Malaysia’s religious departments could take action against a group of Muslims if proven that they have been involved in “atheist activities”.
The Malaysian government says it will investigate claims on social media that Muslims attended a recent meeting organised by international group Atheist Republic in Kuala Lumpur.
According to the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, the government will investigate if there are Muslims who have joined the Kuala Lumpur Atheist Club
According to Asyraf Wajdi, jurisdiction on Islamic faith is under the Syariah Criminal Enactment of each state, while at the Federal Territories level it is under the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi). He told reporters after officiating the Indera Mahkota Division Umno Youth Delegates’ Conference:
“If it is proven that there are Muslims involved in atheist activities that could affect their faith, the state Islamic religious departments or Jawi could take action. I have asked for Jawi to look into this grave allegation.”
The issue first came to light after several Islamist blogsites posted a photo of the group’s gathering in Kuala Lumpur.
News coverage led to a lot of Malaysians also calling for apostates to be fired, jailed, and even beheaded.
In many countries across the world, social rules disallow public displays and conversation about atheism, so the atheist communities can be disparate, which can leave many atheists feeling isolated.
The page has more than 1.7 million likes, making it the most popular atheist community on any social network. It uses that platform mostly to post memes that criticise religion – though stresses that it doesn’t intend to attack religious people.
The Atheist Republic has consulates throughout the globe in the major cities of the world.
The Atheist Republic does work within communities through activities, including helping people in the midst of natural disasters and in fundraising, such as the Atheist Republic Metro Manila.
It also helps to bring non-believers together, ensuring that atheists, who tend to be disproportionately demonised, ostracised, and stigmatised, can feel a sense of belonging and community.
Despite the dangers, Atheist Republic continues to help those who leave or want to leave their religion through fundraising, community-building, and providing other help in times of need.
Atheist Republic has received numerous comments online.
Founder of Atheist Republic, ex-Muslim and member of Conatus News, Armin Navabi, said,
They are now asking for me to be beheaded for simply starting a group where Malaysian atheists can meet each other. Atheist Republic’s Malaysian consulate is now being targeted by their government. Our Indonesian consulate is also under attack. Tell me why is our Manila consulate not under such attacks? It can’t be the economy since Indonesia and Malaysia have a higher GDP per capita than the Philippines. It can’t be western colonialism. They are all in the same area. Can it possibly be that Indonesia and Malaysia are Islamic and the Philippines is Christian? Weren’t Indonesia and Malaysia supposed to be examples of “moderate” Islamic countries?
In response to the controversy, Rev. Gretta Vosper – a United Church of Canada minister – wrote to Chrystia Freeland, who is Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging her to reach out to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak. Vosper said,
I write with deep concern for atheists and secular humanists in Malaysia. Recently, whether intentionally or otherwise, one of Malaysia’s Government Ministers, Shahidan Kassim, who is reported to be close to the Malaysian Prime Minister, incited extremists to violence against atheists, secular humanists, and ex-Muslims by challenging Malaysians to hunt them down “vehemently” and return them to the Islamic faith.
The statement from the government official was to a photograph of several young people who are members of a Facebook group, The Atheist Republic. They had gathered together to meet one another and build friendships. It was a casual and friendly gathering and, as so often happens when joy is present, photographs were taken and posted to social media.
The founder of the Facebook group is Armin Navabi, copied on this letter. He is a friend and an ex-Muslim who lives in British Columbia. Subsequent to the posting of the photograph, Armin has been the subject of threats, including a call for his beheading. Others have called for the burning alive of the members of The Atheist Republic pictured in the photograph.
In 2013, Bangladesh, despite its status as a secular state, refused to placate extremists calling for the execution of secular humanists, instead choosing to label them atheists and further incite hatred against them. In 2015, Avijit Roy was murdered by machete-wielding attackers while in Dhaka for a book fair. The editor and publisher of Avijit’s book, The Philosophy of Atheism, were both subsequently murdered. Avijit’s co-author, Raihan Abir, is a good friend. He was recognised as a refugee by the Canadian government in 2015. He and his family are now helping grow Canada and make it a better place.
The congregation I serve has received permission to bring to Canada as a refugee a Bangladeshi atheist and his family. We chose this family because the father’s photograph has been so widely distributed across Bangladesh and elsewhere that he cannot be seen outside of the place he now hides, fearing for his life. The photograph of the happy gathering of atheists in Malaysia will be used to imperil their lives and to “hunt them down vehemently” as Minister Kassim has urged Malaysian citizens to do. All their lives are now in grave danger.
We cannot stand idly by and watch Malaysia become another Bangladesh, indifferent to or even supportive of the murder of atheists and secular humanists. Canada has had a long and friendly relationship with Malaysia, dating back to the earliest days of that country’s founding. We continue to build on our sixty year history and share our Canadian values within our relationship. Those values include the protection of marginalized groups and advocacy for religious freedoms. The right to refuse religion, the freedom from religion must be just as strongly defended as the right to believe.
I urge you to reach out to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and remind him of his democratic obligations to protect all Malaysians, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I urge you also to request that he publicly and swiftly denounce the words of Minister Kassim before they are used to spread fear, sanction violence, or lead to the murder of innocent civilians.
The Malaysian Consulate released a long statement tonight explaining the “hidden crisis of ex-Muslims” and the legal form of freedom afforded to religion in the country:
“Many Muslims who have attempted to convert or leave Islam have received death threats. Those who have converted or left Islam, lead a secret double life. The civil court claims that conversions are under the jurisdiction of the [Sharia] courts, but converts contend that as they are no longer Muslim the [Sharia] courts hold no power over them. Authorities only allow Sunni Islam to be practised, arresting those who stray from those beliefs. Converts taken to be rehabilitated by Islamic authorities are forced to dress and act as Muslims.
If ever there was a phobia that we’re experiencing in Malaysia, it’s not Islamophobia. Its Apostophobia (fear of apostates). A fear or hateful stand that is usually swept under the carpet since everyone is bent of protecting the sensitivities of Muslims…”
Any crackdown on non-believers in Malaysia will affect its global image as a moderate Muslim-majority country, international non-profit group Atheist Republic said.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.