The growing Islamisation of Malaysia: the impact of implementing hudud law

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I have been asked by quite a few expats if it’s time to think about leaving Malaysia. A number of recent developments are making them nervous. Topping the list is the growing Islamisation of Malaysia. The religious tolerance for which Malaysia was becoming well recognised seems to have taken a beating in the last couple of years.

There seem to be an increase in the number of cases where Muslims are attacking other religions or making demands for changes on things which were previously accepted. Of course there are also examples to the contrary, but mostly there seems to be a shift towards having a more Islamic country.

One example is the increasing publicity given to the objective of the opposition party, PAS, to implement hudud law, including its more extreme punishments like amputation and stoning. A recent proposal from PAS to Parliament to allow the country’s Sharia courts to mete out harsher penalties was prioritised by the government. Although it fell short, it was clearly seen as a step towards the implementation of penalties more in line with hudud.

Matters were not helped when the Malay Mail published a story online claiming that JAKIM, the government department responsible for Islamic Affairs, had stated in its report that everyone, regardless of race, should be subject to hudud laws. This could be in response to opponents of the hudud laws who claim it would be unfair to have different punishments for the same offence, dependent on your religion.

It’s not just expats who are concerned, as many Malaysian Muslims have spoken out against it, too, including the G25 group of retired, senior Malay civil servants. Most government officials have so far been reluctant to openly state their position on this controversial matter, but their actions so far suggest that they may not necessarily oppose it.

Another concern is that it seems Malaysia is not doing much to investigate the report by the Parliamentary Accounting Committee, which stated that they could not confirm where several billion dollars were sent. Despite the enormous sums involved, there is still very little coverage in the local press. 1MDB remains a troubling and controversial issue which will probably only go away when all the questions are answered satisfactorily.

We are also hearing more expats tell us about problems getting their work permits approved or renewed. The reasons have not been entirely clear, although we are aware of two expat businessmen who have actually left the country because of work permit frustrations. It is very hard to get feedback from immigration, although we are trying, so we don’t yet know the reasons for these problems.

Expats also worry that the country is slipping backwards in terms of allowing freedom of speech, particularly if it involves criticism of the government. Most expats come from countries where freedom of speech is considered to be an integral part of democracy, so they worry when they read of people being arrested or prevented from leaving the country for expressing views which in many countries would be considered acceptable, even if the respective governments strongly disagreed with them.

Having said all this, it would be a big mistake not to recognise the incredible progress Malaysia has made in the last 30 years and the underlying strength of the economy and the Malaysian people. It is true that the frequent negative reports about Malaysia in the international press have damaged the country’s reputation, but we remain committed to highlighting the many reasons why Malaysia is a great place to live, work and play.

We are confident the various challenges currently being faced by the country will be resolved in due course. We hope the government will be able to reassure the resident expat community about some of their concerns.

This article was originally published in The Expat magazine (July 2016) which is available online or in print via a free subscription.

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Kristine Lauritzen Fellows

After reading Kyndal Gibbins article I feel scared and shocked what could happen to Malaysia, who would want to come to a country that is heading towards a barbaric, misogynistic law of life towards women and anyone else who does not fit into the pages of their book of Muslim Conservatism extreme radicalism.

Che Muhammad Farid Isführer

#LOL ?? just make your way out then

Kyndal Gibbins

Story highlights
Proposal will be debated in October and if approved will replace current provisions
Hudud law allows for penalties such as amputation of limbs and stoning
Kuala Lumpur (CNN)A proposal in Malaysia’s Parliament to introduce the strict Islamic penal code known as hudud law is threatening to split the country’s government apart.

