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ICC Note: Au contraire, monsieur. While we agree that Malaysia is an Islamic State (even though less than 60% of the population is Muslim), we would say that the PM is being quite disingenuous when he says non Muslims are not denied rights. Christians cannot openly share their faith, Muslim women can’t marry Christian men, and all non Muslims are discriminated against when it comes to legislative power and positions of influence in the country.

Stop harping about whether Malaysia is an Islamic state, Mahathir says

LANGKAWI, Malaysia : Malaysia is an Islamic state even though it is not officially called that, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday, stepping into a national debate over religion that has raised concern among the country’s minority Chinese and Indians.

“Officially we are not an Islamic state, neither are we a secular state. But by definition, as recognized by most international societies, Malaysia is an Islamic state,” Mahathir told reporters.

But that doesn’t mean non-Muslims are deprived of their rights, Mahathir said.

Concerns have mounted among the country’s large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities that their rights are becoming subordinate to Islam following a recent series of religious disputes that ended in favor of ethnic Malay Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 percent of Malaysia ‘s 26 million people.

Malaysia ‘s Constitution does not clearly say whether the country is secular or theocratic, but states that Islam is the official religion. It also guarantees freedom of worship for non-Muslims.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak upset minorities and civil rights groups by saying Malaysia is an Islamic state. On Saturday Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Malaysia is not a theocratic state, but neither is it a secular state.

Mahathir said too much talk about such issues could prove harmful for the multiracial country, in which Chinese comprise about 25 percent of the population and Indians 10 percent.

“I think it is not leading us anywhere except to create a lot of problems,” he said.

“People have never suffered in Malaysia . There may be cases of those people who want to convert and all that, but otherwise we have lived together — people of different races, different religions — without any problems. Why are we going to talk about this problem?”

Much of the debate over Malaysia ‘s identity has been triggered by the reluctance of civil courts to make rulings in cases involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. The courts have instead referred the cases to Shariah courts, which govern the conduct and lives of Muslims. The Shariah courts have invariably ruled in favor of the Muslims.

The most controversial case was that of Lina Joy, a woman born to Muslim parents who failed to get the Federal Court to recognize her conversion to Christianity. The court rejected her appeal to have the “Islam” tag removed from her national identity card in May, saying that only the Shariah court could rule over that.