Heartbreak for mothers waiting years for children’s Malaysian citizenship

Ongoing story of hardship:

Malaysian mothers have waited years to see if the Malaysian government would recognise their children born overseas as citizens.

Unlike Malaysian fathers who can pass on their citizenship almost automatically to their children born overseas to foreigner mothers, Malaysian mothers may only pass on their citizenship automatically to their children if they are born in Malaysia, based on the Federal Constitution.

Could this problem be solved by having the Malaysian mothers fly back to Malaysia just to give birth here?

It is not that easy as some pregnant mothers may not be able to fly for health reasons, or may not even know that their children born abroad would face rejection for their citizenship applications made under Article 15(2) of the Federal Constitution.

The High Court in September 2021 decided in a lawsuit that the Federal Constitution should be interpreted to enable Malaysian mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children born overseas. They would be able to use the same Article 14 provisions that Malaysian men have been using to automatically pass on citizenship to their overseas-born children.

The government has appealed to the Court of Appeal, which decided in December that the High Court’s decision remains effective even while waiting for the appeal to be decided. This allowed Malaysian mothers to start applying under Article 14.

The Court of Appeal was initially due to decide today on the government’s appeal, but it is understood that it will be for further hearing of constitutional issues instead.

There are at least 70 Malaysian mothers who have applied under Article 14, but only the six Malaysian mothers in the lawsuit received a positive response from the National Registration Department (NRD) which recorded their overseas-born children as citizens.

Here’s the experience of some of the Malaysian mothers who spoke to the Malay Mail, when met recently after they went to the NRD in Putrajaya to check on the latest status of their child’s citizenship applications. They were generally told that their latest citizenship application under Article 14 would take six months to process.

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Source: Heartbreak for mothers waiting years for children’s Malaysian citizenship

Malaysia: ‘Multiculturalism is the country’s prized asset’

Of note:

Civil society leaders have rebuked Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s reference to the continued use of chopsticks by the Chinese community to highlight challenges in assimilating the country’s non-Malay population.

Former ambassador Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin said it was “totally unacceptable” for the former prime minister to criticise the Chinese community for using chopsticks to eat.

“It does not mean that because of this practice, they are unable to assimilate. Is he questioning the loyalty of the Chinese community to the country because of this practice?

“Malaysians of all races use the knife and fork to eat Western food like steaks or lamb chops. Does this mean these Malaysians are unable to assimilate?” she said when contacted yesterday.

Noor Farida, who is the spokesman of the G25 group of eminent former civil servants, said one should not forget the debt of gratitude the country owed to the Chinese Special Branch officers who fought the communists during the insurgency.

“It is a well-documented fact that these police officers infiltrated communist strongholds in the jungle at considerable risk to themselves, and killed many communist insurgents,” she said.

As a leader of a multiracial country, Noor Farida said Dr Mahathir should show greater respect for the cultural practices of all the races in the country.

“There are Chinese living in many other countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. We have never heard of leaders publicly criticising the Chinese community in their countries for using chopsticks,” she added

Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia president Tan Sri Goh Tian Chuan said the Chinese have long integrated into Malaysian society.

“Malaysia is where we were raised and will die. As the second-largest ethnic group in Malaysia, being Malaysian Chinese is our only identity,” he said.

Despite speaking various Chinese dialects and several languages, Goh said national policies and Malaysian law were what bound the Chinese community.

“For a multiracial and multicultural country like Malaysia, diversity and openness are the unique characteristics of our nation,” he said.

On Dr Mahathir’s view that a single-stream education system was best for Malaysia, Goh said the Federal Constitution clearly states and guarantees the country’s existing multi-stream education, including mother-tongue education.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Chinese Studies Assoc Prof Dr Khor Boon Eng said Dr Mahathir’s remarks on assimilation was no longer relevant in terms of multiculturalism.

“In Indonesia, many assimilation policies were scrapped from 1999 on. Since then, the Chinese community there emerged as one of the keenest to learn the Chinese language,” he said, describing the world as a borderless global village.

He added that following China’s opening up, Thailand – which closed Chinese schools during the 1950s – has been encouraging their citizens to learn the Chinese language.Dr Khor said being multicultural was the country’s prized asset “like how it has been said and repeated over time”.

“It is not a bane to racial unity but one that makes us stronger and better,” he added.

Moderation advocate Mohamed Tawfik Ismail pointed out that the use of chopsticks, which was uniquely oriental, does not make anyone alien within a culture, “just as using and forks and spoons did not make a laksa Johor eater a European.”

