*Representative photo used to protect identity.
Malaysia is a country aiming strongly to preserve what it perceives as national and cultural heritage. Being Malay is seen as being a Muslim. Citizens with other ethnic origins, such as Chinese or Indian, can be Buddhist, Hindu or Christian, but Malays have to be Muslim.
Moreover, Islamist rhetoric and action have made it into politics. Relying on Islam also gains votes – but it is more than that. In the eyes (and words) of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Islam will always ‘supersede’ politics. In fact, he called on the people, “to protect Islam, the faith of its followers, its teachings, Islamic law and infrastructure” and to avoid disunity and exploitation of the “enemies”‘. His statement came amid the country’s celebration of Ramadan in August 2012, and a reported attempt by two Europeans to teach their Christian faith in Penang state. The Penang Islamic Religious Council was urged to take appropriate action against the non-Muslim foreign tourists who share their faith in the country. In a separate speech, Najib warned that greater liberalism is a threat to the country. “Pluralism, liberalism? All these ‘isms’ are against Islam, and it is compulsory for us to fight these,” he said to more than 10,000 Islamic leaders, days before the Muslim feast began. Consequently, Najib’s support of human rights also has limits, saying the rights should fall, “within the boundaries set by Islam.”
All Malaysians are allowed to convert, except the Malay people, which of course is contradictory, as they are the majority in the country. Another qualification for conversions to other faiths is that one has to have reached the age of maturity.
Given these strict rules, it is almost impossible for a Malay Muslim to convert to Christianity. Proselytizing Muslims is forbidden. In five states – Perak, Malacca, Sabah, Terengganu, and Pahang – conversion is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or jail term. In Pahang, convicted converts may also be punished with up to six strokes of the cane.