Malay Atheists Fear for Their Lives

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Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim recently called for atheists to be “hunted down vehemently” amid an investigation into the Malaysian chapter of Atheist Republic.

Citing a Channel NewsAsia (CNA) interview with a man who wanted to be known only as Halim, FMT reported that Malay atheists fear for their lives following the call from Shahidan.

“I am worried. I have already accepted that something might happen to me, that I might be killed.

“I see how extreme people have become, how my Facebook friends (could) turn into real-life threats for me with their comments that it is halal (permitted) to kill atheists, apostates…how eager they are to kill to gain merits in heaven,” Halim was quoted as saying.

According to The Malay Mail, Shahidan said the Federal Constitution “does not mention atheists” and “it goes against the Constitution and human rights”.

He also called on the public to help identify atheist groups.

“They actually don’t want to be atheists but it happens because of the lack of religious education. They are misled with a new school of thought,” Shahidan said.

He urged religious groups especially the muftis to help educate Muslims who have become atheists and return them to their faith.

A photo of a gathering of the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Atheist Republic that went viral sparked an uproar among some Muslims and led to threats of death and violence against the group on social media.

According to FMT, the fears of Halim and other Malay atheists were compounded by remarks from Negeri Sembilan mufti Mohd Yusof Ahmad, who said in a report by Berita Harian that the penalty for apostasy under Islam is death “if they are stubborn and refuse to repent”.

Although Yusof acknowledged that Malaysia’s shariah courts cannot carry out such punishments, he called on religious authorities to increase their efforts to curb the spread of atheism.

But Halim said he had no interest in spreading his atheist ideologies.

“A person’s belief is a private matter. We don’t believe in proselytising what we believe in,” Halim told CNA.

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed told CNA that he would not encourage a campaign against atheists, adding that the matter of apostasy needs to be handled “with care”.

Another atheist who asked to be known as Chaidir said he still fasts during Ramadan when he is with his parents, who are unaware that he is an atheist.

He added that he was concerned about his friends who come from a lower socioeconomic background, saying this makes them more vulnerable.

“At least for me, I come from the middle class and have more access to help,” he said in the CNA report.

The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) director Abdul Aziz Jusoh said in a statement that the department was constantly monitoring not only atheists but all groups with the tendency to violate the laws, and hoped that the public could help curb the spread of such activities by filing complaints.

He added that the spread of atheist ideology in the Federal Territories could be subject to action under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997.

“Basically, any teachings of either atheist in nature or which are contradictory to the teachings of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (the followers of the four accepted schools of Sunni Islam) are rejected. In fact, atheism also goes against the Rukun Negara, namely ‘Believe in God’,” Abdul Aziz said.

Prior to this, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, as well as Jawi, would investigate Muslims who took part in the Atheist Republic gathering.

Commenting on the deputy minister’s statement, think tank Islamic Renaissance Front chairman Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa was quick to point out that when it came to faith, it was something between men and God.

He suggested several reasons why Muslims leave the faith, including the dogmatic teachings of Islam, the seemingly repressive way in which the religion is being administered and the rigid way religious teachers approach the subject.

“If the problem is in the way Islam is represented by the current administration, then we have to reflect on this. There should be self-introspection and self-reflection by the government and the Islamic religious authorities,” he told FMT.

“I do not see any justification if a state wants to interfere in an individual’s faith,” Farouk said.

The activist also reminded the government and the Islamic authorities that there was no coercion in Islam.

The MP for Parit Buntar Dr Mujahid Yusof suggested engaging those who were involved in atheism in a dialogue session.

“From whichever faith you are, atheism is unacceptable. It cannot be considered as a belief if they do not have any faith. The authorities should intervene if such beliefs encroach into the lives of Muslims and start to propagate”, Mujahid said.

Interestingly, a study has revealed that atheists are more likely to be viewed as immoral and capable of evil deeds than religious people, even by other atheists.

The findings reported recently in the journal Nature Human Behaviour suggest that atheists are more easily suspected of vile deeds than those who have religious beliefs, in spite of an increasingly secular world.

Even in places that are quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard and that people will do bad things unless they fear punishment from all-seeing gods.

According to the study, atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous.

Jon Worth/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Related report: Aug 8, Malaysia Probes Atheist Group After Uproar over Muslim Apostates