Many Countries Favor Specific Religions | Pew Research Center
The prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other government officials said they would work to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for all men and women. When the federal minister for religious affairs stated publicly that the constitution protects the rights of minority communities, including Shia, Zahid Hamidi, president of the opposition United Malays National Organization UMNO , said his party would oppose the spread of Shia teachings. JAKIM continued to implement established federal guidelines concerning what constituted deviant Islamic behavior or belief.
State religious authorities generally followed these guidelines. The government forbade individuals to leave such centers until they completed the program, which varied in length, but often lasted approximately six months. State Islamic religious enforcement officers continued to have the authority to accompany police on raids of private premises and public establishments, and to enforce sharia, including for violations such as indecent dress, distribution of banned publications, alcohol consumption, or khalwat close proximity to a nonfamily member of the opposite sex.
An officer from the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Religious Department testified in court in March that warrants were never produced during any of the raids in which he was involved on such issues. The Kelantan State Islamic Affairs Department issued notices to more than individuals from January through June for wearing clothing deemed un-Islamic, such as women wearing tight clothing, and behaving indecently in public. The notices required the individuals to attend counseling sessions; however, a representative of the Islamic Affairs Department said only 20 percent complied with the order.
The representative said the department would pursue legal action if the accused did not attend a counseling session after receiving a second notice. In October the Terengganu State tourism department issued 11 guidelines for music and dance events, including segregation of male and female performers and audience members and the requirement that female performers only sing and dance in front of an all-female audience in a closed venue.
Civil society activists said the government selectively prosecuted speech allegedly denigrating Islam and largely ignored criticisms of other faiths. We can give rights to other religions but to say that other religions are the same as Islam is unacceptable. Officials at the federal and state levels oversaw Islamic religious activities, distributed all sermon texts for mosques to follow, used mosques to convey political messages, and limited public expression of religion deemed contrary to Sunni Islam.
The government continued to maintain restrictions on religious assembly and provisions, which denied certain religious groups the ability to register as charitable organizations. Many churches and NGOs continued to find registration difficult, with the RoS denying or delaying many applications without explanation or for highly technical reasons. Representatives of religious groups continued to say the registrar had no consistent policy or transparent criteria for determining whether to register religious groups.
In cases in which the government refused to register a religious group, the group could pursue registration as a company.
While Ahmadi Muslims in the country reported generally being able to maintain a worship center, government religious authorities did not allow them to hold Friday prayers as these could only be performed in an officially registered mosque. The High Court ruled in July that the Selangor State religious authorities did not have jurisdiction over the Ahmadiyya community because they were not recognized as Muslims.
No one was arrested in connection with the event, which involved the distribution of free donuts to commuters at a train station. The previous government appealed the decision, but in October the new government withdrew the appeal and instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove the titles from its list of banned publications. Non-Muslim groups continued to report regular difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to build new places of worship, leading many groups to use buildings zoned for residential or commercial use for their religious services.
Observers said this practice remained largely tolerated, but left the religious groups vulnerable. In December Minister for Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin said the government was preparing to register all existing houses of worship and their location.
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According to The Straits Times, the minister said houses of worship located on land not belonging to them would have to move. The ministry was drafting regulations to make it compulsory for all proposed houses of worship to acquire government approval before building. Some government bodies, including the federal Department of National Unity and Integration, were tasked with encouraging religious harmony and protecting the rights of minority religious groups.
Many faith-based organizations, however, continued to state they believed that none had the power and influence of those that regulated Islamic affairs, citing the large footprint and budget for JAKIM, compared to the more limited funding for the Department of National Unity and Integration. There were no specifically allocated funds in the government budget for non-Muslim religious groups, although some religious groups reported continuing to receive sporadic funding for temple and church buildings and other activities.
At public school primary and secondary levels, student assemblies frequently commenced with recitation of an Islamic prayer by a teacher or school leader. Particularly in the peninsula of the country, community leaders and civil liberties groups said religion teachers in public schools pressured Muslim girls to wear the tudong Islamic head covering at school.
Some private schools required Muslim girls to wear veils covering their faces, except for their eyes. Homeschooling remained legal, but some families continued to report difficulty in obtaining approval from the Ministry of Education. A civil liberties activist called attention to the contents of an Islamic studies supplementary book for secondary school students that promoted death for apostates. The government continued not to recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considered children born of such unions illegitimate.
