Hinduism in Malaysia

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Hinduism is the fourth largest religion in Malaysia. About 1.78 million Malaysian residents (6.3% of the total population) are Hindus, according to 2010 Census of Malaysia.[1]

Most Malaysian Hindus are settled in western parts of Peninsular Malaysia. The Malaysian state with highest percentage of state's population as Hindus, according to 2010 Census, is Negeri Sembilan (13.4%), followed by Selangor (11.6%), Perak (10.9%) and Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur (8.5%).[2] The state with least percentage of Hindu population is Sabah (0.1%).

Indians, along with other ethnic groups such as Chinese, began arriving in Malaysia in ancient and medieval era. In 2010, Malaysian Census reported there were 1.91 million citizens of Indian ethnic origin.[3] About 1.64 million of Indian ethnic group Malaysians (86%) are Hindus. About 0.14 million non-Indian ethnic group Malaysian people also profess being Hindus.[4]

Malaysia gained its independence from British colonial empire in 1957, thereafter declared its official state religion as Islam, and adopted a constitution that is mixed. On one hand, it protects freedom of religion (such as practice of Hinduism), but on the other hand Malaysian constitution also restricts religious freedom.[5][6][7] In recent decades, there have been increasing reports of religious persecution of Hindus, along with other minority religions, by various state governments of Malaysia and its Sharia courts.[8][5] Hindu temples built on private property, and built long before Malaysian independence, have been demolished by Malaysian government officials in recent years.[9]

History[edit]

Similar to the Indonesian Archipelago, the native Malays practised an indigenous animism and dynamism beliefs before the arrival of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

A Golden Lord Murugan Statue viewed from the ground before entering the Hindu Batu Cave temple.

It is unclear when the first Indian voyages across the bay of Bengal occurred. Conservative estimates place the earliest arrivals to Malay shores at least 1,700 years ago.[10] The growth of trade with India brought coastal people in much of the Malay world into contact with Hinduism. Thus, Hinduism, Indian cultural traditions and the Sanskrit language began to spread across the land. Temples were built in the Indian style and local kings began referring to themselves as Raja and more desirable aspects of Indian government were adopted.[11]

Subsequently, small Hindu Malay states started to appear in the coastal areas of Malay peninsular notably the Gangga Negara (2nd century), Langkasuka (2nd century), and Kedah (4th century). Between 7th and 13th centuries many of these small, often prosperous peninsular maritime trading states came under the loose control of Srivijaya empire, a great Hindu Malay kingdom centred in Palembang, Sumatra.[12]

Colonial era

Many Indian settlers came to Malaya from South India during the British colonial rule from early 19th through mid 20th century.[13] Many came to escape poverty and famines in British India, and work as indentured labourers in initially tin mining operations and coffee, sugar plantations, and later rubber plantations; they worked with immigrant Chinese laborers on these sites.[14][15] Some English-educated Indians were appointed to more professional positions. Most were hired through British colonial labor offices in Nagapattinam or Madras (now Chennai).

In early years, the retention rates of Hindus in Malaysia were low and with time, fewer Hindus volunteered to live in Malaysia. The colonial rule adopted a Kangani system of recruitment, where the trusted Hindu worker was encouraged and rewarded for recruiting friends and family from India to work in British operations in Malaysia.[16] The family and friends peer pressure reduced labor turnover and increased permanent migration into Malaysia. The kangani system led to vast majority of Hindus coming from certain parts of South Indian Hindu community.[14] So concentrated was the immigration from South India, that the British colonial Malayan Administration named laws to highlight the focussed group, and enacted the Tamil Immigration Fund Ordinance in 1907.[17] A minority of Indian immigrants to Malaysia during this period came from Northern India and Sri Lanka.

The Malaysian Hindu workers during the British era were among the most marginalised. They were forced to live in closed plantation societies in frontier zones and the plantation symbolised the boundary of their existence. Racial segregation was enforced, and British anti-vagrancy laws made it illegal for Indian Hindus (and Chinese Buddhists) to enter the more developed European zoned regions. The Hindus spoke neither English nor Malay languages, and remained confined to interacting within their own community.[15]

After Malaysia gained independence in 1957, the local governments favored Bumiputera who were ethnic Muslims, and refused citizenship to Indians and Chinese ethnic groups who had been living in Malaysia for decades during British colonial era.[15][18] They were declared illegal aliens and they could not apply for government jobs or own land. Racial and communal riots followed that targeted Hindus (Indians), Buddhists (Chinese) and Christians (Euroasians), such as the 1957 Chingay riot in Penang, 1964 Malaysian racial riots, the 1967 Hartal riots, and 13 May 1969 riots.[19] Singapore, which in early 1960s was part of Malaysia, seceded from the union and became an independent city state. The Malaysian government passed a 1970 constitutional amendment and then the 1971 Sedition law that made it illegal to publicly discuss Malaysian citizenship methodology, national language, native population that Malaysian constitution declares as automatically Muslim, and the right to power of Sultans in each Malaysian state.[20] It also formalized the discrimination against non-natives and denied citizenship to non-Muslim residents who were originally from different ethnicities. Many Malay Hindus emigrated, quite many to India (while Chinese returned to China, and Christians to Europe). The Hindu population of 12.8% of total Malay population in 1950s, began its decline thereafter.

