Saturday, August 14, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Forced Piety

It's Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.  When I lived in Indonesia, some of my Muslim friends fasted, some fasted on the first and last day, and some didn't fast at all.  In Malaysia it's the same, except that the people who don't fast have to be discreet because they are afraid of being caught by the religious police.

The religious police report  to the Shyariah court.  That court can whip, imprison and fine people for not going to the mosque, drinking alcohol, dressing immodestly, having sex without being married, and so on.

Malaysia is one of very few countries in the world to have a religious police force.  The others are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, and the semi-autonomous province of Aceh in Indonesia.

Whenever I see the religious police around, it always strikes me that I'm getting a first row seat into seeing what it was like living in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, or in the Puritan east coast colonies in the USA in the 1600s.

As I've said before, I don't understand religion. But it seems to me that if fasting and other religious activities don't come from the heart, forcing people to fake piety doesn't do much good.

The activities of the religious police are a hot topic in Malaysia.  If you're interested in a local point of vie I recommend you read Zeffri Yusof's article.

18 comments:

Inigo Flufflebum and d'Artagnan Rumblepurr said...

How interesting, we had no idea! A whole month of fasting, how hard that must be!

The Chair Speaks said...

Agree! Religion should come from the heart!

Katnip Lounge said...

Cripes! I cannot imagine living with religeous police. I do NOT have patience for cr@p like that...are you subject to those rules as well?

Cheetara said...

Yup,I totally agree that religion should come from the heart. A long time ago I was also guilty of succumbing to pressure from society and fasted to avoid confrontation and also judgement from my peers. Feigning piety was a sad,sad,thing to do. It leaves one feeling dissatisfied and hypocritical. These days I don't bother to fast unless I really want to. To all the people that look at me and decide to put me in a neat box labelled 'Devil's Spawn',I suggest they take a loooooong hard look at themselves first before passing judgement on others.

Au and Target said...

Katnip: In theory the religious police only bother Muslims, however, I have friends who have been harassed because they look Indonesian and the RP presume they are Muslim. Also, we've had Chinese Christians being arrested by ordinary police for holding hands - however, that appears to be tangled up with the police asking for a bribe and being refused.

Hannah and Lucy said...

We never heard of religious police before - we always thought that your beliefs were your own business.

Cezar and Léia said...

Hello dear Ellen,
I need to confess that I didn't know what was the meaning of Ramadan until some colleagues from my French class explain about it to me.It's sooo different "culture", hard to imagine.
Your post is very interesting, and as our friend The Chair Speaks said, I also think that religion should come from heart.
Ahhh and thanks for so gentle words in Luna's blog, and...not Belgium, we are living in Luxembourg! LOL
In fact Luxembourg is a small country neighbor to Belgium.;)
HAve a wonderful weekend
love to Au and Target
hugs
Léia ( and little Luna )

TK and Squashies said...

I couldn't agree more. No one can be forced to believe. Just when I think/hope our species is becoming more tolerant I am reminded that I live with a US bias.

Your posts always make me think. I thank you for that!

Mishkat said...

We have some Muslim friends here who fast for Ramadan - and some who don't. (It reminds me a little bit of Lent in the Catholic church.) I think it's fine IF people want to do it, but the idea of religious police enforcing it is quite scary - and mind-boggling. We have some Iranian friends who have told me that that happens there, but I had no idea that it went on in Malaysia too.

I liked Zeffri Yusof's article a lot - thanks for linking to it.

BeadedTail said...

I had no idea about this. It sounds like forced religion to me which isn't what I think religion should be but obviously the religious police think differently. It's so interesting learning about other cultures.

Live Out Loud said...

Wow. I agree with you about forced piety. Religion has to come from the heart, from your own faith and commitment. It's great to have a support structure and a community but a police force? I never heard of that - except in history class back in school, of course.

This gently reminds me about the great ideals of the U.S. It's (so0000) not perfect but the ideals are and I'm so fortunate to have been raised with tolerance and openness to the point I can't even fathom this type of behavior elsewhere.

(Is that good or bad???)

Pam said...

Wow! I never knew that happened in Malaysia. Definitely religion should be from the heart and not forced onto people. I was wondering if you were subjected to that as well.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

When I was in school, the teachers used to publicly shame Muslim students who didn't fast, and admonish non-Muslims for eating or drinking in front of Muslim students and teachers. Is it any wonder then that we hated school? I tried fasting during Ramadhan on many occasions. It was no big deal. Sure, I missed my coffee, but I didn't get all grumpy and rude and self-important just from fasting. And I didn't break my fast by pigging out on greasy food and practicing food wastage at buffets. I fasted because I felt it was good to know what the poor experience each day, going to work on a hungry stomach, having limited access to food and water.

Mathew Titus the Great said...

Religion is - and always has been - strickly for the poor masses who cannot afford to have their own personal set of supplicants! ;)

Neri said...

That court can whip, imprison and fine people for not going to the mosque, drinking alcohol, dressing immodestly, having sex without being married, and so on. <-- well, this is not entirely true, Ellen. We don't make people who don't go to mosque, dressing immodestly, having sex without marriage actually go to prison. there are of course various degrees of punishment but that is a topic for another day. :) as for the religious police rounding up people who are not fasting during this ramadhan, in Islam we are all brothers and it is our responsibility to adhere to the rules(in this case, fasting during the day) and it is every muslim's responsibility to remind each other and to stop wrongdoings. that is all. but with any other religion, i belief, a person is solely responsible for their own actions :). i appreciate getting to read about your thoughts, and everyone's on this as well.

Neri said...

but with any other religion, i belief, a person is solely responsible for their own actions :) <--- i meant to say, but Islam, like any other religion, a person is also solely responsible for their own actions. :)

Au and Target said...

Got this from a reader:

Man fined for missing prayers:
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=%2F2006%2F4%2F27%2Fnation%2F14074076&sec=nation

mizzyN said...

Before I got married I was caught by these religious police at a park while dating my then boyfriend (He is my hubby now). Hahahha, it was a funny story actually as I made them feel guilty of springing up on us by saying that they shouldn't have done that as they could be robbers. I told them about some news I read in the paper, where a couple was robbed by a fake police while dating in a secluded area.