“Dr Mahathir has overlooked the attractiveness of Malaysia, which is its diversity because historically, it has been a crossroad of cultures and is considered a hub of international trade and commerce.

“There is nothing wrong with anyone looking for the history of their ancestors and it doesn’t make them less loyal to their country.

“There are Malays who have no ancestral ties to the Middle East but seem comfortable adopting the Arabic dress and head covers. Are they less Malay?” he asked.

Source: ‘Multiculturalism is the country’s prized asset’

Malaysian mothers hail win for equality in citizenship case

Significant:

A group of Malaysian mothers won a landmark legal challenge Thursday, overturning what they described as discriminatory citizenship rules affecting women who gave birth overseas.

The rules had meant a woman with a foreign spouse who had a child abroad was barred from automatically passing on her Malaysian nationality.

Similar restrictions did not apply to men from the Southeast Asian country, who enjoy a straight path to citizenship for their offspring.

Socially conservative Malaysia was among only a handful of countries worldwide with such rules, with campaigners long complaining they were discriminatory.

But on Thursday, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled in favour of a challenge brought by six Malaysian mothers, who argued the regulations breached the constitution.

“This judgement recognises Malaysian women’s equality, and marks one step forward to a more egalitarian and just Malaysia,” said Suri Kempe, president of NGO Family Frontiers, which helped bring the case to court.

The judgement applies to all Malaysian mothers, not just the plaintiffs in the case, she said.

The lawyer for the mothers, Gurdial Singh Nijar, hailed a “momentous decision”, saying the rules had “disrupted family structures”.

There was no immediate reaction from the government, and it was not clear whether they would appeal the ruling.

Campaigners said the law had sometimes left women trapped in abusive relationships.

If they brought their children back to Malaysia, the youngsters faced obstacles in accessing public services like free education and healthcare.

Women could apply for their overseas-born children to be granted citizenship but authorities rarely agreed.

According to Family Frontiers, the home ministry received over 4,000 applications between 2013 and 2018, but only approved 142.

The government had sought to get the mothers’ challenge dismissed, insisting the rules were in line with the constitution.

But campaigners said they breached constitutional guarantees to equality before the law, and the court allowed the case to proceed.

Source: Malaysian mothers hail win for equality in citizenship case

Malaysian mothers fight government over ‘sexist’ citizenship law

Of note:

Former Malaysian squash champion Choong Wai Li has a cabinet full of trophies from the five years she played for her country, but if her son were to inherit her sporting talents he would not be able to represent the nation.

That is because Malaysia is one of 25 countries that do not give mothers and fathers equal rights to pass their nationality to their children.

Choong’s son Michael has his father’s Irish nationality and is considered a foreigner in Malaysia, the country they call home.

Along with five other Malaysian mothers, Choong has launched legal action against the government over “sexist and outdated” citizenship rules, which they say risk trapping women in abusive relationships and can leave children stateless.

Lawyers say a victory could have implications for tens of thousands of binational families and increase pressure on other countries to reform their own laws.

“I feel very betrayed after everything I’ve done for my country,” said Choong, once Malaysia’s top junior player.

“Malaysia is our home, but my son is living here as a foreigner,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The problem arises when children are born overseas to Malaysian women with foreign spouses. Although Malaysian men can automatically confer citizenship to children born abroad, women do not enjoy the same right.

“It’s an embarrassment this situation still exists in 2021,” the women’s lawyer Joshua Andran said, adding that such laws could have tragic consequences.

Some women end up trapped in abusive marriages for fear they will lose custody of their children, while others may end up separated from their children if their marriages break down.

Andran said the pandemic had underlined the urgency of resolving the issue, with some mothers overseas unable to return home due to entry restrictions on foreign nationals – including their children.

“The law is the product of a patriarchal system,” he said. “The damage it’s causing these families is very significant.”

TIME FOR CHANGE

Choong has battled for years to get Malaysian nationality for Michael, now seven, who was born while the family was living in Hong Kong where she worked as a headhunter.

Although Malaysian women can apply for citizenship for children born overseas, decisions often take years and rejections are common.

“It’s time for change. We just want equal rights,” Choong said from Kuala Lumpur.

Children like Michael do not have the same rights to free education and healthcare as Malaysian children, and the pandemic has made it harder to renew visas.

Campaigners said school fees, health insurance and visa costs could create a serious financial burden for families.

This often deters women from returning home to raise their families, as does the fear that their children will have to leave the country once they are adults.

In May, the Malaysian government asked the High Court to throw out the women’s lawsuit, deeming it “frivolous”.

