Religious law in Malaysia

Revathi Massosai was born to converts to Islam but brought up a Hindu by her Hindu grandmother. Revathi was sent to an Islamic re-education centre for six months for marrying a Hindu and refusing to return to Islam.

Revathi Massosai and her child in the court buildingRevathi Massosai and her child in the court building

Themes: Religious family and personal identity law

Malaysia is highly religiously diverse with a Sunni Muslim majority of 62%. The country has a dual legal system in which Muslims are required to follow Shariah laws governed by religious courts.
Blasphemy is criminalized at the federal level in Malaysia’s secular Penal Code, and at least five states criminalize apostasy with fines, imprisonment, and/or detention in a “rehabilitation” centre.

Under Malaysia’s Islamic laws, having Muslim parents makes one a Muslim, Muslims are not allowed to change their religion and Muslim women are not permitted to many non-Muslims. Revathi Massosai’s parents had converted from Hinduism to Islam before she was born. However, Revathi was brought up by her Hindu grandmother as a Hindu and married a Hindu man in a religious ceremony. The authorities became aware of the marriage when the couple tried to register the birth of their child. Revathi tried to change her religious registration to Hindu, but the religious court sent her to an Islamic re-education centre for six months for marrying a Hindu and refusing to return to Islam. When Revathi continued to refuse to be a Muslim, she was declared a minor and she and her daughter were placed in the custody of her Muslim parents. 

In parts of Malaysia Islamic legislation is becoming more stringent. In November 2021, a new legal code came into effect in Kelantan province containing 24 provisions that all Muslims in the state are obliged to follow. These include the criminalization of attempting to leave Islam, distorting Islamic teachings, and disrespecting the month of Ramadan. Penalties include imprisonment of up to three years and a fine or corporal punishment.

Forum Asia
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom