Malaysia Policy Brief: 2010 – 2011

Malaysia Policy Brief: 2010 – 2011

I. Background

● Formerly a British colony, Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation with substantial religious minorities, including Buddhists (19.2%), Christians (9.1%), and Hindus (6.3% – 7%).

● Hinduism was established in Malaysia and Southeast Asia since at least the first century C.E. and flourished in the region until the 10th century C.E. The majority of Hindus currently living in Malaysia, however, are the descendants of Indian indentured laborers brought over by British colonialists in the 1800s.

● Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy with Islam as the official state religion. Islam plays a significant role in public life and permeates all aspects of Malaysian society.

● Religious minorities experience widespread persecution, such as restrictions on religious freedom, institutional discrimination, and political repression.

● The U.S. has significant foreign policy objectives in Malaysia, such as promoting religious freedom and democracy, trade and investment, and regional security.


II. Religious Discrimination and the Legal System

Discriminatory Constitutional Provisions

● Article 3 (1) recognizes that Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and provides that other religions may be practiced in “peace and harmony” in the Federation.

● Article 10 subjects the freedom of speech and assembly to arbitrary restrictions in the interest of security, public order, and morality.

● Article 11 protects the right of Muslims to freely propagate their religion, but prohibits other religious groups from propagating religion amongst Muslims.

● Article 153 calls for protection of the “special position” of Muslim Malays and provides them with reservations and quotas in public service and government jobs, educational institutions, and in the procurement of business or trade licenses.


The Judicial System and Islamic Law

● The Federal Constitution of Malaysia establishes a parallel court system, with secular civil and criminal courts and Islamic Sharia courts.

● The Sharia courts have authority over Muslims in issues such as religion, marriage, divorce, inheritance, apostasy, and religious conversion. Federal courts have no jurisdiction in matters that fall within the purview of the Sharia courts.


III. Status of Human Rights

Religious Freedom

● Minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, face increasing religious discrimination and inequality despite Constitutional protections and international human rights law.

● Although the Islamic Sharia court system’s jurisdiction only extends to matters involving Muslims, non-Muslims have been increasingly subjected to the reach of Shariah Law in recent years. Hindus in particular have suffered explicit discrimination in cases adjudicated by the Sharia courts involving issues such as marriage/divorce, parental rights, conversions, and funeral rites.

● The Malaysian government has failed to grant equal rights to non-Muslim places of worship. For example, approximately 23,000 Hindu temples/shrines in Malaysia have been denied legal status