But the judge ruled it was an important issue and said the government must provide justification for the apparent discrimination.

The government, which is appealing the ruling, did not respond to a request for comment. The case is expected to be heard next month.

Campaign group Family Frontiers, also a plaintiff in the case, said the number of binational families was increasing every year and the law needed to catch up.

“It makes no sense for the government to make it so hard for professional women to return home at a time when the country is keen to reverse a brain drain,” said spokeswoman Chee Yoke Ling.

She said some of the cases they dealt with were “heart-wrenching”.

“Some women stay in very toxic marriages because they are so scared that if they leave then their children, not being Malaysian, won’t be able to come back with them.”

In cases where the father also cannot confer his nationality children have ended up stateless, leaving them very vulnerable, Chee said.

Stateless people are deprived of basic rights and often unable to access education, healthcare, jobs and housing.

CLOSED DOORS

Malaysian businesswoman Rekha Sen, another plaintiff in the case whose three children were born in neighbouring Thailand, was granted citizenship for one child, but not the others. No explanation was given.

Sen, who founded her jewellery company in Malaysia but lives in Bangkok, said her country risked losing a lot of working professionals by creating barriers to their return.

“Malaysia is home to me and I’ve always wanted to give back to my country, but I feel in many ways that door is now being closed to me.”

She said the pandemic had highlighted the harm caused by discriminatory citizenship laws, with some families left separated as countries restricted entry to non-nationals.

“COVID-19 has amplified the issue,” added Sen. “These laws really do cause distress.”

Six countries have similar rules to Malaysia including Barbados, Iraq and Liberia.

Another 18 – including Nepal, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – do not let mothers confer citizenship to their children even if born in the country.

But the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights said there was growing momentum to address the issue with more than 20 countries having amended discriminatory citizenship laws since 2003, although reforms were often partial.

The Malaysian mothers say the constitution’s provisions on citizenship violate Article 8 of the constitution, which bans gender discrimination, and are seeking a declaration that mothers can pass citizenship to children born overseas.

“This law has no place in 2021,” said Sen. “It’s archaic and makes no sense.”

Source: Malaysian mothers fight government over ‘sexist’ citizenship law

Cancellation puts spotlight on Malaysia’s cultural conservatism

Of interest:

When his online talk on how multicultural performing arts should transcend race was cancelled in early June by the Islamic centre of a prominent Malaysian university, Ramli Ibrahim, was both puzzled and angered.

An official statement by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), one of the country’s most highly regarded public universities, said that “the organisers have been instructed by the university’s Islamic centre to cancel the programme over undisclosed reasons.”

Ramli, the celebrated artistic director of the Kuala Lumpur-based Sutra Dance Theatre, who is a Malay Muslim and globally renowned for his choreography of Indian classical dance, notably the Odissi style, went online to call UTM’s Islamic centre “narrow-minded” and “bigoted”. The centre did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions about the cancellation.

“We have sanctioned extreme religious indoctrination to infiltrate our education system,” Ramli told Al Jazeera in an interview. “The latter is the axis mundi of cultivating the kind of citizenry we will eventually produce.”

Ramli’s case is the latest episode in a long-running national debate on the state of the arts in Malaysia and underlines the continuing role of Islamic conservatism in policing and shaping the nation’s cultural identity and practices. Most of Malaysia’s population is ethnic Malay Muslim, but there are also large communities of ethnic Chinese and Indians, as well as Indigenous peoples, especially in the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo.

“We have produced a generation with a rather skewed and narrow world view. Unfortunately, these are the same people who run the country,” Ramli said.

Going against the grain

Ramli’s experience is a reminder that in Malaysia it is not just political artists like Fahmi Reza and Zunar, or the budaya kuning (“yellow culture”, meaning Western culture) of banned foreign films and censored international pop and rock acts that come onto the authorities’ radar. Even traditional, but non-Islamic, art forms like Ramli’s Odissi Indian dance are at risk of being sanctioned by conservatives.

The current state of affairs has roots going back several decades.

In 1970, the government unveiled a National Culture Policy following a violent and racialised political crisis the previous year, which aimed to establish what was claimed to be a new basis for “national unity” in the multiethnic and multireligious nation.

The result was a national culture based largely on the traditions of the Malay majority, with Islam as an important component.

By the 1990s, the identity focus of the NCP started to wane as the country faced new and more pressing challenges in keeping up with globalisation. But as Ramli’s recent case illustrates, the core of the policy continues to inform mainstream cultural decisions.