Culture[edit]

Deepavali decorations in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

Malaysian Hinduism is diverse, with large urban temples dedicated to specific deities, and smaller temples located on estates. The estate temples generally follow the tradition of the Indian region from which the temples' worshippers originate. Many people follow the Shaivite, or Saivite, tradition (worship of Shiva), of Southern India. However, there are also some Vaishnava Hindus in Malaysia as well, many of them of North Indian extraction, and these Hindus worship in temples such as the Geeta Ashram in Seksyen 52, Petaling Jaya, or the Lakshmi-Narayan Temple in Kampung Kasipillay, Kuala Lumpur. Services in these temples are usually conducted in Hindi and English.

Folk Hinduism is the most prevalent variety, including spiritualism and worship of local gods.

Thaipusam festival celebration by Malaysian Hindus.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness also has a number of followers in Malaysia, and maintains temples in Kuala Lumpur and also all over Malaysia. The Ratha-Yatra festival is held once a year in every temple throughout Malaysia approximately 10 to 12 Ratha Yatra which will be held usually end of the Year, when the Deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra are placed on a chariot which is pulled through the streets by devotees, accompanied by a party chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. There also another group of Hare Krishna such as (The follower of ritvik,follower of Hansa Duta) There is also gaudiya math and saraswath math.... basically they sampradayaa and the Hare Krishna are same only some minor differencec.

There are also few devotees of Sri vaishnava (Ramanucharya), Madhva Sampradayaa, as well as Sai Baba.

Since the Second World War a revival of Hinduism has occurred among Indian Malaysians, with the foundation of organisations and councils to bring unity or to promote reform.

Hindu religious festivals

Some of the major Hindu festivals celebrated every year include Deepavali (festival of lights), Thaipusam (Lord Murugan festival), Pongal (harvest festival) and Navaratri (Durga festival).

Deepavali is the primary Hindu festival in Malaysia. The Malaysian Hindus traditionally hold open houses over Deepavali, where people of different ethnic groups and religion are welcomed in Hindu homes to share the festival of light as well as taste Indian food and sweets.[21]

Regional distribution of Hindus[edit]

A South Indian style Hindu temple in Malaysia.
Entrance of Batu Malai Sri Subramaniar temple.

Malaysian states with more than 25,000 Hindus per 2010 Census,[22]

Malaysian
State
Hindu population
(2010 Census)
Johor 221,128
Kedah 130,958
Melaka 46,717
Negeri Sembilan 136,859
Pahang 60,428
Perak 255,337
Pulau Pinang 135,887
Selangor 631,980
W.P. Kuala Lumpur 142,130

According to the 2010 Census of Malaysia, there were 1,777,694 Hindus living there (6.27% of the population). Of the Hindus, 1,644,072 were Indian, 111,329 were non-citizens, 14,878 were Chinese, 4,474 Others, and 2,941 Tribals (Including 554 Iban in Sarawak).[23] 86.18% of all the Malaysian Indians were Hindu.

Persecution of Hindus[edit]

Hindu deity Hanuman at Malai Sri Subramaniar Temple in Malaysia.

Malay law[edit]

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. The constitution of Malaysia declares that Islam is the only religion of true Malay people and that natives are required to be Muslims.[24] Conversion from Islam to Hinduism (or another religion) is against the law, but the conversion of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians to Islam is welcomed. The government actively promotes the spread of Islam in the country.[6] The law requires that any Hindu (or Buddhist or Christian) who marries a Muslim must first convert to Islam, otherwise the marriage is illegal and void.[6] If one of the Hindu parents adopts Islam, the children automatically become Muslim without the consent of the second parent.[5][25]

There are numerous cases in Malaysian courts relating to official persecution of Hindus. For example, in August 2010, a Malaysian woman named Siti Hasnah Banggarma was denied the right to convert to Hinduism by a Malaysian court. Banggarma, who was born a Hindu, but was forcibly converted to Islam at age 7, desired to reconvert back to Hinduism and appealed to the courts to recognise her reconversion. The appeal was denied.[26]

Destruction of Hindu temples[edit]

After a violent conflict in Penang between Hindus and Muslims in March 1998, the government announced a nationwide review of unlicensed Hindu temples and shrines. However, implementation was not vigorous and the program was not a subject of public debate.

