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Religious controls in Malaysia worse than Syria, Brunei, study finds

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia practices some of the most stringent controls on religion in the world, ranking seventh out of the 198 countries surveyed in an annual study on religious restrictions and hostilities.

Religious controls in Malaysia worse than Syria, Brunei, study finds

Malaysia ranked seventh in a Pew study of the most stringent controls on religion, out of 198 countries surveyed. This file picture shows a Muslim performing his prayers at the Tuanku Mizan Mosque in Putrajaya. Photo: The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia practices some of the most stringent controls on religion in the world, ranking seventh out of the 198 countries surveyed in an annual study on religious restrictions and hostilities.

The study, published by US-based Pew Research Centre on its website this week, found that Malaysia’s penchant for religious controls worsened in 2013, scoring 7.9 out of 10 points on the Government Restriction Index (GRI).

This was a 0.3 point increase from the country’s 2012 score of 7.6, and one-and-a-half points higher than its baseline score of 6.4 measured in June 2007.

Malaysia’s 2013 score also ranks it as more restrictive on religion compared to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Southeast Asian neighbours Myanmar, Brunei and Singapore – all of which were ranked among the 18 countries with a very high rate of religious restrictions.

Topping the list was China, followed by Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Egypt and Afghanistan.

The scores were measured according to the answers given to a list of 20 questions handed out to respondents in each country.

Malaysian respondents replied in the affirmative when asked if the government interferes with worship or other practices of religious groups, and also on harassment and intimidation of religious groups by the government.

They also felt that religious groups are being regulated or managed by a “coercive” organisation that is sanctioned by the ruling administration, and claimed that Malaysia practices a system of registering religious groups that “clearly discriminates against some religious groups”.

Islam is Malaysia’s official state religion but the country’s Constitution allows other religions to be freely practised.

Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.

Racial and religious tensions have simmered for the past few years as Muslim groups accuse Christians of trying to convert Muslims with their insistence on referring to God as “Allah”, while Christian groups complain that indigenous members of their churches in Sabah being duped into embracing Islam.

The discontent is exacerbated by laws prohibiting the proselytisation of non-Islamic faiths to Muslims, but not vice versa.

This was demonstrated by an unusual outburst by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism who last month warned non-Muslims not to accept free translated copies of the Quran that a Muslim group was distributing. THE MALAY MAIL ONLINE

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