In November police in Kedah State arrested and later deported four foreign nationals for allegedly distributing religious materials that contained excerpts from the Bible. The individuals were investigated for causing disharmony or ill will and violating the conditions of their visas. Authorities in Penang State arrested five foreign nationals earlier in the month for similar offenses.
Local human rights organizations and religious leaders again said society continued to become increasingly intolerant of religious diversity. Some Islamic groups accused the minister of being a closeted adherent of Shia teachings. In May the chief minister of Melaka State faced similar accusations. On November 26, violence broke out near Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple in Subang Jaya, Selangor, after as many as masked individuals, who temple devotees said were hired by a real estate developer claiming ownership of the land, entered the temple and attempted to forcibly remove devotees.
According to The Straits Times , at least a dozen individuals were injured and 20 vehicles torched. A fireman later died from injuries sustained while responding to the incident. In total 83 individuals were arrested. As video of the event went viral online, speculation of a riot between the two groups emerged, but police and government officials later characterized the matter as a local land dispute and initiated legal action against those responsible.
In response, Malay rights group Perkasa said it would ask police to investigate her for sedition, and Ismaweb said her actions promoted apostasy. A Sarawak State legislator received online death threats in February related to his work representing four individuals who sought to convert from Islam to another religion. In January police arrested a year-old man suspected of involvement in a fire that destroyed 40 percent of a Buddhist temple in Negeri Sembilan State.
The same month, police arrested a man for suspected involvement in two acts of vandalism at a church and Hindu temple in Kelantan State. Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization. In many cases, converts reportedly concealed newly adopted beliefs and practices from their former coreligionists, including friends and relatives.
Religious identities continued to affect secular aspects of life. Muslim women who did not wear the headscarf or conform to religious notions of modesty were often subject to shaming in public and on social media. In January police arrested a man who admitted to assaulting a woman at a bus stop because he was angry that she was not wearing a head scarf. Some Muslim groups criticized the minister of defense after media published a photo of him shaking hands with the U.
Section I. Religious Demography
Ambassador, a woman, arguing that Islam forbids unrelated men and women from touching. Police opened an investigation into the incident and encouraged the public to refrain from taking action in such cases and instead to file a police report. In October Islamic groups, including PAS members, pressured the government to ban Oktoberfest events saying the events were offensive to Muslims. At least two state governments announced they would not issue permits for Oktoberfest activities, although later they said they did not receive any applications for such events.
Malls and other commercial venues said they scaled back on decorations celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year, which in was associated with the zodiac symbol of a dog, for fear of offending Muslims who may see dogs as unclean animals. Some businesses admitted they removed images of dogs from their advertising.
In November pieces of what was believed to be pork were thrown into two surau prayer rooms in Malacca State. Police investigated the incident under the penal code, which outlaws injuring and defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult. Religious groups hosted interfaith and intercultural celebrations throughout the year. In December the Petaling Jaya Sri Sithi Vinayagar Temple held an interfaith cultural celebration with representatives from 22 religious organizations attending.
The Ambassador and a visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor raised concerns about the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, and Amri Che Mat and urged government officials to lift restrictions on religious freedom and speak out against religious intolerance.
The event emphasized the centrality of freedom of religion and interfaith dialogue in reducing intolerance, discrimination, and persecution and underscored the U. The embassy posted a video of the event on social media and received largely positive feedback.
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Embassy officials met with members of Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslim groups; the groups detailed the heavy government restrictions on their religious activities and continued societal discrimination. The embassy broadcast messages related to religious freedom on its social media platforms on International Religious Freedom Day and throughout the year.
In March the embassy funded a university professor to participate in a global conference for female Muslim lawyers on the topic of Islamic law and leadership. In June the Ambassador recorded a video message highlighting the importance of pluralism and religious tolerance. The state broadcaster distributed the video during Ramadan.
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In July the embassy supported a six-day program on artistic freedom and expression that promoted tolerance and inclusion among different faiths. In October the embassy sponsored the visit of four prominent religious leaders to communities across the United States where they observed interreligious cooperation and youth engagement.
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