Religion and Human Rights in Malaysia


Democratic and legal theorists, thinkers and experts alike have long been interested with the rights of non-discrimination and inclusion. They serve social, economic, political and symbolic purposes and are used to explain facts or recommend values. While many have believed the two sides of the same coin represent non-discrimination and equity, careful attention shows that the values apply differently and often even diverge. Given its predominant Muslim population, Malaysia is a well-known Muslim-majority region. The country’s demographic point of view shows that about 60.4% of its current population of 29.6 million adhere to the Islamic faith (Ahmad & Adil, 2014). Malaysia is very proud to be a melting pot of diverse cultures, races and faiths, co-existing under the supposedly moderate paradigm of the Islamic nation. Malaysia has successfully managed to preserve harmonious coexistence among its people, considering the fragility that usually occurs in multi-ethnic societies (Hamed Shah & Sani Mohd, 2010).

            A relevant feature of the Constitution is civil rights. The constitutional protection of the enjoyment of human rights granted to any Malaysian person is reiterated in Articles 5-13 of the Constitution, often referred to as ‘Fundamental Liberty’. While Islam is a strong proponent of human rights and human well-being, Islamic law is not applied in Malaysia in such a way that it responds to the conventional values of Islamic law. Instead, in Malaysia, the scope and authority of Islamic law has been limited from what it is meant to be (Ahmad & Adil, 2014).  This is because the Constitution has clarified that Islamic rule in Malaysia is only limited in scope to such regions, such as marital matters and minimum criminal jurisdictions empowered by state authorities.

            Despite the civil rights and Malaysia as an Islamic nation, in defining Malaysia as either an Islamic or a secular state, this triggers a political debate which makes non-Muslims uncomfortable. To compare the practice of freedom of religion in the West is quite different than how it is practice in Malaysia. People in Malaysia are allowed to choose their own religion as it applies under one of the elements of human rights as justified by Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This applies with the purpose of human rights as Feron (2014) highlighted that a number of historical clues suggest that human rights are indeed a value system meant to unite humankind into a ‘moral community’, justifying their comparison with a religion.

            Two important aspects of the Malaysia legal system are Islamic law and civil rights, which have been highly stressed by the Malaysia’s Federal Constitution. Human rights are not new to Islam and the coming of Islam is intended to represent the whole world as a grace and to uphold humanity’s sacred values. As such, considering that any breach of human rights could be tantamount to disobeying Islamic values is not an exaggeration. While the point is a little blurred by non-Muslims, Malaysia is now proclaimed by the government as the Islamic State because secular or non-religious problems are considered Islamic, as well as learning about non-Islamic ideology such as Marxism and liberalism is Islamic in the sense that it would reinforce Islamic values among Muslims by learning non-Islamic matters.


Ahmad, N. M., & Mohamed Adil, M. A. (2014). Islamic Law and Human Rights in Malaysia. 43-67.

Feron, H. (2014). Human rights and Faith: A ‘World-Widesecular Religion’? 181-200.

Hamed Shah, D. A., & Sani Mohd, M. A. (2010). Freedom of Religion in Malaysia: A Tangled Web of Legal, Political, and Social Issues. 648-673.

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