KUALA LUMPUR, 4 Nov 2009: Malaysia is a country witnessing the “emerging dominance” of Islam even though it was not always a Muslim-majority country, the chair of a United Nations (UN) body on inter-religious relations said.
Gary D BoumaProfessor Emeritus Gary D Bouma¸ who is Unesco Chair in Inter-religious and Intercultural Relations — Asia Pacific, said that historically speaking, a Muslim majority was not always the “lived reality” in Malaysia.
“Younger Malaysians might know Malaysia as a Muslim-majority country, but someone from two generations ago would have lived a reality in which Muslims were not the majority,” he said.
Bouma was speaking to reporters on 29 Oct on the sidelines of the Fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue, organised by the Australian government in Perth from 28 to 30 Oct 2009, where he was also a keynote speaker.
He said that it was because becoming a Muslim-majority country was a recent phenomenon for the country that Malaysia was now grappling with how to deal with this.
“The state and society in Malaysia are asking what it means to finally be a Muslim majority, and whether to legislate increasingly on matters related to Islam, among other things,” Bouma said.
“Even at the moment, 60% (of Malaysians being Muslims) isn’t much — [there is the fear] that even that could be [reduced],” he said, adding that although Muslims are now the majority, it was still an insecure majority in terms of numbers.
In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Bouma’s other classifications for country demographics are “one religion dominant” (for example, Catholicism in the Philippines), “no religion dominant” (for example, Singapore), or “waning dominance” (for example, Australia).
He said that on the whole, religious diversity was increasing in the region and that religion was back on the public policy agenda in many states.
“In the late 20th century, many secularist ideologues were predicting that religion was going to die out by the start of the 21st century, but now we see that religion is real and alive in many societies,” he said.
Malaysia’s violations “noteworthy”
(map of Malaysia public domain; note and pushpin © Jay Lopez / sxc.hu)
Malaysia was listed alongside countries such as Afghanistan, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, during the reporting period of 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. In the case of Malaysia, the report cited increasing concession of jurisdiction by civil courts to syariah courts on family law disputes, demolition of Hindu temples, and restrictions on Muslims wanting to convert out of Islam as some of the noteworthy violations.
The report, released on 26 Oct 2009, is submitted to the US Congress annually by the State Department in compliance with US legislation on international religious freedom. It supplements other human rights reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom.
The report states that religious freedom for all persons is a “core objective of US foreign policy”, and it also outlines actions by the US in designated “countries of particular concern”.
Shanon Shah was selected and sponsored by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as part of its International Media Visits Program, to cover the Fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue. Four other journalists were also selected, from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
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