PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is not the moderate state that it used to be, an academic based in Washington, the United States, told Channel NewsAsia.
The comment from Professor Zachary Abuza, who specialises in Southeast Asia politics and security at Washington’s National War College, followed remarks by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim that atheists in Malaysia should be “hunted down”.
“Unfortunately the minister’s comments reflect a steadily growing intolerance within the Malay community over religious matters.
“This is a reflection that many see Malaysia’s ethnic and religious minorities as a roadblock to the full implementation of shariah law (in the country),” Abuza was quoted as saying by the Singapore-based regional news network.
He added that minority groups should be very concerned over the profound societal changes that had taken place.
“Malaysia isn’t the moderate state that it used to be.”
Similar concerns were expressed by counter-terrorism expert and Islamic scholar Ahmad el-Muhammady.
“This opinion can be taken wrongly by extremists. To me, it is not a well-thought-out remark that can be easily misunderstood by uneducated minds.
“But thus far, there is no indication (of violence). The intelligence agencies are monitoring,” Ahmad said, according to CNA.
He admitted though that the comments from Shahidan could provoke the violent fringe among Islamic extremists in the country to attack atheists.
Meanwhile, constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi, reminded the government that the Federal Constitution does not criminalise atheism.
“The Federal Constitution is silent on apostasy. It nowhere bans apostasy nor does it permit it.
“Neither does the Penal Code punish apostasy, though insulting religion is an offence under Section 298 of the Penal Code,” Faruqi told CNA.
Faruqi, who is professor of Law at Universiti Malaya, added, however, that the issue was complicated by the fact that most of the states in the country had enacted their own legislation to criminalise apostasy
“The alternative view that it is a sin, not a crime, that Prophet Muhammad in the Treaty of Hudabiyah permitted Muslim apostates to live in peace, is not heeded,” he was quoted as saying by CNA.
On Aug 8, Shahidan was reported to have said that atheism goes against the Federal Constitution and urged religious authorities to help educate Muslims who had become atheists and return them to their faith.
“I suggest we track them down and identify each of them. After that, we have to bring them back to the right path.
“This is a religious country. We have Islam, we have other religions – Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism – there is no one without a religion,” he said.
The minister’s comments came two days after the government said it would investigate whether any Muslim 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 an uproar among some Muslims and led to threats of death and violence against the group on social media.