Malaysia’s religious registration requirement is a heavy burden to their freedom, non-Muslims say in a new documentary produced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The ERLC premiered the nine-minute video — “Malaysia: A Fight for Freedom and Identity” — during a July 26 Capitol Hill discussion of religious liberty in Southeast Asia. The Southern Baptist entity co-hosted the conversation as a side event on the third and final day of the State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington.
Malaysia’s constitution protects religious freedom, and the society has been historically pluralistic. The population is about 60 percent Muslim, however, and the government requirement that all identity cards include the designation of a person’s religion has produced severe restrictions for non-Muslims in some cases.
Some Christians — who constitute about 10 percent of Malaysia’s population — and other religious adherents have been registered as Muslims because of forced conversions, marriage arrangements or clerical mistakes, according to the ERLC. Registration as a Muslim, even mistakenly, bars a person from marrying a non-Muslim, forces children to attend Islamic schools and bans conversion to another faith.
The ERLC’s Travis Wussow, who traveled to Malaysia last fall to meet with government officials and affected Christians, told Baptist Press, “Religious freedom is not an American idea; religious freedom is a fundamental right bestowed to every person made in the image of God by their Creator. Every person possesses this right, regardless of whether or not a government recognizes such.
“Baptists have always recognized the dangers when the government oversteps its bounds, especially in matters of faith and conscience,” said Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy. “My hope with this documentary is that it connects that conviction to Malaysia, awakening many to both the peril and the promise concerning religious freedom there.”
In the documentary, Malaysians explain how the religious registration policy has affected their families. Their real names are not used for security reasons.
— An unnamed mother says in the video, “I went to apply for my identity card. Suddenly, Islam appeared on it. I asked for the removal of the word ‘Islam’ as I said I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian. But he said, ‘How is it that you are a Christian? Because in the computer your parents are Muslims,’ he said.”
Her youngest son’s birth certificate has “Islam” on it because that is the religion on her identity card.
“So it is difficult for me to send him to school, because if I send him to school … the school will list him as a Muslim. I do not want the school to force him to learn Islam,” she says.
“For me, I want religious freedom. I do not want any restrictions from any government authorities. Starting with my identity card, my children and grandchildren have inherited the problem.”
— Arissa, a pseudonym, converted from Buddhism to Islam when she married but later became a practicing Buddhist again. She has a Muslim name, however, and is still registered as a Muslim, according to the documentary.
“Because I converted to Islam, it feels like I did not give a proper name to my children,” she says. “They followed my surname. I feel like this has affected my children. They have a father, a surname, but because of me, they are carrying a Muslim’s name.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Tom Strode