“Cultural elements of the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Westerners and others, which are considered suitable and acceptable are included in the national culture,” read a 2019 document explaining the National Culture Policy on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It noted that “acceptance” depended not only on provisions within the Constitution, but other issues including “national interest, moral value and the position of Islam as the official religion of the country”.

Experts said the approach is stifling Malaysia’s cultural traditions.“The attempts to control and manipulate the arts have not only stifled the creativity of all arts practitioners but will lead to the demise of our local traditions,” said Tan Sooi Beng, a professor of ethnomusicology at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Arts in Penang, and an advocate of the sustainability of local traditions through community-engaged research.

Tan points to laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act, which allows the government to ban cassettes, videos and books that are not approved by the official censors; and the Police Act, under which applications for police permits have to be made to hold public gatherings, including performances of theatre, music and dance.

Ramli, who founded the Sutra dance company in 1983 after returning from Australia, has seen Islam in Malaysia grow more conservative in the years since he returned home.

While his company’s productions have been popular with local and international audiences and achieved considerable critical acclaim, his artistic ethos, drawing on a rich tapestry of cultural elements, has faced a constant struggle with the religious censors.

“There had been initial official opposition to my performances up to the mid-1990s, even before the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) was formed. And there was an unstated understanding among organisers that my performances would be considered ‘controversial’ due to the reference of a Muslim performing Hindu ‘temple dance’,” he said. Jakim is part of the Prime Minister’s Office and responsible for Islamic affairs.

Concerns seemed to have settled in the past decade when Ramli started receiving considerable support in India and stopped being seen as, in his own words, “an aberration”, among Malay cultural gatekeepers. But he also notes that getting major government sponsorship for taking his dynamic and innovative Indian classical dance company abroad remains difficult.

Cultural desertification

The cultural traditions of Malaysia’s Malay majority have also come under pressure from government regulation.

Age-old dance-drama performances such as mak yong, main puteri and kuda kepang, and the shadow puppet theatre, wayang kulit – the foremost examples of traditional Malay culture – were officially banned in 1998 for being “un-Islamic” under the entertainment laws passed in the northeastern state of Kelantan, which has been controlled by Malaysia’s Islamic Party for 30 years. Kuda kepang, with its trance elements and mysticism, has also been the subject of a religious decree in southern Johor state since 2009.

Traditional Malay arts have been around for well more than a millennium, originating in the pre-Islamic era, during the time of the regional Srivijaya Empire. And as with similar traditions in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos or the Indonesian island of Java, the Malaysian versions are at their heart local adaptations of stories and characters from the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Mak yong – performed in Kelantan for centuries – has been particularly targeted by Islamic conservatives for having female performers who also interpret male roles. According to their interpretations of Islam, female performers, and cross-dressing especially, are shunned.

“The rituals, the costumes for the women, the content and stories that contain the key to understanding the female energy in Malay traditional healing practices have all been affected for a long time, since we gave up the power of the art itself to the control of men,” said Aida Redza, a Malay choreographer and performer whose original and modern productions are lauded abroad yet struggle to find spaces at home.

Declared a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005, mak yong’s ban was finally lifted in late 2019 thanks to pressure from the UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, who campaigned against the deliberate stifling of the tradition. Even so, mak yong performances can only proceed if they adhere to Islamic law-compliant requirements that experts said fundamentally alter their original style and symbolic significance.

“The ban on mak yong was cosmetically lifted, but it makes the form unrecognisable from its origins – only men are permitted to perform roles that are ritually and traditionally performed by women. You cannot get further from the roots of mak yong than that,” said Eddin Khoo, a writer and founder of PUSAKA, a Kuala Lumpur-based cultural organisation involved in the ritual arts of Malaysia.

Khoo also emphasises that, regardless of bans, mak yong has survived among traditional grassroots communities as a form of resistance to “cultural cleansing”.

“Mak yong is a Muslim art form,” emphasised Khoo, who pointed out that many pre-Islamic art forms have developed with Islam across the centuries. “That process is part of the evolution of the Islamic faith itself in Malaysia and throughout much of Southeast Asia. This struggle is not about art or culture or religion – it is a struggle about power: who has the power to condition the minds, attitudes and behaviours of a particular community.”

Navigating restrictions

Bans and restrictions translate into a gridlocked system in which government-run arts agencies also act as filters and censors, reminding the artists of what is permitted – and what is not – in order to issue licences to perform.

“There is a strong subtext of strict religious values in the procurement of permits which lean more towards austere Sunni Islam,” Ramli told Al Jazeera. “The ‘thou shall not’ dictums censor and shackle most institutions, not just in education, but also literature, film, music, food and beverage, attire, and so on.”

