cannot so easily change to “Non-Muslim” because she was borned a Muslim. Must go through the BN-legal sysytem proceess. But if she did, she would probabaly be sent to “Kem Pemulihan”.

    If my heart is not a Muslim, am I still a Muslim becos my IC says so and I be buried in a Muslim cemetery?

    Maybe, we see today ALSO in the UMNO-led-BN-gomen, appearance takes first place, dont care about substance.

    The highest, the biggest, the tallest, ……

    So what !

    Are we catching up with Singapore, Soth Korea or is Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos catching up with Malaysia ?

  4. #4 by kelangman88 on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 9:56 am

    It appears to non-Muslim that indecent dressing, etc is more dangerous than corruption in Islam based on the news nowaday where a lot of people get arrested for indecent dressing instead of corruption. Muslim please tell me that is it true that corruption is not really that big deal compare to indecent dressing?

  5. #5 by Phat-kor on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:02 am

    In everything, there is the rise and fall. All that’s happening in this country are pointing to the falling of a good nation and it’s a pity. Obviously, as I see it, the leader of the country has no control of or probably is not even aware of what is going on in the many arms and tentacles of the government machinery. Each is doing its own wayang kulit and each ends up being a laughing stock. The clampdown on candidates of apostacy is probably the decision and action of some very extremist religious leaders in the arms of the government.

    But that’s OK, as God the Almighty knows all that’s going on and at the end, His grace and mercy will still prevail over evil.

  6. #6 by sotong on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:26 am

    For decades, many, including the highly educated, are misguided with damaging, narrow and shallow interpretation of the religion.

    The consequence is permanent, long term and far reaching.

  7. #7 by rayden on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:28 am

    Is this a country of freedom?
    I dont see that the rakyat are free to choose their religion..


  8. #8 by madmix on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:47 am

    There are many “scholars” who think that their interpretation of a “holy book” is the only correct interpretation. Nothing you can do will change their minds; and they are “holier” and more pious than anyone else. Fact is others dare not challenge them as such matters are not logical or scientific and cannot be truly challenged and no one interpretation is truly wrong.
    If a “prophet” wrote: “go forth and collect durians”, a fundamentalist will go and plant acres and acres of durians. A broader interpretation may be to grow more food.

  9. #9 by ahkok1982 on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:56 am


  10. #10 by michgyver on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 11:17 am

    Dear YB Lim,

    In my opinion, Yang Dipertuan Agong as a head of the religion, should take action against these religious fanatics that tanished our image in the international arena. If they be allowed to get scot-free, i believe more and more similar cases will happen in future.

  11. #11 by gana on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 11:47 am

    it very best way of illustration of present UMNO-led govt by ahkok1982,,,

    to all my fellow malaysian i would like to remind- if we continue to vote BN we are digging our own grave yard for burial of our culture, religion, and finanally our own rights as malaysian citizen.

  12. #12 by Kingkong on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 12:00 pm

    The potential danger that this country faces is the possibility of a Taliban type of regime that might take over the government of the day if the BN keeps on rotting through corruption which is the major element to weaken the government.

    No opposition will be able to take over the government of the day through so called democratic election system because the government has all the resources to control the election machinery.

    However, UMNO and so BN can only collapse through their own rotting and if we are not careful, a force like the Taliban type will take over and that will be the doom day of the country. That was exactly how communism, Nazi and Taliban regimes took over from those corrupted governments of the day.

    I was surprised to learn the latest news that out of the 100 thousands citizens who gave up Malaysian citizens, seventy five per cent are Malay. No one could weaken the Malay race but themselves.

  13. #13 by Bigfoot on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 12:01 pm

    Dear YB Lim,

    If possible, and not classified under OSA, please find out the details of what really goes on in those so-called “Faith Rehabilitation Centres”. The public needs to know.

