KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has shifted towards a more rigid, political Islam, resulting in greater intolerance in the country, according to a report in The Diplomat.
The report quoted researchers and Muslims as saying that intolerance was becoming a part of Malaysian life.
Dr Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in the US, was quoted by The Diplomat as saying: “Malaysia has become steadily more intolerant, and this has been a top down government policy.”
Abuza, who focuses on Southeast Asian politics and security issues, described Malaysian Islamic religious leaders as state-sponsored and who used vetted sermons.
“The people most at risk are clearly the ethnic minorities, atheists, and Christian Malays, which is actually unconstitutional.
“I was just in Malaysia, and the intolerance displayed by Malays is growing. I don’t know one Chinese Malaysian or Indian that is not alarmed at where this is headed.”
The report quoted Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, director of the Islamic Renaissance Front, as saying that a shift had occurred towards more rigid and political Islamic practice.
This is because of an influx of Salafist scholars returning from Saudi Arabia, with many joining the government, sometimes as members of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), or as preachers at mosques.
Farouk, who was summoned by Jakim over his activism two years ago and questioned about his stand on freedom of religion, was quoted as saying:
“It’s a trend in many states in Malaysia that every Friday, Shias are vilified [along] with liberals, gays and Christians.”
“Now, the next target will be the atheists,” he added.
Islamic authorities have recently targeted Muslims with a bent towards atheism following the posting of a picture on social media of a group of people said to be atheists and members of the Kuala Lumpur chapter of the Atheist Republic.
Among those who called for action against this group were Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, who is in charge of Islamic affairs.
Asyraf Wajdi called for an investigation to determine if any Muslims were involved in the meeting while Shahidan suggested that the government “hunt them down vehemently”.
A Singaporean with atheistic leanings, given the name Nurulhuda in the report, who has been living in Malaysia for 19 years, said it was obvious that Malaysian society had drifted towards more extreme forms of political Islam.
She acknowledged that atheists – including Muslims with atheistic views – were meeting in secret in Malaysia but that they were normally careful to stay off the radar of Islamic officials.
She said ex-Muslims or their families could be harassed and their careers damaged if they were discovered. She said Muslims with atheistic leanings lived in fear, and were concerned that what had happened in Bangladesh, where atheists had been killed by fundamentalist Muslims, might occur here.
Despite taking precautions, she was quoted as saying, death threats online and over the phone were common. Women, she added, were threatened with rape for holding atheistic views.
The report quoted an administrator for the Atheist Republic Malaysia page, given the name Ahmad, as saying he was worried that secular aspects of law in Malaysia were fading away.
Even his moderate Muslim father one day mentioned casually to him that apostates should be killed. “I don’t think he would kill me,” said Ahmad.
“We are moving further from secularism. But at the same time there is a blooming population of atheists,” he was quoted as saying.
The Diplomat quoted Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, professor of law at the University of Malaya, as saying that Shahidan’s remark “is popular political talk”.
He added that Malaysian criminal law did not forbid atheism nor did it criminalise it.