Governing Religious Diversity in Malaysia
THE GOVERNANCE OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
MORE OR LESS SECULARISM?
10-12 June 2015
ROUNDTABLE: GOVERNING RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND GENDER RELATIONS
GOVERNING RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN MALAYSIA – THE GENDER DIMENSION
Helen Ting Mu Hung | Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country with a substantial non-Muslim presence. At
independence in 1957, the Federation of Malaya (which grew to be Malaysia in 1963)
was founded as a “secular” parliamentary democracy. A judiciary deliberation in 1988 by
the Lord President Salleh Abas defined the word “secular” as meaning “a nonpreferential, non-interventionist stance towards all religions”.
Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution stipulates Islam as the “religion of the
Federation”, understood as playing a ceremonial and symbolic role. Currently, a reinterpretation of Article 3(1) is gaining ground, asserting the superior status of Islam as
the official religion over other religions.
Decades of comprehensive policy of Islamization from the 1980s have expanded the
sphere of competence of Syariah laws beyond Muslim marriage and inheritance matters
into moral policing and regulation of faith practices and discourses. Attempts at elevating
the status of Syariah judiciary as equal and not below the civil court is also complicating
resolution of interreligious grievances involving a Muslim party who resort to Syariah
jurisdiction. This paper will look into how issues touching on gender dimensions such as
domestic violence, parental rights over child custody and conversion have been
negotiated in an inter-religious setting and its implications on gender relations.