PETALING JAYA: Some Malay atheists now fear for their lives following a minister’s call for them to be “tracked down” and identified amid an investigation into the local chapter of an international atheist organisation.
“I am worried. I have already accepted that something might happen to me, that I might be killed,” a man who wanted to be known as Halim said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia (CNA).
“I see how extreme people have become, how my Facebook friends (could) turn into real-life threats for me with their comments that it is halal (permitted) to kill atheists, apostates… how eager they are to kill to gain merits in heaven,” he was quoted as saying.
This followed remarks from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim, who said in a press conference on Tuesday that atheists in Malaysia should be “hunted down”.
According to The Malay Mail, Shahidan said atheism goes against the Federal Constitution and urged religious authorities to help educate Muslims who had become atheists and return them to their faith.
The fears of Halim and other Malay atheists were compounded by remarks from Negeri Sembilan mufti Mohd Yusof Ahmad, who said in a report by Berita Harian that the penalty for apostasy under Islam is death “if they are stubborn and refuse to repent”.
Although Yusof acknowledged that Malaysia’s shariah courts cannot carry out such punishments, he called on religious authorities to increase their efforts to curb the spread of atheism.
But Halim told CNA that he had no interest in spreading his atheist ideologies.
“A person’s belief is a private matter. We don’t believe in proselytising what we believe in,” he was reported as saying.
Another atheist who asked to be known as Chaidir said he still fasts during Ramadan when he is with his parents, who do not know that he is an atheist.
He also expressed concern about his friends who come from a lower socioeconomic background, saying this makes them more vulnerable.
“At least for me, I come from the middle class and have more access to help,” he said in the report.
Meanwhile, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed told CNA that he would not encourage a campaign against atheists, adding that the matter of apostasy needs to be handled “with care”.
On Aug 6, the government said it would investigate whether any Muslims had joined the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Atheist Republic, a Canada-based organisation.
This was after the group posted a picture of its members attending a gathering, which sparked uproar among some Muslims and led to threats of death and violence against the group on social media.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said the state Islamic religious departments could take action if such individuals were proven to be involved in “atheist activities”.
Asyraf added that Muslims found to be in the group would be sent for counselling, while attempts to spread atheist ideas could be prosecuted under existing laws.
Apostasy is not a federal crime in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. However, critics say deepening fundamentalism within the Muslim majority is threatening religious freedoms.
Malaysian states, which have their own laws governing Islamic affairs, do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring instead to send them for counselling, or fining or jailing them.