Thursday, August 03, 2006


In Malaysia, freedom of right to practice religion is a fundamental right which is enshrined under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

Article 11(1) of the Constitution states:-
(1). Every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion and subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

The limitation as provided in Clause 4 states that State and Federal laws may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrines or believes among persons professing the religion of Islam.

Thus, Article 11 in effect clearly envisages that a person has:-

Firstly, the right to embrace and profess a religion of his choice;

Secondly, the right to practice, perform and participate in rituals and practices of his religion and this includes the right to congregate with others of the same faith in a common place of worship; and

Thirdly, the right to propagate the tenets and teaching of his religion subject to and being mindful of Article 11(4) of the Constitution

This article however seeks to explore specifically Article 11 (3) of the Federal Constitution.

Religion is practiced by profession of faith and as such any meaningful practice of religion would obviously requires people professing the same faith to be able to congregate together at a common place of worship in order to be able to perform the rituals and practices of the religion. This constitutional guarantee is indeed provided under Article 11(3).

Article 11(3) of the Constitution states:

Every religious groups has the right to:-

(a). to manage its own religious affairs;

(b). to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; and

(c). to acquire and to own property and hold and administer it in accordance with the law.

Regretfully, this constitutional guarantee in Article 11(3) is bridled with obstacles.

Presently, Non Muslim are facing difficulties in obtaining not only land for the construction of places of worship but worst of all applications for places of worship are either rejected or approvals not forthcoming. Adding to these problems are the insensitive actions of local authorities in demolishing places of worship. Infact in recent months many Hindu temples in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan has been demolished by the authorities. More often then not these temples were demolished without the authorities providing a proper alternative place and even if an alternative land is provided, it comes with absurd condition such that the temple cannot be more than 10 feet by 10 feet ! (note: for comparison, a graveyard is usually 6 feet by 6 feet ) It is no surprise that in recent months there have been a number of skirmishes when temples were being demolished.

Further, it does not necessarily mean that even if the authorities have given approval, construction can commence and or continue unhindered. Sometimes even after approval, the construction of the places of worship can continue to touch a raw nerve. Thus, incidents of objections, protest and even stop order and revocation of approval are not uncommon.
The Shah Alam Catholic church is a classic example where approval granted was revoked and the authorities then alienated another piece of land and midway through construction the approval and the alienation of the land was once again revoked. Once again the Catholic Church had to make application for permission for approval and alienation of land to construct a church. Since approval was not forthcoming and faced without any choice, a legal action was filed. Good sense finally prevailed when the matter was resolved out of court when the authorities relented and approved the alienation and construction of a Catholic Church. Imagine it took the Non Muslim ( Catholics ) almost 20 years to enjoy the constitutional guarantee under Article 11(3) of the Constitution.

This is rather unfortunate particularly when we claim to be multi cultural, multi religious and multi racial, we are also quick to cast aside the spirit of tolerance and understanding. Worst of all the Non Muslims find it difficult to reconcile how the authorities are steadfast in refusing permission for places of worship can readily and expeditiously approve “rumah urut badan dan batin”, massage parlours masquerading as brothels and even love hotels. To add insult to injury these establishments which are mushrooming at an alarming rate are located in residential areas.

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