  14. #14 by pwcheng on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 12:21 pm

    We have descended to a point where everything the Muslim do and believes is right. Look at the silly excuse they gave for killing those goats and cows in front of Parliament house, that it is for the kenduri of the wedding of our PM. Nobody can wrong them for having whatever kenduri they want for the PM ‘s wedding but please do it decently. Maybe your religion allow you to do this but please allow your common sense to prevail. The August house must not be made into a slaughter house just because you want to please your boss and do not care whether it offends others.

    Putting aside religion, many will find it uncomfortable to see such gory scene and coming to religion if you want us to respect your religion you must also know how to respect others. “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you”. THE Hindus and the Buddhist will definitely take offense to this because cows are sacred to the Hindus and to many Buddhist and to them they definitely cannot stand such cruelty to an animal they love so much. At the same time the Buddhist will find it religiously offensive because the religion abhor killing.

    To me I hope they will come to their sense that Parliament is a sacred sanctuary of the nation and no human with their right sense will do any killing right in front of the house. What dose it portray to the nation. We must know how to change with time even how embedded we are with religion.

  15. #15 by seelan on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 12:46 pm

    The saying “kerana nila setitik rosak susu sebelanga” goes well with the current prejudice against our muslim friends.
    From my personal experience, I have met many muslims that do not agree with the way these so-called “morality police” smears the name of Islam.
    The fact is, most of us (including our muslim friends) agree that religions are just a path for us to live on our principles. It abstains us from sins and guides us towards a meritful life. Only the remaining fanatics who do not hold unto this fact are the ones creating chaos.

  16. #16 by grace on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 1:00 pm

    With due respect to Farish,may I ask those stupid religious officials or ministers who condone such acts , how would Allah judge the likes of Lina Joy and Revapathy?.
    Both are officially Islam in name but already every inch a Christian and Hindu respectively!
    In no uncertain term Revapathi stated that he hated Islam even more. Joy had declared no less than umpteen times that she is a Christian.

    Come on, it is time that those religious stop making a fool of themselves. Also Pak Lah should put a stop to this silly act once and for all. In fact Pak Lah himself looked stupid in this episode.Oh yes, the whole nation looks stupid.

  17. #17 by wizzerd on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 1:21 pm

    Not all are aware of the transgressions.Even if they are aware, it will soon be forgotten.
    People would still vote for BN/UMNO and its component parties come by-elections/GE with the promise of short-term freebies.
    New roads, new streetlights, new funds for school, new sewing machines(??!!)
    Those BN goons will always be laughing at how gullible we are.

    Time to make more people wiser.

  18. #18 by pwcheng on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 3:06 pm

    The type of Islam in this country today is the making and baking by UMNO, started off by TDM and now continued by our Hadhari PM. They are making use of it as a leverage to gain political mileage. I am sure many of the moderate Malays including many of their own UMNO MPs know it, but since it has served as a useful tool to gain political expediency and having absolute power to manipulate any way they like, they are exploiting it to the fullest and do not care how the other races feel.

  19. #19 by mangodurian on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 3:54 pm

    There is a very good reason why there needs to be a separation of religion and state – secularism. Every theologically governed territory has not done well because the non-revisable nature of a theocracy hampers the progress of mankind.

    Though Malaysia is not a theocracy, it has in the years since independence sliding away from being secular.

    It is evident that not only non-Muslims suffer, but Muslims themselves are trapped in this – they are less free in many ways.

  20. #20 by maya on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 7:24 pm

    Uncle Lim,
    I just read the article on Malaysiakini “bloodshed in parliament”.
    I am not only disgusted but really, really petrified for my motherland. What are they doing to my beloved Malaysia??? God, how can they justify their madness, these MPs are out of their minds!! How can the MIC, MCA and Gerakan stand by and watch this any longer?? I cant uncle Lim, despite being thousands of kms away, my heart bleeds for the ‘tanah tumpahnya darah ku’.

  21. #21 by shortie kiasu on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 8:35 pm

    Reading about all the negative publicity in the media regarding the religion Islam and the followers Muslim, we could not help but feel the the religion is very giving the impression that it is an oppressive religion. One of the teaching is that a Muslim cannot change to embrace another religion. I think this is one of its kind in Malaysia.

