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

In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

Stoking some of the underlying ethnic tensions in Malaysia:

Malaysia’s National Registration Department (NRD) on Monday lodged a police report against several social media users for falsely accusing the department of indiscriminately granting citizenship to Chinese nationals.

Fake news that mainland Chinese were being granted Malaysian identification cards has been circulating on social media for the past month, the latest in a series of attempts to stoke racial tensions at a time when the relations between ethnic Chinese Malaysians and indigenous Malays “are at their lowest ebb”, according to an expert.

“The information spread through social media is false, and the report is to enable the police to conduct a thorough investigation,” NRD director general Ruslin Jusoh told reporters at a press conference to announce the police report.

He dismissed claims that the NRD discriminates by granting Malaysian citizenship to certain foreign nationals.

“This is not true and for the record, we do not choose applicants based on their ancestry or nationality in granting them Malaysian citizenship,” Ruslin said.

The social media posts, spread mainly via Facebook and Twitter, featured pictures of alleged Chinese nationals on a blue Malaysian identification card. The blue card, known as MyKad, is only issued to Malaysian citizens.

A mainland Chinese woman, who has been married to a Malaysian for almost 20 years and was granted citizenship in the Southeast Asian nation, was the subject of one of the posts.

“The person is a spouse to a Malaysian national and has fulfilled all the requirements to be a citizen based on … the Federal Constitution and that qualified her application for the citizenship,” Ruslin said, adding that it is not easy to obtain Malaysian citizenship.

He said Indonesians made up the largest group of foreign wives who were granted Malaysian citizenship.

Political analyst Azmi Hassan warned that the viral posts were intended to create the perception that it was the current government’s plan to grant citizenship to foreigners, a move that would create distrust toward the ruling Pakatan Harapan government among Malays.

“When news regarding foreigners getting citizenship are circulated as if it is true, the strategy is to create a perception that it is the policy of the current government … and no doubt to create uneasiness since the relationship between Malaysian Chinese and the indigenous Malays are at their lowest ebb right now,” Azmi said.

“The end result is that the Malays will not trust the government … and the Malays’ [feeling] that they are losing the country to foreigners is becoming real.”

Ethnic Chinese comprise an estimated 22 per cent of the country’s 32 million people, while Malay-Muslims make up more than 60 per cent of the population.

Political analyst Azmi said the mainland Chinese citizenship hoax had been cleverly done to look real.

“This strategy of foreigners getting MyKad or citizenship has been used numerous times … but no doubt it is very effective when foreigners and sovereignty are lumped together,” he said.

MP Lim Lip Eng from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, has found himself a victim of the fake social media posts.

A WhatsApp message that appeared months earlier, accusing him of registering mainland Chinese for citizenship in his constituency in Kepong district in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, recently went viral again.

“That WhatsApp [message] is a fake. It resurfaced a month ago,” Lim told the South China Morning Post. “The current atmosphere of fear and tension of racial and religious divides in Malaysia is at the tipping point. Any incident can be twisted into a racial or religious issue, no matter how fake it is.”

The DAP has of late faced a barrage of fake news depicting the party as unpatriotic, anti-Malay and anti-Muslim.

“DAP, a predominantly Chinese-based party, is and will always be targeted by the opposition, the racists and religious extremists when they plot to stoke racial and religious issues,” Lim said.

DAP’s secretary general Lim Guan Eng was in 2018 appointed the country’s first ethnic Chinese Finance Minister in 44 years after Pakatan Harapan staged an upset to win the general elections.

The appointment of ethnic Chinese to strategic positions in the government has caused unease with certain segments of the Malay-Muslim populace, according to political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani of BowerGroupAsia.

“There is still distrust among the Malay community with Chinese leaders in Pakatan Harapan. The fake [identification] issue will only validate their racial narratives,” Asrul said. “This is an attempt to stoke racial sentiment and legitimise the narrative that the Chinese are pendatangs [foreigners or immigrants] in this country.”

While the country’s Penal Code has provisions to deal with insults delivered with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, it does not have specific legislation against racism – something Lim from the DAP wants to see changed.

“I have told the Pakatan Harapan government to rein in fake news by the freewheeling social and printed media with tougher penalties before Malaysia is out of order and the economy plummets,” he said. “The cabinet must come out with plans to criminalise racism and religious hatred.”

Azmi, the political analyst, said Malaysia’s 62-year existence as a multiracial nation has been held together by mutual trust and co-operation between the different races.

“It does concern me … with all the fake news circulating, I’m afraid that the bond that binds us together will be broken and if this happens, it is going to take a long time to mend it and Malaysia will be at the losing end,” he said.

Source: In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Of interest:

The Campaign for Equal Citizenship led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group welcomes the recent announcement by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Ministry of Home Affairs to draw up a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for citizenship applications. This would presumably ensure that citizenship applications are considered more fairly and promptly.

However, this is inadequate for the thousands of Malaysian mothers who wish to confer citizenship to their children born overseas. The government must fix the law, so that Malaysian women enjoy equal citizenship rights compared to Malaysian men.

