KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 — Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam believes enforcing of an apostasy law in Sabah by the state’s Islamic authorities will create fear as it will lead to a religious crackdown.
Pakiam said the state government must instead follow Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s message of moderation and inclusiveness.
“It (apostasy law) will create fear and it is unfortunate that these things come about like that. That is why we need to heed the call of the prime minister for moderates to be counted,” the country's top Catholic cleric told The Malaysian Insider.
“The (Federal) government must take a stand and not to cover this and keep quiet,” he added.
Sabah Islamic Affairs Department’s (Jheains) director Datuk Amri A.Suratman said yesterday that the state will enforce the apostasy law once its faith rehabilitation centre in Kinarut is ready next year.
He added that the enforcement of the law is part of Jheains five-year strategic plan. The plan will include focusing on dakwah (preaching) efforts in strategic and rural areas, especially those with a high number of converts.
While Islam is the country’s official religion followed by some 60 per cent of the country’s 27 million population, there is also a large number of Christian community, a majority of whom comes from Sabah and Sarawak.
While freedom of religion is guaranteed for non-Muslims under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, all Malays are Muslims under the law.
Islamic laws forbid Muslims from renouncing their religion and the country’s Islamic legal system has provisioned that a state must impose mandatory punishment for apostasy.
The country’s dual system of both Islamic law and federal law has resulted in controversies to the freedom of religion under Article 11 when Muslims try to convert to other religions.
The prominent cases include Lina Joy (Azalina Jailani), Revathi Massosai and Nyonya Tahir (Wong Ah Kiu).
The decision to enforce apostasy law is set to further strain the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
The Cabinet has set up an inter-faith panel in April, after a series of attacks on houses of worship nationwide following a controversial court ruling last year that allowed Christians the right to use the word “Allah” when referring to God in Bahasa Malaysia.
Najib has also pledged full administrative and financial support to revive the committee.
Ikim, the federal government’s think-tank, had also issued a statement on the issue, saying that under Islam “not all religions are equal”.
Religious authorities also recently arrested a Shi’a group in Gombak.
Some 200 local and foreign followers of the Shi’a group Hauzah Ar Ridha Alaihissalam were arrested at a house in Taman Sri Gombak amid concerns that their activities constituted a security threat.
The group, led by two men, including an Iranian national, had been operating in the four-storey shop-house for up to two years.
Followers included locals, Indonesians, Burmese, a Pakistani, an Iranian, some of whom are higher institution lecturers and students, lawyers and civil servants. Several children were also found at the location.
The arrests have been criticised by former Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin as proof that Malaysia was heading towards “an era of Talibanisation”.