Myanmar lawmakers to debate law curbing religious conversions

Lawmakers in Myanmar debate proposed laws that aim to protect the country’s majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and interfaith marriages.

According to Reuters, the proposals come amidst rising sectarian tension in Myanmar, which has exploded in violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, killing at least 237 people and displacing more than 140,000 since June 2012.

The vast majority of victims were Muslims who make up only about 5 percent of Myanmar's population of 60 million.

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Religion has been a talking point for prime ministers lately — Humanist Society

In April, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared the United Kingdom to be a “Christian country”. This echoed similar remarks, which Cameron earlier made in 2011 at the University of Oxford that Britain was in danger of a “moral collapse” unless rescued by Christian values. However, such remarks were immediately refuted by many in the UK, not least the former leader of the Church of England.

This week, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, likewise commented about the privileged position of Islam in Malaysia. Najib added that humanism, secularism and liberalism are the basis for a new form of a religion known as “human rightism”.

Seeing government leaders make similar overarching statements about their country's majority religion, it is not difficult to conclude that humans remain divided by different sets of beliefs. The only common denominator is that we are all humans, on this shared planet Earth. The fates of all of us are interlinked, whether we like it or not.

This means that co-operation and mutual respect are essential to improve our common lot.

This is what humanism seeks to do. Humanism and human rights are not religions, as no gods, supernatural beliefs or worshipping is involved. Instead, humanism is a human-centred life stance, or philosophy, in which human beings are solely responsible to each give meaning to their own life.

Humanists seek an ethical life-style based on reason, tolerance and compassion.

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Malaysia: PM Najib Claims “Humanism” Threatening Islam

Religious tensions have been high in Malaysia in recent months, but by and large Prime Minister Najib has tried to stay out of the fray. Recent comments by Najib, however, are sure to ratchet up tensions in Malaysia. Apparently, the Prime Minister is worried about “humanism” and “Secularism” and its treat to Islam, the dominant religion in Malaysia.

Unfamiliar with humanism? The term is used to refer to a variety of strains of thoughts, all of which place humanity, not a deity, at the center of their belief systems. While there are numerous humanist thinkers and different belief systems, in general humanists emphasize logic, rationality, and reason over beliefs of faith.

With more and more people rejecting faith and religion in general, humanism has been growing as an increasingly powerful force. Humanism, while distinct from secularism, generally advocates from the removal of religion from government and similar institutions. For Malaysia, whose ruling party has deep Islamic roots, this could certainly be a threat.

Comments nothing short of inflammatory

Despite humanism’s clearly anti-organized religious roots, Prime Minister Najib claims that the belief system is becoming a new form of religion itself. Najib argued this new “religion” is centered on humanism, secularism, and liberalism.”

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Tensions rise between Uighurs and Chinese amid fears of new attacks

By Edward Barbour-Lacey

A vehicle from the Chinese police special tactical unit guards the sidewalk near the site of an attack near Beijing's Forbidden City last year. Pic: AP.

Tensions remain high in China following a spate of attacks linked to Muslim Uighur extremists, prompting Chinese authorities to increase security on the streets of capital Beijing.

The most recent suicide attack by suspected Uighur separatists occurred at a train station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, and killed three people and injured 79 more.  The two bombers were also killed in the explosion.

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Secular Malaysia made Islamic for political mileage, ex-minister says

KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 — Now tagged “Islamic”, Malaysia has always been a secular nation as prescribed in its constitution and rightfully remains so, former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said.

Its Islamic branding is a recent phenomenon, Zaid added, attributing it to Muslim leaders — including prime ministers — who chose to ignore the country’s founding document to score political brownie points, bolstering the erroneous world view of Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy.

“Not a single Muslim leader will want to say what should be said. That is to say Malaysia by its Constitution is secular,” the former Umno member told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview.

The debate over Malaysia’s status, whether as a secular nation or one that is Islamic, is rearing its head amid a backdrop of several controversies over PAS’ push to roll out hudud and increasing religious policing that has driven a wedge between the Malay-Muslim majority and the country’s minorities.