Of course, a Malaysian mother married to a foreign man who gives birth in Malaysia can confer citizenship to their children but the discrimination is stark when these mothers for various valid reasons give birth overseas.

Reasons for giving birth overseas range from holding overseas jobs, unable to afford flights, premature births or risking medical complications. There are also many reasons such as aging parents, why women choose to return to Malaysia with their families and have their children grow up here as citizens.

Whilst a Malaysian father can simply notify and register at the nearest embassy of the country where his foreign wife has given birth, whereupon Malaysian citizenship papers will be issued within a time period from 3 days two months, however the Malaysian mother has to apply for citizenship for her children

Based on experiences of these Malaysian mothers, they are often misinformed by authorities abroad and at home, given inconsistent information and experience inconsistent practices. While there have been success stories, we are looking at an average waiting time of one to seven years or more to get an approval, often after multiple rejections and re-applications. Allegedly rejections are part of the SOPS to test to see if these Malaysian mothers are truly sincere and loyal to Malaysia a test not accorded to Malaysian fathers.

So, while developing a new SOP may be a temporary solution, there is a dire need for a permanent solution.

To do so, we must address first the root of the discrimination. In principle, 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 processes. These women are expected to follow the husband’s citizenship, live overseas and not enjoy the option for their children to choose their nationality. Not to be labour a point, the children born overseas to Malaysian fathers enjoy this choice.

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

Amend Schedule II of Federal Constitution to explicitly allow both men and women to confer citizenship on their children born outside of Malaysia through the same process. and make it equal and right for Malaysian women, we make up half of Malaysia and we count.

Source: Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Move to introduce Arabic script in Malaysian schools upsets non-Malay groups

Of interest:
Malaysia’s move to introduce Arabic script in the Malay language syllabus for primary school has upset non-Malay groups and stirred fears of creeping Islamisation in the racially diverse country.

Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Not encouraging:
As Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan government contends with a marriage of convenience between the two largest opposition parties, pressure is mounting on it to show it can defend the interests of Malay-Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of voters.

Enter a new initiative to crack down on insults against Islam. On March 7, the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), the country’s most powerful Islamic affairs agency, set up a special unit to police insults against Islam on social media and other platforms.

Each complaint would be scrutinised and legitimate ones reported to the police or the communications regulator, said Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh, who is overseeing the unit.

In just a week, the complaints body received 10,000 reports and as of Wednesday, it had 13,498 reports.

In Mahathir’s new Malaysia, a perfect storm for Pakatan Harapan?

The agency’s creation came soon after a 22-year-old Malaysian, whose details were withheld by the authorities, was given an unprecedented sentence of 10 years for posting content online that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, a decision that lawyers said went against the rule of law.

And police are investigating the organisers of the International Women’s Day March under the colonial-era Sedition Act, on the back of public accusations that the presence of LGBT activists at a Women’s Day parade on March 9 glorified behaviour not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, same-sex relations are banned, and sedition laws have been used against those who express dissent or excite disaffection against state institutions.

Observers such as Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs have pointed out the irony of these developments. Pakatan Harapan, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, won office on promises of legal reform and improved human rights for all Malaysians.
But it is now moving to stem the growing appeal of an alliance between former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – the former championing Malay rights and the latter milking pro-Muslim sentiments.
Umno-PAS’ attractiveness to voters has been heightened by the government’s struggle to realise its election pledges of higher salaries and a lower cost of living.

“The Malay parties in Pakatan Harapan have to pander to the conservatives by regressing to religio-racial supremacy in order to maintain a foothold in the Malay vote bank, especially in view of their successive crushing defeats in recent by-elections,” Oh said.

Political economist Terence Gomez, along with prominent local activists, also criticised this political “trend” of political parties capitalising on perceived insults to religion to gain popularity.

“In the application of laws prohibiting insulting religion, we must strive for a rational and liberal balance with the protection of the freedom of expression while being mindful of the religious sensitivities of our multi-religious communities. Hence open mindedness and moderation should be the norm in the interpretation and application of the existing laws,” the group said.

It added that criticising issues such as child marriage or female circumcision – permitted under Malaysia’s sharia laws – was “perfectly defensible”.

Fuziah said the complaints received by the unit regarded insults to Islam and the Prophet.

“One touches on insulting the Agong,” she said, referring to Malaysia’s ruler and head of state. She did not comment on whether any police reports had been filed.

Where does Malaysia stand on gay rights? Nobody knows

But so far only 28 links had been sent to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is supposed to take them down. Another 15 complaints were being investigated, Fuziah said.

The commission told the South China Morning Post it had not received any reports as of Wednesday, but would “provide assistance to Jakim as required”.

When the new Jakim unit was launched, Fuziah told local media she was aware some insults online were published by those with fake accounts. Some were also “unhealthy retaliations”, she said, sparked by comments by opposition politicians against non-Muslims.

Source: Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are celebrating China’s rise – but as multicultural Malaysians, not Chinese

Interesting:

In 2015, China’s then ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, visited Kuala Lumpur Chinatown just ahead of a planned pro-Malay rally. Huang’s walkabout, during which he spoke out against racism and extremism, defused a potential ethnic showdown. But it earned the ambassador a summoning to the foreign ministry to explain his perceived meddling in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.

