Law Religion

Is there actually a Malaysian law that governs places of worship?

You’ve heard about the cross protest in Taman Medan on 19 April, which resulted in the church, Community of Praise Petaling Jaya, taking down their cross. It sparked off a debate between IGP Khalid and Home Minister Zahid Hamidi are on whether or not it’s seditious.

Netizens are saying it’s seditious and calling for action to be taken against the 50 protesters. But the Lawyers for Liberty guys are saying…..it’s not?!? HUH?? Click here to find out why.

 

Even our PM said the protest might be illegal:

“Jika mereka didapati melanggar undang-undang negara, tindakan boleh diambil di bawah Akta Hasutan atau undang-undang sedia ada.” – Dato Seri Najib Razak, PM, The Malaysian Insider

Then MBPJ came into the picture classifying the church as unlicensed. They said the church hasn’t submitted an application to operate as a place of worship and had no permit to put up a cross on its building.

 

So if you wanna build a place of worship, what are the guidelines?

taman medan church before after cross down. Image from Malaysiakini (left) and The Malaysian Insider (right).

Image from Malaysiakini (left) and The Malaysian Insider (right).

We came across an article from the Minority Rights Group International stating that Malaysia imposes restrictions on building places of worship – while a mosque can be built in any neighbourhood, other religious places of worship cannot be built within 100m of a Muslim neighbourhood.

We found this on the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia’s FAQ page:

1. Does a church need to be registered with Government in order to exist?

It’s not necessary for a church to register with the Government based on Article 11(3) of the Federal Constitution. There are no conditions in the Constitution that requires a church to form a legal association before they can be regarded as lawful.

2. Are churches allowed to own land?

Yes, they areAs long as they are incorporated as private companies limited by guarantee or have set up a trust.

 

So is there actually a law that governs people worshipping in a building?

MBPJ’s Public Relations officer Zainun Zakaria pointed out Act 133 Section 70(12), but when we looked it up, the explanation wasn’t very comprehensive.

Screenshot from Act 133.

Screenshot from Act 133.

So the answer is…no…sort of…maybe?

OK, so basically this Act 133 is saying, if you build a church, you need to declare it. Let’s say you open a hairdresser shop, but at night you use it as a nightclub. Then if your neighbours complain about the nightclub, you’ll have to close your hairdressing shop. Something like that…

That’s confusing! So we called someone who would know about these things, the Council of Churches General Secretary Reverend Dr. Hermen ShastriWe started off by asking him if he knew how often church applications get dragged on or rejected.

“No. Our Constitution states there is freedom of religion. Every religious community just regulates themselves. There are no laws to reject your right to worship. Let’s say you rent a place tomorrow and bring 20 people along, you can.” – Dr. Hermen

Hermen Shastri. Image from The Malaysian Insider

CILISOS spoke to Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri. Image from The Malaysian Insider.

HUH!? Then why did MBPJ say something else? But ok, if we reviewed MBPJ’s public relations officer Zainun Zakaria’s exact words: “Shoplots that are converted into places of worship or meditation centres must comply to Act 133 Section 70(12) and a written application with the activities described must be submitted for approval. We need these compliance as to ensure safety of the people using the building.”

See the bolded words? Sounds very vanilla right? Maybe that’s coz MBPJ didn’t say people cannot worship. Does it sound more like they’re making sure people won’t jeopardise their own safety in the building? Dr. Hermen concurs that people can worship anywhere they want. As long as you’ve got no complaining neighbours, they authorities won’t react. So if people don’t complain about the ‘nightclub’, the hairdressing shop will be fine.

At the end of the day, Dr. Hermen says the town council has the final say when it comes to buildings. Meaning if they only allow you to use it as a hairdressing shop, not a nightclub, then you can’t open a nightclub.

But suddenly on 22 April, State Exco Elizabeth Wong told the church they could put the cross back up because places of worship CAN operate in commercial units without permits. Since 2008, commercial property and shop lots can be used if the Committee on Non-Islam Affairs is notified.

 

Do places of worship in Malaysia face a lot of problems?

Sri Muneswarar Kaliyaman Hindu temple demolition. Image from The Malaysian Insider.

DBKL demolished the Sri Muneswarar Kaliyaman Temple in Kuala Lumpur. Image from The Malaysian Insider.

We looked for other instances where places of worship were demolished. Many Hindu temples especially have been demolished, some of them very old.

“A house we can build again. A temple is about more than money. We are Indians, and this is our faith.” – Krishnan Ponnusamy, market trader, CS Monitor

And despite all the marches by Hindraf, town councils are still sending their bulldozers. Just recently, Hindraf called for an urgent meeting with Selangor MB Azmin Ali because they found out that 100 temples were reportedly earmarked for demolition. And out of nowhere, there’s been a hoax circulating around, about a fake police statement issued for the demolition of Batu Caves. Here it is:

fake batu caves demolition Image from The Malaysian Insider.

Screenshot of the fake statement. Image from The Malaysian Insider.

It’s not just Hindu temples. Christian churches and Buddhist temples also face the same danger. Do mosques ever get demolished? We only managed to find 1 case on a resort surau in Johor. If you guys know of any others, let us know.

But if we’re talking about numbers, it seems like Hindu temples are facing the brunt of demolition. According to Hindraf lawyer P. Uthayakumar, “Every 3 weeks, 1 Hindu temple was being demolished by government authorities or relocated next to IWK sewerage ponds.” We can’t find exact numbers for church, gurdwara and Buddhist temple demolition, but if you guys have the stats to share, we can put it in the article.