One recent example is the film, The Story of Southern Islet, by Chong Keat Aun, which was nominated for four awards at Taipei’s high-profile Golden Horse Awards last November nominations and won for Best New Director. Set in Kedah state near the Thai border and based on the filmmaker’s childhood memories, the film tells of a woman’s dream-like spiritual journey to heal her husband, who has fallen mysteriously ill to what he believes is a supernatural curse.

Regardless of international acclaim, the film was subjected to a dozen cuts by the Malaysian censorship board, all related to elements of ancient pre-Islamic rituals, including wayang kulit gedet – a form of shadow play typical of the northern state which was very popular in the 1980s. Today, only two wayang kulit troupes remain.

Wayang kulit – perhaps the most popular form of traditional entertainment in both Malaysia and parts of Indonesia and once used as way to share news and gossip among villagers – was also banned in 1998 because its origins hark back to pre-Islamic traditions. Before COVID-19 halted performances altogether, wayang kulit had already been reduced to a shell of its former self, staged only in selected locations and during weddings and opening ceremonies.

“The cancellation of a high-profile artist like Ramli Ibrahim is very unwise: if the organisers thought he’d be unsuitable, then don’t invite him in the first place,” said Tintoy Chuo, the founder and primary concept creator for Fusion Wayang Kulit, a Kuala Lumpur-based group that has helped revive Kelantanese wayang kulit by fusing it with modern elements.Their Peperangan BintangWayang Kulit updated the tradition using characters from the Star Wars saga and DC Comics’ superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman. This made the art form more appealing to today’s multiethnic urban audiences – some of whom might never have bothered with a traditional performance – while side-stepping the thematic restrictions.

“Whatever happened to this land before Islam is history, and everything should be accepted as a historical background we cannot change,” Chuo said. “Look at our neighbouring countries and wonder how they are doing arts so well? Because they understand the separation between religion and art, and they respect that.”

For Ramli, the challenge is to transform Malaysia’s majority cultural identity – Malay Muslim, or Melayu in the Malay language – into a more encompassing, updated worldview.

“I wouldn’t dare to define what a ‘sustainable Melayu’ should be, but suffice to say that I prefer my Melayu not to wear his religion like an albatross around his neck,” he said.

Ramli was introduced to Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance while studying in Melbourne in the 1970s.

He joined the newly formed Sydney Dance Company in 1977, and was then introduced to the Odissi style, which he perfected under the guidance of Guru Debaprasad Das in Odisha, continuing to visit the late master until his death in 1986.

“He doesn’t have to justify himself all his life that he is a Melayu … my Melayu doesn’t have to be so ‘pure’ in his pedigree and is confident that he is Melayu regardless of what he does and importantly, proud to be a Malaysian first.”

Source: Cancellation puts spotlight on Malaysia’s cultural conservatism

Malaysia’s reality TV Islamic preachers face a ‘test from God’

Like so many fundamentalists or evangelicals of all religions:
 
He is not the first reality television star to fall from grace and is unlikely to be the last, but when the young celebrity Islamic “preacher” Syed Shah Iqmal was charged with rape, unnatural sex and outraging the modesty of one of his female followers, it seemed like half of Malaysia had an opinion.

Syed Shah Iqmal Syed Mohammad Shaiful, 25, more commonly known as Da’i (a term for those who invite people into the religion), had grown immensely popular following his stint in the show Da’i Pendakwah Nusantara (“Nusantara Preacher”), in which contestants competed to be the next big celebrity preacher.

But it was his subsequent scandal, which follows that of other celebrity preachers before him – such as Abu Sufyan who in 2019 caused a scandal by leaving one pregnant wife and divorcing another – that has really shone the spotlight on this relatively new form of Islam-based reality TV.

The genre has become increasingly popular among ethnic Malays by offering a “consumerist” version of Islam, says Dina Zaman, the founder of Iman Reseach.

“When I look at these shows, it reminds me of the K-popsagas: suicide, toxicity in the industry, everything turned into a moneymaking venture,” she says. “But for many working-class Malays, when they see a Malay person doing well it becomes aspirational, that sort of social capital. All these young men get to be ‘hot’ for the next few years because of the spotlight given to them by these shows.”

Winners of the shows receive prizes such as a trip to Mecca to perform the haj pilgrimage, a job as an imam at a local mosque or even a full scholarship to universities in other Muslim countries.