The proposed bill was introduced in parliament last Thursday by Abdul Hadi Awang, the president of the country’s opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.
It will be debated in October and, if passed, will replace current provisions in the country’s Sharia courts — which govern Muslims — with harsher hudud punishments. Hudud law allows for penalties such as amputation of limbs and stoning.
The tabling of the bill was made possible with the support of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the majority party that makes up the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Prime Minister Najib Razak has been trying to calm the uproar that has erupted since the tabling of the proposal, denying that the bill will lead to the full implementation of hudud law.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
“I would like to state that it’s not for the implementation of hudud. It’s just to give the Sharia courts enhanced punishments. From six-strokes caning to a few more,” he said, in an interview with local media.
However, non-Muslim component parties of Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government — which has led the nation since its independence in 1957 — have formed a consensus decrying it.
One of these parties is the Malaysian Indian Congress, whose president, S. Subramaniam, in a statement, called it “inconsistent with the Federal Constitution.”
“The MIC is of the view that the proposed bill is inconsistent with the provisions of the Federal Constitution, which protects the rights of all Malaysians for equal treatment before the law and against the duality of sentencing.”
Sim Kui Hian, president of the Borneo-based Sarawak United People’s Party, is also opposing the bill, saying all signatories to the forming of Malaysia in 1963 agreed that the country would be run by a secular government.
“The passing of the bill could motivate Sarawakians to part ways with Malaysia,” he said. A huge proportion of the population in East Malaysia are non-Muslims, as opposed to the peninsular where the majority are Malay Muslims.
Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Liow Tiong Lai, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mah Siew Keong — both of whom are non-Muslims — have threatened to quit Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Cabinet if the bill is passed in Parliament. Subramaniam has also vowed to resign as minister should the bill be passed.
‘Political strategy to gain Muslim support’
Meanwhile, former law minister Zaid Ibrahim — a noted critic of the Najib administration — says this is a clear sign that the idea of democracy and rule is changing in the country.
“Islam is defined by those in authority, and they define it however they want. This is all political and the corrosive effect is going to be in the long term.
“There is growing conservatism in the country and it is driven by politics. It used to be very subtle but now it is getting bigger,” said Zaid.
Zaid believes allowing the hudud bill to be debated in Parliament is a political strategy by Najib, to garner the Malay-Muslim support.
Those advocating hudud law in Malaysia argue it will be applicable only to Muslims and not affect non-Muslims. However, Chandra Muzaffar, the president of non-governmental organisation, The International Movement of a Just World, says the implementation of hudud will create an unjust dual legal system.
“If you commit a wrongdoing, your punishment cannot be different from another person. You have to be fair. If two people people commit robbery, one gets his hand chopped off and the other doesn’t, it isn’t right,” he said.
He cited a hypothetical example of a Muslim man caught for raping a non-Muslim woman.
“Under hudud, the authorities will need to be presented with four male Muslim witnesses and the rapist can argue that he be set free if they are even short of one. Can you imagine the reality that the non-Muslim victim has to face even if the rape can be proved through DNA testing?” he explained.
Muslim Conservatism in Southeast Asia
There have been several cases in Malaysia that have seen conflict between the civil and Sharia courts.
One of the most noteworthy has been been the case of Indira Gandhi, a Hindu. Her ex-husband converted to Islam, unilaterally converted their three children and ran away with them in 2009. The case went on for years, with the constant argument being whether it should fall under the jurisdiction of the civil or Sharia court. Indira eventually won the case after the High Court granted her full custody of her children and annulled their conversion to Islam in 2013.
Muslim conservatism is growing in Southeast Asia. Over the last few years, Brunei and the Indonesian province of Aceh has seen hudud and Sharia laws introduced.
Aceh implemented Sharia law in 2001. While it originally only applied to Muslims, a by-law came into force late last year, allowing for it to be applied to non-Muslims as well. In April 2016, a 60-year-old Christian woman was whipped nearly 30 times for selling alcohol. It was the first time a non-Muslim was punished under Sharia in Aceh.
Brunei, meanwhile, implemented Sharia and hudud law in 2014.

CNN article, May 2016

Jennifer Cheong

Not just the expatriates wanna runaway, even the locals, many are thinking of it too…

Ajmel Shakir Jamaludin

Well, if the bill is passed in the parliament, as a democratic citizen, you must respect the wish of the majority. If the bill is defeated, then the bill supporters will accept it. This is the basis of democracy. If you fail to grasp this very basic idea of democracy, then it is appropriate for you to vote with your feet. You will not be missed. If you want to stay, then respect democracy. Let the bill be debated and voted in the parliament

Neil Oakes

I think biggest worry is the governments lack of action on hate preachers and extremist violent versions of Islam. It’s hard to jive with the protestations of Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance?

Oliver Woods

I am very glad ExpatGo is talking about this. Things are going from bad to worse in Malaysia. It is one of the reasons I voted with my feet to leave Malaysia, a place I dearly love & regard as my second home. I know many other expats in my age group (20’s and 30’s) who are leaving primarily because of their frustration with the current state of affairs, compounded by the near impossibility of working legally in Malaysia. Continue to cover these issues without fear or favour, Andy.


Thanks for your support Oliver 🙂

Tristan El Jed

Something is certain, this religion is messing up with the nations wherever it goes. Just saying.

Ajmel Shakir Jamaludin

You might be true but surprisingly approximately 5000 britons revert to Islam every year, 2/3 being females with median age of 27. The trend is obvious worldwide. Perhaps you view towards Islam is based on hatred without much understanding about the religion. Why not you read the quran? It may change your perspective towards Islam. I personally know the haters who hate anything Islam, ended up being some of the most devout Muslims I have ever met…most of them are young white men like you. So, come on…grab a quran and read it. It may be the most important step in your life.

Tristan El Jed

Keep your advice to yourself.

Zára Khän

Zaid Raheemeea Hudud Laws lol

Dura Hatta

If Hudud is implemented, it will only apply to the majority muslim living in Malaysia. The minority non muslim are not affected by hudud syariah law.

Marilyn Ostrow

that wasn’t the impression I got from the article, or rather, it sounded like that aspect was up for debate.

Dura Hatta

Besides Hudud, Malaysia have been practicing Sharia Islamic law for more the 50 years. Currently there exist 14 Sharia courts in every state in Malaysia and the laws are exclusively for all Muslim in Malaysia. The Sharia laws jurisdiction including family, marriage, inheritance, code of conduct on religious observance and matter. While non muslim in Malaysia practice civil law from United Kingdom.

