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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #46

MALAYSIA

 

Country rank

46

Persecution score

63.25

Last year’s rank

40

Region

Asia

Persecution Type

Islamic oppression (Strong), Dictatorial paranoia (Medium)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

32,869,000

Christians

2,991,000 (9.1%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Islam

Government

Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy

Leader

Sultan Abdullah of Pahang

Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Southeast Asia through:

• Prayer support

ABOUT MALAYSIA

What does persecution look like in Malaysia?

In Malaysia, the government and religious groups monitor churches and it is illegal to share the gospel with Malay Muslims. Converts from Islam to Christianity experience the most persecution, as every ethnic Malay is expected to be Muslim. These believers are often forced to hide their faith and meet in secret. If discovered, they could face divorce from their spouse, rejection from their family—or even risk being sent to a re-education camp.  

This is why pressure is most extreme in the family and community life spheres for Malay believers. Whoever leaves Islam is not just going against Malaysia’s constitution, but also against society at large—pitting believers against their own family members and neighbors.  

However, apart from the abduction of certain Christians in recent years, persecution has rarely been violent in Malaysia. Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth have been missing for more than three years now, after they disappeared from their home in the state of Selangor. Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted while driving on a busy road in the city of Petaling Jaya and has been missing since February 2017. His whereabouts are still unknown, and according to the findings of the country`s human rights commission, Malaysia’s Special Branch of the police was involved in the abduction. 

How women experience persecution

In Malaysia, the legal rights of women and girls are undermined by provisions that make exceptions for Shariah law. Civil society organizations stated in a February 2018 CEDAW report that, “Muslim women now enjoy far less rights in marriage, divorce, guardianship of their children and inheritance than their non-Muslim counterparts.” The report also stated: ”Other areas of gross discrimination against women under the Islamic Family Laws include divorce, polygamy and child marriage.” 

These laws open avenues of vulnerability for females converting from Islam to Christianity, the most prevalent being the threat of rape and/or forced marriage to a Muslim. Since the minimum legal age for marriage in the Islamic Family Laws (16 for female) can be lowered with the consent of a Shariah judge, it is possible for young girls to be married. This law can make girls who convert to Christianity much more vulnerable. The federal government tried to act against child marriages, but encountered the embittered resistance of conservative Muslim federal states. In some cases, young Christian women are abducted and registered as Muslim. 

This is an effective tactic because once Christian women are registered as Muslim, there is no mechanism for reversing this, even in the event of divorce. Additionally, all children born as a result of the so-called “marriage” are also legally considered Muslim. 

A small number of converts are thought to have fled or gone into hiding to avoid this kind of religiously motivated family retribution.  

How men experience persecution

Despite the abolishment of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) in 2012, anyone who is suspected of violating internal security runs the risk of being interrogated, regardless of race or religion. This risk is high for Christians due to the latent fear that Christians are on a mission to “Christianize Malaysia,” a claim repeated by interested circles time and time again. This risk of interrogation affects men more than women, as women are not usually seen as leaders in Malaysian society. The persecution typically impacting Christian men comes in the form of bullying at the hands of vigilante justice or monitoring by religious authorities. 

What has changed this year?

Though Malaysia dropped by six ranks on the 2021 World Watch List from last year, the reality of persecution in the country remained largely unchanged. While there was some hope for a new openness in Malaysia after elections in 2018, to a great extent this has not happened. The hopes that came with the new government and its seeming commitment to more religious liberty have been replaced with disappointment, and persecution against followers of Jesus has not changed much at all.  

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

There are no hotspots of persecution for Christians in Malaysia. However, the Islamic missionary work among Christians—especially among the Bumiputra people group—focuses on East Malaysia. As the number of migrating Muslims grew in the region, specifically in Sabah State, the area’s religious affiliation ceased to be Christian-majority several years ago. 

How can I help Christians in Malaysia

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Malaysia?

Given the increasing restrictions that the Malaysian government and society places upon the local churches and new believers, Open Doors calls for prayers from Christians, worldwide. Prayers are especially needed for new believers who are thirsty for spiritual nourishment and fellowship. 

Pray

-Pray for believers who seek to meet in secret. Ask God to give them meaningful times of worship and fellowship—along with the protection they need to gather safely.  

-Pray for religious freedom across Malaysia. Today, it is illegal to share the gospel with Malay Muslims—and it is also unlawful for Malay Muslims to leave Islam for Christianity. 

-Pray for Malay believers who have left Islam and are often isolated and cut off from their family members for embracing Jesus. Ask God to give them special grace and that they would know and feel they are never alone.  

-Pray for wisdom and boldness for church leaders as they lead their people in discipleship. Ask God to give Malay believers unity and strength to live out their faith through every trial they face. 

A PRAYER FOR MALAYSIA 

Dear Father, we ask that You would break down the strongholds that seek to contain the Good News of Jesus in Malaysia. Please provide a way for more people to hear the gospel, receive it, and find true hope in the Lord. Strengthen the Church in this season, Lord, and prepare her for the work You have laid out for her to do. We pray that You would grow your Kingdom in Malaysia in a powerful way and show many Malay Muslims who Christ is. We ask all of this in Your Holy name, Jesus. Amen.  

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters from the countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.