  22. #22 by Jamesy on Wednesday, 11 July 2007 - 10:55 pm

    To all the religious authorities, religious police, religious fanatics, religious fundamentalists, religious supremists, religious zealots or whatever you want to call yourself as……..

    What are you trying to do? What are you trying to prove? You have nothing better else to do these days? Go and do some charity work and help the poor and the less fortunate. Help the public to curb criminal activities in JB and other black spots all over Malaysia. Do yourself a favour by helping the police and the ACA to eliminate corruption in high places in the governement.

    By doing this, Revathi will not comment that “she hates Islam even more.” And non-muslims and moderate muslims alike in Malaysia will not be feeling ashamed of themselves calling them as proud Malaysians to their foreign counterparts while celebrating 50th Merdeka Day.

  23. #23 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 4:25 am

    It all boils down to the question of what Parliament is supposed to symbolize.

    It’s Malaysia’s shame that whilst to most, a Parliament building should symbolise the nations’ democracy, it has, however of late, taken on other appearances of:

    · A sheep pen in which inflexible party discipline prohibits support of any opposition’s motion, no matter how cogent or sensible;

    · in a recent incident, an abattoir with the slaughtering of six cows and 10 goats in its compound for a dinner function;

    · A all men’s pub, bar or outhouse where men relish jokes about women with two MPs likening its leaking ‘bochor’ state to a pre-menopausal condition of a woman’s menstrual cycle in sharp contrast to a senior cabinet minister’s subsequent comparison of its dilapidated state to the looks of an aged 50 year old menopausal woman requiring maintenance…..

  24. #24 by lakshy on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 4:37 am

    Well it looks like BN is way ahead. They have started campaigning already.

    Health camps are being organised in constituencies, in the name of BN. The goal of the BN is to put up strong fights in chinese dominated and areas with high chinese populations, to try to reduce the votes going to DAP.

    What can the opposition do?

  25. #25 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 4:42 am

    “A all men’s pub, bar or outhouse where men relish jokes about women with two MPs likening its leaking ‘bochor’ state ..” Jeffrey

    So far this is the most original piece about our Parliament – an outhouse! The place you go to deposit your poop!

  26. #26 by lakshy on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 5:14 am

    Why didnt the PM object or raise an issue about this? This is the same man who sent out a directive to all government departments not to serve beef for government functions to show sensitivity to other races. He did this soon after he became PM. Another message was to stop having the welcoming committees for him as it is a waste of time.

    Looks like no one even bothers to read let alone follow his directives.

    Malaysia desperately needs a change, but none seems forthcoming!

  27. #27 by sotong on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 7:32 am

    With billions spent on development and education, sadly very little has changed in the attitude and mentality of the people.

    This is the result of decades of bad leadership and grossly ineffective policies.

  28. #28 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 8:51 am

    What is surprising is that that these things happen but that people especially those bend on religo-state wonder why. The debate is as old as the Roman empire, revisited during Henry VIII, during the founding of 13 colony known as the US. Communism etc.

    So long as secularity as the ultimate pillar of this country is not respected, these things will happen. Its as simple as that. Excuses of failure of administration, lack of awareness, miseducation are just that – excuses that will always exist in fact gets worst as the demand of development and progress brings out more and worst of these people. There is no practical way containing these failures, limited way of improving it which is why a larger principle of secularity need to be uphold for all to see and made absolutely clear, and enforced.

  29. #29 by ProMalaysiaNotBN on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 11:37 am

    I’ve come to enjoy the very varied and opinionated comments on all those issues brought up in Uncle Lim’s blog. It’s interesting and heart-warming to know that there a many who are outspoken when it comes to all these issues affecting the citizens of Malaysia. Kudos to you all. I have only one big wonder and that is – are those big guns running the country listening? I have a very uneasy feeling that none of these articles and comment are being taken seriously by them. Or are they that impotent to do anything about change? How are these issues going to be addressed by the government and ensure that Malaysia is no longer to be made a laughing stoke of the century. And a possible breeding ground for terrorists who would significantly find it a haven for their activities if the law of the land is so lacking in its enforcement on what is right and proper to human decency and justice!