Ju Lee

What’s with the title? Is that really how you sell it? And why would expatgo touch on what is a socio-political issue, and do you realistically think any such will happen? Why not do an article on how Malaysia is imposing visas on arab nations soon to quell the issue of islamisation and IS? Guess it isnt as salacious, perhaps.

Marilyn Ostrow

if it’s what’s happening beneath the glitzy surface, it’s something both tourists and expats need to know.


Are we not qualified to discuss socio-political issues Ju Lee? We’ll look into an article on imposing visas on arab nations soon 🙂

Ilde Halipa

This topic is worth to discuss. ??

Ju Lee

Expatgo…. I disagreed with the negative connotation with the title, I was clear on my point, dont need to be defensive about whether your qualified. Deal with the questions that come your way, that’s part of the journalistic process.

As seen from Marilyn’s commentary, you didnt do a good job selling Malaysia, the islamist fear mongering at play. Will you also do an article on shootings in america? Or bombings in the middle east? That affects expats too.


Thanks for your feedback. Noted your points. Our goal isn’t to sell Malaysia. That being said, most of our articles do focus on highlighting the positive elements of the country, such as travel, accomodation, communities, food, education, entertainment, things to do, places to go, and much more. We also publish opinion pieces about Malaysia, which some people like and others do not.

Ilde Halipa

Ju Lee, ExpatGo’s responsibility is not to sell Malaysia. Their responsibility is to educate us expats about information that the page thinks we deserve to know. They can post whatever they want as long as it is covered by their objectives. There is nothing wrong about the posted article, I as an expat here in Malaysia is very thankful that I was informed about such. I believe as well that the article was presented fairly.

Warren Williams

I am looking at Malaysia as a place to stay awhile next year. This is information I need to investigate further. Thanks

Abhi Chinniah

Ilde Halipa I agree with what you have said to an extent. I found the article bias, skewed and lacking merit. While I am not saying the publication should only focus on the best places to eat in Malaysia etc, a topic like this that has been swirling for years (and yet no definitive action) didn’t deserve such a focus. Merely an opinion piece.

Ju Lee

Ilde, expatgo, yes it actually is to sell Malaysia. Even the title “expatgo”… not expatmaybedontgo…… one would expect more focus on making life welcoming for expats, not selling half truths…. at the very least if one isnt selling the place, dont exaggerate. Has expatgo criticised countries that already practice syariah law where expats are already in abundance? There are a few…… Or western countries where crimes go with little or no punishment, dont expect much jail time for perpetrators in europe for assault? Or an article about the statistics of being shot as an expat in some neighbourhoods – expats have lost their kids in school shootings in some countries. None of that we hear.

Plus. Why would any Malaysian companies, or any other advertisers for that matter, advertise in a magazine that’s going to drive expats away? Perhaps revenue is not a concern, Im not sure the business model they use, but if so keep up the good work.

I will say it like it is, I didnt enjoy the article for it’s fear mongering and sensationalism, judging by the comments here from people who either dont live in Malaysia and never been there, they sold the islamist stance better than they highlighted the fact that hudud is almost a non issue that has been pushed by one party as is their democratic right, but has gone nowhere for years.

It would have my support if critique was fair, but we havent seen these topics about on these pages, have we.

Merely an opinion piece with a massive slant.

Marilyn Ostrow

well, that didn’t sound very comforting. I have no plans to move there, but would love to visit, but it would give me pause if things moved in a backward direction.

Ju Lee

It’s an exaggeration. You’re welcome over any time. It’s a multi cultural country, im not muslim, im half chinese half sikh, travelled and lived in the west, and yet I love it here.

Cynthia Cornell

Marilyn Ostrow Fabulous place, about to have my 3rd holiday there and i travel on my own.

Jojo Queen

Just becareful, dont walk alone with a sling bag across your body. safety in Msia is not that good…crimes rates quite high tho

Marilyn Ostrow

Jojo Queen can’t be worse than the United States! And I grew up in the slums of NYC, in the 60’s-70’s.

Marilyn Ostrow

Jojo Queen and I ALWAYS carry my purse bandolier style – that means across the body – that’s the SAFEST way to carry a bag. I can’t stand when “ladies” carry dinky little designer handbags from their hand or wrist. And backpacks are an invitation for rummaging thru behind your back.

Jojo Queen

Well in Msia, snatch bag usually done by motorist, they will pull and you will fell or drag around…no joke!some cases the victims dead

Ajmel Shakir Jamaludin

Well Marilyn Ostrow, you are most welcome. There is no denial that crime does happen in Malaysia…you just have to be vigilant. My wife and I have never been robbed in Malaysia (we are Malaysians residing in Perth now). My kids have never been harassed while in Malaysia. Crime is everywhere, just be careful. My mate was robbed while driving in Broadmeadows, Melbourne and someone shouted f&#k you to my kids in QV, Melbourne. Have you heard the story about failed robbery attempt in NZ recently? My point is… be vigilant. Crimes happen everywhere. You should know that very well given that you come from the States, where shooting happens on daily basis, a place where I will think not twice, but many many times before I go. Malaysia is safe, enjoy what the beautiful country can offer you.


Well said Ajmel 🙂

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