Not coming out on top, however, is not necessarily a failure – some contestants on shows such as Imam Muda (“Young Religious Leader”) or Pencetus Ummah (“Community Catalyst”) go on to receive a healthy measure of fame, much like Syed who, despite only placing fourth, has enjoyed endorsement deals, a recording contract, acting gigs and a formidable social media following.

As in most reality shows, contestants are chosen for their on-screen charisma – rather than their religious credentials, says Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, a popular independent preacher.

“It is an open secret that whenever we are dealing with reality programmes, it is not necessary for the best candidate to be selected. Sometimes they will consider a mixture of participants to increase the commercial value of the programme.

“Some might be selected based on their good looks, some might be selected based on their poor family background, and so on,” he explains.

This was echoed by civil society group Sisters in Islam, which promotes women’s rights within an Islamic framework.

“Producers and creators of this show are great in forming a religious-concept show – everything came on point in commercialising a religion for television sake; from the props to the music, lighting and the attire, as well,” the group noted.

The danger, said SIS, came from the lack of official credentials held by these contestants. “Doesn’t this gravely undermine processes and procedures issued by state religious councils? In the name of entertainment, anything is possible.”

But these shows – which get contestants to participate in challenges such as preparing bodies for burial, reciting verses from the Koran and taking tests on Islamic theory – modernise religion in a way that appeals to younger Muslims and also accommodates a burgeoning middle class.

“Such celebrity preachers draw support from segments of Muslim youth and aspiring middle-classes. They might not have a strong religious education yet are eager to become more pious,” says Hew Wai Weng, a research fellow at the National University of Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies.

“Instead of traditional ways of learning Islam, they look for fun and easy ways of learning Islam. Hence, they do not expect the preachers to talk about an in-depth or critical understanding of Islam.”

Source: Malaysia’s reality TV Islamic preachers face a ‘test from God’

‘Will my child ever be a Malaysian?’ — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Of note how the impact of gender discrimination in citizenship policy has a greater impact under COVID-19:

Malaysian women currently do not have equal rights to confer citizenship on their children born overseas on an equal basis as Malaysian men. Women must utilise an application process under Article 15(2) that is fraught with delays and frequent rejections without reasons given, and sadly, no guarantee of ultimately securing citizenship.

The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship would like to highlight that the impact of discriminatory citizenship laws on women are even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the Malaysian movement control order (MCO) mandates a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, this would be a challenge for pregnant women, especially those who may be travelling with their other children.

Additionally, the MCO only allows foreign spouses to enter Malaysia during the MCO provided they have a long term social visit pass (LTSVP). Hence spouses who do not hold one will not be able to accompany their wives and these mothers either have to return on their own or make the decision to give birth overseas while risking the chances of their children securing a Malaysian citizenship.

With countries’ borders closing and a limited number of flights during the Covid-19 pandemic, these women live with a tremendous dilemma.

That is, expose themselves to the health risks of traveling home (leading to the understandable quarantine) so that the child can be Malaysian; or deliver overseas, and live with the excruciating uncertainty if their child will ever be a Malaysian and then undergo the long tedious process of application.

“I was planning to give birth in Malaysia but because of the coronavirus, travels are restricted. I might not have a choice to give birth in Malaysia which is a pity for my baby as Malaysian women are not able to obtain automatic Malaysian citizenship (upon registration) for their own children, this is just getting more and more impossible.” – Malaysian woman living in Germany

Another Malaysian mother in Singapore felt it was not an ideal solution to travel to Malaysia to deliver her child as her husband could not enter Malaysia without an LTSVP, and she was not comfortable to undergo delivery by herself considering she experienced anxiety throughout her pregnancy.

She has since given birth in Singapore which cost her almost double in medical fees due to such changes in her delivery plans.

Women are often expected to accommodate their pregnancy according to existing Malaysian citizenship provisions by delivering in Malaysia for their children to be Malaysian.

Such inequality in citizenship laws discriminate against women and contribute to the unequal status of women in the family and society. Laws as such make women vulnerable, especially during times of crisis as they are left with limited choices influenced by constraints.

While the Malaysian Government has been swift in addressing the ongoing pandemic, a fair and just solution is needed to ensure that all Malaysian women enjoy equal rights and are not put in unnecessary vulnerable situations.

Therefore, we call on the Government of Malaysia and every Member of Parliament to amend Article 14 of the Federal Constitution so as to grant Malaysian women equal rights to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men.

In addressing the urgent needs of the Covid-19 situation on pregnant Malaysian women overseas, we urge the Government of Malaysia, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration Department of Malaysia to especially grant citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysians during the Covid-19 situation as a temporary measure until full equality is enshrined in Malaysian citizenship laws.