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Embrace of Atheism Put an Indonesian in Prison

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Growing up in a conservative Muslim household in rural West Sumatra, Alexander Aan hid a dark secret beginning at age 9: He did not believe in God. His feelings only hardened as he got older and he faked his way through daily prayers, Islamic holidays and the fasting month of Ramadan.

He stopped praying in 2008, when he was 26, and he finally told his parents and three younger siblings that he was an atheist — a rare revelation in a country like Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. They responded with disappointment and expressions of hope that he would return to Islam.

But Mr. Aan neither returned to Islam nor confined his secret to his family, and he ended up in prison after running afoul of a 2008 law restricting electronic communications. He had joined an atheist Facebook group started by Indonesians living in the Netherlands, and in 2011 he began posting commentaries outlining why he did not think God existed.

“When I saw, with my own eyes, poor people, people on television caught up in war, people who were hungry or ill, it made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Aan, now 32, said in an interview. “What is the meaning of this? As a Muslim, I had questioned God — what is the meaning of God?” He was released on parole on Jan. 27 after serving more than 19 months on a charge of inciting religious hatred.

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Indonesian party shrugs off accusation of 'religious fascism'

The political party of one of Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls on Thursday denied accusations by academics and rights activists that its manifesto risks creating “religious fascism” in the predominantly Muslim country.

According to the Diversity Movement for a Qualified General Election, a network of more than 35 organizations across the country, the religion section of the Gerindra Party’s manifesto stipulates that the government has an obligation to control the freedom to practice religious faith.

It also says the government is obliged to protect the teachings of “pure” religions recognized by the state from all kinds of defamation and deviation.

These religions include Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Hinduism.

However, this poses a threat to minority sects such as Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims, the coalition says.

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Setback for Asean as Brunei Adopts Shariah Law in Shock for Human Rights

By Alan Morison

PHUKET: Brunei is a dot on the map of Borneo, the smallest member of Asean and one of the smallest countries in the world. From May 1, it is adopting criminal shariah law.

There was a time when Brunei made international headlines because the Sultan of Brunei once ranked as world's richest man. His brother Jefri made news for spending the money in profligate fashion as fast as Brunei was able to make it from vast oil reserves.


Perhaps the next time Brunei makes news will be when a thief loses an arm or an adultress is stoned to death. Just why Brunei has chosen to adopt shariah law is a mystery.

Eight years ago, when I was part of a team that helped start a daily broadsheet newspaper there for the Sultan's 60th birthday, Brunei did not seem a place of extremes, but of moderation. 

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China may become the biggest Christian country in 2030

The Communist Party has hit out at predictions in The Telegraph that China is on course to become the world’s biggest Christian congregation, in a sign of Beijing’s deep unease at the rapid spread of Christianity within its borders.

In a recent interview with the paper, Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, said the number of Chinese Protestants could swell to around 160 million by 2025 with the total number of Christians exceeding 247 million by 2030.

That would see China move ahead of Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the world’s biggest Christian community.

However, the prediction appears to have gone down badly in Communist Party circles, with many senior leaders fearing the impact an increasingly powerful church could have on their ability to stay in power.

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Brunei delays use of sharia law

'Unavoidable circumstances' delay introduction of harsh islamic laws

Brunei has postponed its implementation of harsh Islamic punishments, due to begin Tuesday, that have earned condemnation from the United Nations and sparked rare criticism at home.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is reflected in the pavement after heavy rain hit Bandar Seri Begawan on April 23, 2013 in Brunei.

No confirmed new date was given for the start of the punishments -- which will eventually include flogging, the severing of limbs and death by stoning -- but an official told theBrunei Times they would begin "in the very near future".

The new criminal code brings in execution by stoning as the punishment for gay sex and adultery as well as rape.

It also introduces the death penalty for defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, blasphemy and declaring oneself a non-Muslim.

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