The Kuala Lumpur incident is a portent of things to come as China steps up efforts to connect as well as protect overseas Chinese communities. During the 19th Communist Party congress, last year, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s strategic policy of co-opting the Chinese diaspora into Beijing’s grand push to internationalise the “Chinese dream”.

Xi’s overture is hitting some wrong notes. In the United States, lawmakers have complained that mainland Chinese students there have come under pressure from Beijing after criticising China. In Australia, Canberra is proposing countermeasures for alleged interference by the Communist Party in the country’s internal affairs and in the Chinese Australian communities.

The Chinese diaspora is a global phenomenon unlike others because immigrants from China have, over the centuries, planted roots in almost every continent. More crucially, the crisis-stricken homeland they left behind generations ago is today a rejuvenated, self-confident modern nation-state. And this re-emerging superpower is eager to re-enter the world stage and shape the existing international order.

For this reason, Beijing’s harnessing of the overseas Chinese population could have far-reaching global ramifications.

In Malaysia, the complexion of the Chinese diaspora bears certain distinct features. Numbering about 7 million, Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese community is one of the largest concentrations of overseas Chinese in any country. And nearing 25 per cent of the population, they exert considerable economic sway and, to a lesser extent, political leverage.

Perhaps what is unique is the pristine preservation of the Chinese heritage, a legacy of Malaysia’s acclaimed multiculturalism. One example is the national vernacular school system, where ethnic minorities can learn and sustain their mother tongues. This has enabled the Chinese communities to keep alive their culture and beliefs in a manner unmatched anywhere else – even to the envy of mainland Chinese whose traditional way of life was decimated during the Cultural Revolution.

Yet Malaysia’s celebrated diversity is a double-edged sword, as it has slowed assimilation. The country is trapped in a race paradigm where racial dynamics dictate public policy and colour national discourse. Intended to protect the rights of the Malay majority, the bumiputera policies continue to draw a wedge between the races.

Discontented, some have chosen to leave, precipitating a brain drain, chiefly to Australia and neighbouring Singapore. In fact, Malaysians are the biggest group of overseas Chinese to re-migrate.

Fortunately, these setbacks do not round up the Malaysia story. There are alternative narratives, where the aspired “1Malaysia” is a lived reality. Malaysians do come together as one, especially when engaging the world at large. Successes by international sports stars, such as diver Pandelela Rinong, badminton player Lee Chong Wei and squash player Nicol David, have fired up patriotic displays of emotions that transcend race.

One way to explain this seeming anomaly is that most Malaysians at the personal level do experience genuine friendship across racial lines. Interpersonal contacts such as these have slowly but steadily fostered mutual respect and goodwill.

There are alternative narratives, where the aspired ‘1Malaysia’ is a lived reality

Regrettably, this grass-roots bonding is often undermined and overshadowed by racialised national politics. Even so, under certain favourable conditions, these contained but enduring feelings of kinship do break to the surface, showcasing to the world the true 1Malaysia spirit.

It is within this broader context that we see the Chinese in Malaysia wrestle with their own conflicted devotion to past memories and present realities.

Firstly, like Irish Australians’ love for all things Ireland, Chinese Malaysians, too, follow with keen interest China-related developments. The miraculous turnaround of the People’s Republic in recent decades, for example, has thrilled overseas Chinese.

At the same time, Chinese in Malaysia are unreservedly Malaysian, just as the Irish in Australia are true-blue Aussies. And there is no better demonstration of this than the Chinese Malaysians’ impassioned support for Lee Chong Wei, even when he faces off against his arch-rival, Lin Dan of China.

Powered by its ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, China’s inroads into Malaysia are expanding by the day. And this is inducing some shocks to the country’s rich yet fragile social landscape.

Indeed, when ambassador Huang stepped into the Chinatown fray, he also waded into a long-standing controversy surrounding insinuations of Chinese Malaysians’ divided loyalty. The ambassador’s intervention was manipulated by some as proof of China acting as a protector of the Chinese minority in Malaysia, casting further aspersions on these Malaysians’ national allegiance.

To Chinese Malaysians, this was a most unfair and unjustified accusation.

True, the Chinese still embody the civilisational inheritance of their ancestral land. But these multigenerational Malaysians have also been indelibly transformed by the land of their birth. Like descendants of immigrants everywhere, they are turning into cultural hybrids, metamorphosing from a mono-cultural Chinese towards a more pronounced multicultural Malaysian. To use an agricultural metaphor, the born-and-bred-in-Malaysia ethnic Chinese are now the fruit of the land – sprouting and flourishing with textures and flavours unique to the Malaysian ecology. With time, these Chinese have become truly Malaysian, exuding the cultural DNA of their new homeland.

Thus, as China rises, like most overseas Chinese communities, ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are revelling in spontaneous flushes of cultural pride. But they do so not as Chinese, but as Malaysians. Or, to put it in the phraseology familiar to Beijing: as proud “Malaysians with Chinese characteristics”.

Source: Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are celebrating China’s rise – but as multicultural Malaysians, not Chinese