Source: ‘Will my child ever be a Malaysian?’ — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Of note:

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law, according to a rights activist.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of international rights group Musawah, said the law reforms took away many progressive reforms made previously, adding that Malaysia’s Islamic family laws went from one of the best in the Muslim world to one of the worst.

“In 1984, the Islamic family law was amended and new laws were provided, which was amazing. It gave us so many rights and expanded the rights for women to get divorced,” she said with divorce and polygamy decided by the courts.

“With the 1994 amendments, you can divorce outside the court. Without going to court, you can just pronounce talak.

“Your wife doesn’t even know she’s being divorced because the husband has disappeared. She gets a letter from the religious authorities sometime later to say that she has been divorced.”

Another regression, she said, saw the responsibility of children born out of wedlock being wholly given to the mothers, which meant they could not make any claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father.

In 2003, another round of reforms meant that husbands in polygamous marriages could make a claim for a share of their wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife.

“We’re not even asking to ban polygamy. We just want them to ensure that the rights of the first wife and existing children are protected, especially their financial wellbeing.

“What is galling is the fact that for non-Muslim women, law reforms have moved forward to recognise equality. But for Muslim women, in the name of Islam, you can be discriminated against.”

Zainah, who led the rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) previously, blamed these regressions on the rise of “political Islam”, adding that these issues remain due to the current patriarchal state of society.

She said groups such as SIS and Musawah would not have to exist if Islam was practised the way it should be.

“I go to Geneva for the women’s convention sessions and it’s shameful and disgraceful that Muslim governments stand before the Cedaw (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee and say they cannot reform the laws to recognise equality because it will be against Islam.

“So you’re standing there telling the whole world that Islam is an unjust religion, that Islam is a religion that discriminates against women and shamelessly say that.”

However, she signalled that the “reality on the ground” was beginning to shift.

Source: Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

Ongoing trend it would appear:

Malaysia’s largest Islamic party is pushing for Oktoberfest events across the country to be banned, renewing a familiar culture war in the Muslim-majority country.

Key points:

  • It’s a crime for Muslims to drink alcohol in Malaysia but it’s rarely enforced
  • Several states have banned Oktoberfest events
  • Lifestyle issues can be a point of contention between non-Muslim and Muslim Malaysians

The ultraconservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has for years barracked against the hosting of Oktoberfest and other alcohol-related events in Malaysia, which has large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities.

“Oktoberfest should not be organised and must be strongly objected to,” Senior PAS figure Mahfodz Mohamed said in a statement this week.

“If non-Muslims want to drink alcoholic beverages, they are welcomed to do so in their homes without promoting the activity and organising large-scale events.”

In the state of Terengganu, controlled by PAS, the Government has expressly banned Oktoberfest events.

“No-one has applied to hold Oktoberfest here,” said Tourism Minister Ariffin Deraman as quoted by The Star newspaper, adding: “We will be constantly monitoring to ensure that the festival is not held.”

The comparatively liberal state of Johor also announced this week it would not be issuing licences for organisers to host alcohol-themed festivals, including Oktoberfest.

“As with any other private institutions serving alcohol, restrictions and conditions can be imposed on the event, not to ban it completely,” Melissa Sasidaran, director of Lawyers for Liberty, told the ABC.

In Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, the Mayor said venues could host Oktoberfest events as long as they were held indoors and already licenced to sell alcohol.

“A blanket ban on everyone is an unreasonable restriction and authorities cannot be moral police and impose conservatism,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Analysts have observed a conservative shift within Malaysian Islam in recent decades.

Farida Ibrahim, a member of progressive Muslim organisation G25, told the ABC it was “undeniable” religious conservatism was on the rise.

“The Government has to rein it in before it gets out of hand … most of our Islamic institutions have been infiltrated by Wahabis from Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“This culture war has impinged upon the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Malaysia applies some aspects of Islamic law to Muslims only, covering matters regarding family law and religious observance.

Muslims are barred from purchasing or consuming alcohol, however the law is seldom enforced. In 2009, a Muslim model was sentenced to caning for drinking beer, but her sentence was later commuted.

Oktoberfest is not the only issue that has pitted conservative Muslims against more liberal Malaysians.

US fast food chain A&W now calls its signature product — non-alcoholic root beer — simply “RB” in order to maintain halal certification.

A governmental Islamic body ruled in 2016 that products named “hotdog” would be denied halal certification, due to the perception among some Muslims that dogs are forbidden in Islam.

