Moderation under threat as Malaysia faces Islamic tide

Moderation under threat as Malaysia faces Islamic tide, by Amanda Hodge.

For years Zahari has lived a double life in Malaysia: an observant Muslim in public and a devoted atheist in private.

But it all very nearly came crashing down last week when a photograph was uploaded to Facebook showing smiling members of his Kuala Lumpur-based atheist club at a rare social gathering of the largely online group.

The uproar in multi-religious, multiracial, moderate Malaysia was intense and intimidating.

Senior government ministers warned that members could be prosecuted for propagating atheism and demanded any Muslims involved be “hunted down” and re-educated.

Zahari* says he was careful to stay out of pictures taken that day, but has spent the past week looking over his shoulder.

Some in the photograph have received death threats and gone into hiding, fearing attacks from vigilantes or detention by Malaysia’s religious authorities in one of the country’s religious re-education centres.

Though the centres are used mostly for the state’s deradicalisation program, they are also used to guide “deviant” Muslims considered to have strayed from the religious path.

Once a country goes Muslim, there is no turning back — except by outside military conquest, as in Spain.

hat-tip Stephen Neil