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Malaysia: Kedah State Considering Anti-Shia Law

(Aug. 27, 2013) On August 25, 2013, during a speech at the opening of Malaysia’s Kedah State Assembly, the Sultan of Kedah endorsed a draft legislation to ban versions of Islam other than Sunnism. In effect, this is a move against Shia Islam, the second major branch of the religion. (Ili Shazwani, Anti-Shia Bill Gets Royal Backing, NEW STRAITS TIMES (Aug. 26, 2013).) About 60% of the Malaysian population follows Islam, about 20% are Buddhists, a little less than 10% are Christians, and the rest are Hindus or followers of Chinese traditions or other beliefs. (Malaysia, THE WORLD FACTBOOK (last visited Aug. 26, 2013) [click on “People and Society”].)

The majority of the Malaysian Muslims follow the Sunni tradition, and Shiites have long faced discrimination and mistreatment. In December 2010, 200 Shiites were arrested in a raid led by a state official who described Shiites as “fanatical” and added, “Shiite doctrine is more dangerous than other deviant teachings (as)… Shiite followers in Iran and India are fighting against other Muslims merely because of different faiths.” (Malaysia Shiites Harassed and Face Uncertain Future, AL ARABIYA NEWS (Feb. 12, 2011).)

The Constitution of the country states “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation” without specifying any single branch of Islam. (Constitution, art. 3, § 1, CONSTITUTION FINDER (last visited Aug. 26, 2013).) However, the United States Department of State report on religion in Malaysia, a part of the International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, noted that “[t]here were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of detentions. The government promoted Sunni Islam above other religions, including other forms of Islam.” (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Malaysia (last visited Aug. 26, 2013) [select Malaysia from the drop-down list of countries].)

The Kedah State law being considered would empower local religious leaders to enforce the anti-Shia ban. The Sultan stated in his speech that “Shia teachings are rejected by the national and state Fatwa councils. As such, the government should take action against those who spread them.” (Shazwani, supra.) Most of the Malay peninsula states of Malaysia are headed by sultans, who are hereditary rulers. (THE WORLD FACTBOOK, supra.)