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Losing their religion: The hidden crisis of ex-Muslims in Malaysia

Malaysia is a small country located in Southeast Asia, with a population just over 30 million. Malaysia is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, which plays a large role in politics. About half the population is ethnically Malay, with large minorities of Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, and indigenous peoples.

Approximately 61.3% of the population practice Islam, 19.8% practice Buddhism, 9.2% Christianity, 6.3% Hinduism and 1.3% practice Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions. 0.7% declared no religion and the remaining 1.4% practised other religions.




The Malaysian constitution strictly defines what makes a "Malay", considering Malays must be Muslim, speak Malay regularly, practise Malay customs, and lived in or have ancestors from Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Shariah courts in matters concerning their religion. The Islamic judges are expected to follow the Shafi’i legal school of Islam, which is the main madhhab of Malaysia. The jurisdiction of Shariah courts is limited to Muslims in matters such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, apostasy, religious conversion, and custody among others. No other criminal or civil offences are under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts, which have a similar hierarchy to the Civil Courts. Despite being the supreme courts of the land, the Civil Courts do not hear matters related to Islamic practices.




Freedom of religion, despite being guaranteed in the constitution, faces many restrictions in Malaysia. Legally, a Malay in Malaysia must be a Muslim. This label is fixed upon them in their national identity cards. Non-Malays are more free to shift between religions. Attempts by Muslims to convert to other religions or become an atheist are punished by state governments, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment. Muslims are allowed to convert non-Muslims to Islam but not vice versa. The federal government does not intervene in legal disputes over conversion, leaving it to the courts. The secular courts of Malaysia have ruled they do not have the authority to decide these cases, referring them to the Syariah courts instead. These Islamic courts have unanimously ruled that all ethnic Malays must remain Muslims. Even non-Malays who have converted to Islam are not allowed to leave Islam (except under special circumstances), and children born to Muslim parents are Muslims automatically. A non-Muslim who wishes to marry a Muslim must first convert to Islam. Ex-Muslims are also subjected to Shariah laws and can be prosecuted for not complying to Islamic practices such as not fasting during the Ramadan period, consumption of alcohol, having close proximity to members of the opposite sex and even failure to attend Friday prayers in certain Malaysian states.




Many Muslims who have attempted to convert or leave Islam have received death threats. Those who have converted or left Islam, lead a secret double life. The civil court claims that conversions are under the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts, but converts contend that as they are no longer Muslim the Syariah courts hold no power over them. Authorities only allow Sunni Islam to be practised, arresting those who stray from those beliefs. Converts taken to be rehabilitated by Islamic authorities are forced to dress and act as Muslims.




These are the issues facing ex-Muslims in Malaysia… Recently, a simple photo of atheists gathering together in Kuala Lumpur has raised the ire of the general Muslim population. Many were calling for the individuals involved particularly Malays, to be caught and action taken upon them. These individuals have received threats and much hate from social media just for being who they are… These individuals are peaceful people who are not hell-bent on preventing anyone else from practising their freedom of belief… Yet, a simple photo is making its round over Malaysian social media and generating a lot of hate by the Muslim community here.
We don’t know what the future holds for them but we know that there are many ex-Muslims out here in Malaysia seeking recognition for their stance.

All they want is to be left alone to enjoy their freedom without the interference from Islam and its appointed authorities… If ever there was a phobia that we’re experiencing in Malaysia, it’s not Islamophobia. Its Apostophobia (fear of apostates). A fear or hateful stand that is usually swept under the carpet since everyone is bent of protecting the sensitivities of Muslims…
We want our like-minded folks in Atheist Republic to understand the plight of ex-Muslims in Malaysia so that you know what is going on here… Your support and love will mean so much to the ex-Muslims of Malaysia… Thank you for reading.

Full Imgur album of the kinds of comments we got:
http://imgur.com/a/JUS1T



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