    How can and when will the politicians running the country and elected to carried out the mandate of the population correct the wrongs before it becomes too far gone for a reversal to good clean and progressive governance?

  30. #30 by dawsheng on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 12:27 pm

    The fact is BN govt allowed its religous faction to practice religious persecution on non-muslims minorities in Malaysia. This is designed to be a smokescreen that will potrays UMNO as or is still the holiest political party for Malay muslims. But UMNO is not the saviour of Malay race anymore, just like the MCA for Chinese and MIC for the Indians. The Problem is in UMNO.

  31. #31 by takazawa on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 1:50 pm

    This is what happens when Muslims in Bodohland simply have no respect for other religions whatsoever. When some Muslims start to think all religions are the same, it’s called pluralism or syncretism. It becomes a big issue. If a Muslim believes that all religions are the same, then he/she might as well leave Islam.

    As for Lina Joy case, all I can do is to pray that truth and justice will prevail. If God is on Lina’s side, I believe not even the whole machinery of UMNO can be against her. If UMNO doesn’t allow her to leave Islam, then don’t allow anybody else to leave any religion as well. Conversion should be banned in Malaysia. That would be fair to all Malaysians. For non-Muslims, that is no big problem because they respect all religions to the extent that some of them don’t mind marrying someone of another faith without asking him/her to leave his/her religion.

    When Nyonya Tahir a Muslim women was allowed to be buried in her new faith (not Islam), it has opened a new route for Malay Muslims to freedom of religion. Everyone should choose his/her faith without an element of coercion.

  32. #32 by ihavesomethingtosay on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 5:32 pm

    malaysia BOLEH tahan malu…………..

  33. #33 by micht on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 6:25 pm

    What I can say is that this is a crying shame that would never happen during the Tunku’s time. And we are going to celebrate 50 years of Independence. Independence from what?

  34. #34 by japankiller on Thursday, 12 July 2007 - 9:21 pm

    Isnt that good to be islam in Malaysia?atleast if you have little bit smart then you could getting rich by asking 30% from government.

    As long as you are islam then your status change to become bumiputra.

    Religion are nothing wrong to people, but when if it come into force then it is become alike direct selling.

  35. #35 by pamelaoda on Saturday, 14 July 2007 - 7:47 am

    I m really sick of all these news nowaday. Malaysia trully everything pun boleh..amazing isnt?

  36. #36 by House Victim on Sunday, 15 July 2007 - 7:03 am

    The Key point is everything so Politically run that the normal Dignity of Rights & Wrong is SWITCHED OFF.

    Subang Ria Park is another “GOOD” EXAMPLE. This is not the first instance, but, at least the Second phenomenon after the Batu Tiga Highway running from Shah Alam through the Town city of USJ/SJ. The Phenomenon of Resident Association or similar set-up of another Zone to vote out the Rights of another Zone!!

    The recent “Subang Ria Park” with SIME UEP Re-Development Proposal has become a Public “Objection” within 3 months on “Open Space” for the Subang Jaya Development that had been “abandoned” by both SIME & MPPJ/MPSJ for the last 20-25years. This is a purely administrative mistaken of “wrong” issue of Titles & failure of performance of both Sime & MPPJ/MPSJ.

    The baseless ” Public Objection” is not only promoted by USJ RA or JKP but now provoking by USJ RA to determine the Open Space of SJ to be a “Recreational Park”
    with disregards of Rights & Obligations of the Parties concerns and Legal Standi, etc..

    but also promoted for possible State ‘acquisition”
    as “Park’s land use must remain recreational”

    The Bullies of Offices & some Politicians are ENOUGH. Why should Bully be extended by some blur set-up of RA or JKP in their so called “representation of Residents” be encouraged?

    It is terrible & Horrible – A new Breed of Political worms??

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