In 2014, Malaysia’s High Court ruled non-Muslims could not use the word “Allah” in their publications, despite the fact Malay-speaking Christians had used the term in their holy texts for centuries.

PAS recently formed a coalition with the country’s main opposition party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO dominated Malaysia’s ruling coalition for six decades before being toppled by Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan in a historic election last year.

“Politicians must refrain from playing up trivial matters and manipulating religious cards,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Source: Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

Malaysia: When gender gets in the way of citizenship

Of note:

IT is not difficult to guess that Aisha and Anis are sisters. They share a striking physical resemblance reflecting the Malay origin of their mother and Mauritian origin of their father.

Yet, it takes a bureaucrat to disrupt the unity of nature’s order.

For Anis is a Malaysian citizen, while Aisha, her older biological sister, has been struggling to obtain a citizenship without success.

Their mother, Siti Haniza, shook her head as she narrated the bureaucratic trauma she underwent trying to get her daughter to be granted her birth-right — which is to be registered as a Malaysian.

Her mistake, as an official had explained to her, was firstly to deliver their first child in Mauritius, and then having failed to fly 3,000km to South Africa to register her birth within the first month of her child’s birthday.

That was where the nearest Malaysian consul was located.

Unspoken in that narrative was her mistake of marrying a non-Malaysian and having children with him. That same situation would not have happened if Aisha’s father had been a Malaysian and her mother a non-Malaysian.

The rules and regulations of citizenship are gender-biased and discriminatory to Malaysian women. According to the Campaign for Equal Citizenship, Siti is not alone and her ordeal is shared by thousands of other Malaysian women.

The campaign, led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group, had raised awareness about this dismal situation by cataloguing real-life examples from around the world.

For Malaysian men with non-Malaysian wives who deliver in foreign lands, they need only notify the nearest Malaysian embassy for their children to be granted the necessary citizenship documents.

In contrast, Malaysian women with non-Malaysian husbands in similar situations would have to clear a higher standard by applying for their children to be recognised as citizens.

There is no guarantee that their child would be deemed a citizen.

The Campaign for Equal Citizenship documents the negative effects of such discrimination on Malaysian women.

It is highly stressful and disrupting to family life when family members have to undergo uncertainties with respect to the ability to enter the country and travel.

Or when husbands are separated from their wives and children for extended periods as a result of the bureaucratic process.

Children are denied access to services and job opportunities, while family relations become difficult to maintain and become brittle.

When asked about this apparent double standard, Siti responds firmly, “No matter where she was born, my daughter is every inch as Malaysian as I am.

“She comes from a long and illustrious family of civil servants who have served passionately and diligently to build the Malaysia that we are so proud of today.”

She continued, “Her forefathers were freedom fighters who fought against colonialism and suffered for it. Yet, my country has not reciprocated this legacy with empathy nor compassion.”

Malaysia is currently one of only 25 countries globally, and one of four countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which has discriminatory citizenship laws.

Malaysia does not recognise mothers as equal parents by law, as the Federal Constitution expressly provides that children born overseas to married Malaysian fathers are entitled to citizenship by operation of law (Article 14(1)(b) but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.

Consequently, the process for registering children born overseas as Malaysian citizens is far more arduous for Malaysian women, making them feel like second-class citizens.

This law is deeply rooted in patriarchy which allows for sexist attitudes that influence the applications process.

These women are expected to follow their husband’s citizenship, live overseas and not enjoy the option for their children to choose their nationality.

Yet such a law is out of sync with the reality of Malaysian women today.

Malaysian women are among the most educated in the region, with high rates of labour participation and they play important leadership roles in both the public and private sectors.

Malaysia’s impressive economic transformation could not have been achieved without the important contributions of her women. Yet the country is unable to recognise this by discriminating against her bloodline.

Because of the painful experience with her first-born, Siti decided to deliver Anis in Malaysia and use her family network to ensure that her second daughter’s birth right to citizenship was not denied.

She now has two daughters with two different nationalities.

Siti laments: “It pains me to realise that Aisha would not be able to continue the family tradition of joining the civil service and serve Malaysia.”

She is also concerned that Aisha’s employment prospects would be significantly constrained without her Malaysian citizenship.

In May 2018 Malaysia showed the world that it had the capacity to change, to remove the kleptocrats ruining the country, in order to make the country a better place for all its citizens.

This sense of inclusivity needs to be extended also to Malaysian women and their genetic right to determine the citizenship of their children.

Source: When gender gets in the way of citizenship