“It’s not like in the US. Over there anybody can open a place of worship – anything can. Even sects can open up a place because they have freedom of religion. Over here, the different religions cannot agree…so what to do?” – Dr. Hermen.

 

If there’s no law, then what can we do?

people taking down the cross taman medan. Image from mca.org.my)))

The cross being removed. Image from mca.org.my

To see a protest like this happening in multi-racial Malaysia is disheartening. We believe in the Constitutional guarantee to our freedom of religion. Yet, why are there so many challenges to live together with respect?

At the same time, we see Malaysians supporting each other. Like when The Star journalist Nicholas Cheng was looked out for by a Muslim fellow journalist on-site at the protest. We also found an article on Malaysiakini written by Hafidz Baharom, The Malaysian Insider columnist. He has an interesting viewpoint. Even an ulama said:

“Jangan kamu hina agama yang mereka sembah selain Allah. Kalau kamu hina maka orang lain akan menghina Allah.” – Dr. Fathul Bari Mat Jaya, Sekretariat Ulama Umno, The Malaysian Insider

If the demolitions are so skewed and the fact that there is no law, what can Malaysians do? If we want something to be done, we need to share this around so people are aware. So when the extremists are crying out, the moderates need to cry out even louder.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Wait. How did the LowYat fight turn into a racial incident?! | CILISOS - Current Issues Tambah Pedas!

  2. Hizzad Bin Dinno

    07/05/2015 at 12:55 pm

    Issues of religious incompatibilities have always existed, when Christianity entered Japan & Korea, the Confucian scholars of Korea and Japan (not forgetting the Shinto priests) protested to their leaders – Confucianism is greatly tied to family, society and governance – Christianity disrupted this “harmony” with it’s (then) alien concepts. Yah, wei. Confucius spent quite a long time to figure out a philosophical ideology for humans to live by in the Chinese sphere of influence, you know. And it worked. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, people in China, Korea and Japan got by with Confucian ideals and ideology.

    Meh. Religion is a drug. A good drug but a drug nonetheless. Homo est Deus, you know?

    If you ask me, we should do 2 things:

    First is to create a completely secular Government but not a secular country. We should welcome all religions in this country. All are free to practice whatever the heck you want to believe in but the gomen should neither deny the existance of God or Gods nor acknowledge one.
    Second: We should tax religion, monthly. 1-5% floating income tax for the layman practitioner and 15-25% floating income tax for religious organizations. The tax should be a floating tax so that the poor are not burdened by it. You want to pray? You pay. Otherwise, you’re an atheist/agnostic on your IC, the gomen won’t recognize you as a member of your religion and you are not entitled to whatever religious privileges the gomen will provide.

    I heard tell that there is this super “messiah” born in Africa recently. The fella was born Christian but supposedly, when he was 5 years old he suddenly declared in his Church that he was converting to Islam. A 5 year old. Then, I was told that he somehow converted his ENTIRE church to Islam. That kid will one day become a cult leader with his own brand of Islam one day (if he exists). This is the nature of religion – it’s a like a psychological control system for your mind i.e. mental chains. Sometimes the chains are “good”, it keeps you from doing something stupid, sometimes… not so much. God knows what will happen if that kid from Africa comes to great power. But all that – all that religio-nonsense becomes invalidated if they are taxed because with taxes comes the need to reorganize and restructure. Cult leaders and Imams become CEOs and need to watch their finances more closely. They will be more worried about their wallets than their proverbial “souls”. Lol. They won’t be screaming Jihad! Jihad! Nuclear Jihad! every other day like they do in Iran – a purely theocratic Islamic country.

    Taxing religions is both right and proper – all religious institutions can accrue monies via donations (tithes), sales of religious goods and paraphernalia and even gomen grants. By taxing religion we can use the money to build bigger and better religious buildings – Grand cathedrals, mosques and temples. The biggest in the world. Haha. As a government, why should they let a group run around collecting tithes from the general populace and not pay taxes? Wei, you know ah, there are two things you cannot escape from – death and taxes. Why should religious institutions be exempt from this rule of “life”? The RC Church is the most richest church in the world – why the heck is Italy not as rich as America? How the heck did this sect of Christianity managed to procure it’s own sovereign land from Italy? Poor Italy. Got a huge cash cow in his backyard but cannot milk it but have to spend money to feed it. Hahahahah.

    Taxation of religion also brings with it – validation. Issues like the Taman Medan cross protest would be invalidated because if they paid their tax, then by law, they are allowed to practice and promote their beliefs. No one can say otherwise. Most people are satisfied with an alien religion when said religion contributes to their well-being (taxes are supposed to be used to build roads and schools not shoes for the wives of leaders), they usually shut up when they know that the other guy is contributing to the country as much as he is.

    Don’t want to pay tax? You can be a secret adherent to your religion, atheist on the outside, zealot on the inside. But seriously, if you like money more than your religion, better be an atheist.

  3. n305er

    27/04/2015 at 8:20 am

    I guess being asked to do a few consideration is better than being demolished.

    Well at least they can do the proper registrations and paper work to get their church going.

    Also, the fence in front of the Goddess of Mercy temple in Penang has been torn down by MBPP earlier this month because their permit has expired and they didn’t get it renewed.

    Those paperwork with the government authorities can be a pain in the behind mostly but they should at least give warnings and guidance before sending in the demolition crew.

    Also, I guess many undocumented cases of mosque or surau have adjusted many things such as their speaker volume or direction for their Azan after complaints by neighbors.

    It shows that many Malaysias are generally very cooperative and tolerable people (When driving and double parking is not involved). If only the government departments can cooperate better with the public, then news agencies will have a lot harder time to look for things to report.

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