ASIA/MALAYSIA - Indigenous people of Malaysia protest against forced conversions

Thursday, 18 July 2019 human rights   religious freedom   freedom of conscience   religious minorities   indigenous  

Kuala Lumpur (Agenzia Fides) - Malaysia’s indigenous community wants the government to end the practice of coerced conversion to Islam in the Muslim-majority country and show respect for others and their culture. This is what Agenzia Fides learns from local sources that report the situation of the "Orang Asli", the original inhabitants of the Malaysian peninsula, who today claim that the insidious nature of the country’s Islam-first policy is "diluting their way of life without their consent".
As Fides learns, a group of Orang Asli recently handed over a memorandum to the nation’s parliament urging Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government to "halt the practice of sending Muslim preachers to convert their community to Islam".
The group's spokesman, Anjang Aluej, said that "the issue had been ongoing for many years: many of our memebers were surprised to find that they had even been registered as 'Muslims' in their identity cards". "It is a big offense to us as we should be given prior and informed consent before such changes are made", he said, complaining of a violation of religious freedom. "It is as if we do not have the freedom to choose our religion. Not only are we slowly losing our land, we are also losing our identity".
And he also emphasized that this also applies to Christian proselytizers who "come into our villages to spread the Christian faith". The spokesman then claimed that indigenous children "were also being subjected to discrimination and bullying in government schools". The Memorandum also highlighted commercial activities like logging and mining on their traditional land, which put the life of local communities at risk. The Orang Asli communities discovered that there were plans by the government to build hydroelectric dams near their villages, potentially forcing them to leave their homes and asked to stop those projects. The group also noted that Malaysian authorities had not been able to prevent encroachment and hunting taking place by outsiders on their land.
In addition, government services such as family planning programs that included distribution of medicines has not been adequately explained and were viewed with suspicion by the community", he noted.
The living conditions of the Orang Asli came into the limelight after the death of 12 indigenous people caused by measles, which occurred in recent weeks. The Malaysian Health Ministry later acknowledged that the villagers had been suffering from malnourishment and had not been vaccinated.
The Orang Asli include various non-Malay ethnic groups, indigenous of the Malacca peninsula and neighboring islands. They are officially registered in 18 tribes, grouped into three main groups. Traditionally animists, several members of the community have embraced Islam or Christianity over the years, sponsored by Muslim preachers or Pastors of Christian evangelical groups. (SD) (Agenzia Fides, 18/7/2019)