Between April to May 2006, several Hindu temples were demolished by city hall authorities in the country, accompanied by violence against Hindus.[27] On 21 April 2006, the Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur was reduced to rubble after the city hall sent in bulldozers.[28] The authorities' excuse was that these temples were unlicensed and squatting on government land.

The president of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam in Selangor had been helping to organise efforts to stop the local authorities in the Muslim dominated city of Shah Alam from demolishing a 107-year-old Hindu temple. The growing Islamization in Malaysia is a cause for concern to many Malaysians who follow minority religions such as Hinduism.[29]

On 11 May 2006, armed city hall officers from Kuala Lumpur forcefully demolished part of a 90-year-old suburban temple that serves more than 3,000 Hindus. The "Hindu Rights Action Force", a coalition of several NGO's, have protested these demolitions by lodging complaints with the Malaysian Prime Minister.[30]

HINDRAF chairman, Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, said:

Many Hindu advocacy groups have protested what they allege is a systematic plan of temple cleansing in Malaysia. The official reason given by the Malaysian government has been that the temples were built "illegally". However, several of the temples are centuries old.[30]

According to a lawyer for the Hindu Rights Action Task Force, a Hindu temple is demolished in Malaysia once every three weeks.[31]

In 2007, Malaysian Hindu organisations protested the destruction of Hindu temples by the Malaysian regime. On 30 October 2007 the 100-year-old Maha Mariamman Temple in Padang Jawa was demolished by Malaysian authorities. Following that demolition, Works Minister and head of the Malaysian Indian Congress Samy Vellu, who is of Indian origin, said that Hindu temples built on government land were still being demolished despite his appeals to the various state chief ministers.

Such temple destructions in Malaysia have been reported by the Hindu American Foundation.[32]

HAF notes that the Government of Malaysia Restricts Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association contrary to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, and that the application filed by Malaysian Hindus to hold gatherings have been arbitrarily denied by the police. The Government has also tried to suppress a campaign launched by an NGO, the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) to obtain 100,000 signatures in support of a civil suit against the Government of United Kingdom.[32] HINDRAF has accused the Malaysian government of intimidating and instilling fear in the Indian community.[33]

The Hindraf rally prompted the Malaysian government to open dialogue with various Indian and Hindu organisations like the Malaysia Hindu Council, Malaysia Hindudharma Mamandram, and Malaysian Indian Youth Council (MIYC) to address the misgivings of the Indian community.[34] HINDRAF itself has been excluded from these talks and no significant changes have resulted from the discussions.

Cow head debacle[edit]

The Cow head protests was a protest that was held in front of the Selangor state government headquarters at the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Building, Shah Alam, Malaysia on 28 August 2009. The protest was called so because the act of a few participants who brought along a cow head, which they later "stomped on the head and spat on it before leaving the site".[35] The cow is considered a sacred animal to Hindus.

The protest was held due to Selangor state government's intention to relocate a Hindu temple from Section 19 residential area of Shah Alam to Section 23. The protesters were mainly Muslim extremists who opposed the relocation due to the fact that Section 23 was a Muslim majority area.

The protest leaders were also recorded saying there would be blood if a temple was constructed in Shah Alam.[36] The protest was caught on video by the popular Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 2010 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia (Census 2010) Department of Statistics Malaysia, Official Portal (2012)
  2. ^ Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics 2010 Department of Statistics, Government of Malaysia (2011), Page 13
  3. ^ Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics 2010 Department of Statistics, Government of Malaysia (2011), Page 15
  4. ^ Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics 2010 Department of Statistics, Government of Malaysia (2011), Page 82
  5. ^ a b c 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2012)
  6. ^ a b c Gill & Gopal, Understanding Indian Religious Practice in Malaysia, J Soc Sci, 25(1-2-3): 135-146 (2010)
  7. ^ Raymond Lee, Patterns of Religious Tension in Malaysia, Asian Survey, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Apr., 1988), pp. 400-418
  8. ^ Religious Freedom Report 2013 - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2014)
  9. ^ Religious Freedom Report 2012 - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2013)
  10. ^ Barbara Watson Andaya, Leonard Y. Andaya (1984). A History of Malaysia. Lonndon: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 14. ISBN 0-333-27672-8. ISBN 0-333-27672-8. 
  11. ^ Zaki Ragman (2003). Gateway to Malay culture. Singapore: Asiapac Books Pte Ltd. pp. 1–6. ISBN 981-229-326-4. 
  12. ^ "Early Malay kingdoms". Sabrizain.org. Retrieved 21 June 2010. 
  13. ^ Sandhu (2010), Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521148139
  14. ^ a b Amarjit Kaur, Indian migrant workers in Malaysia – part 1 Australian National University
  15. ^ a b c Amarjit Kaur, Indian migrant workers in Malaysia – part 2 Australian National University
  16. ^ Sandhu (2010), Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521148139, pp. 89-102
  17. ^ Sandhu (2010), Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521148139, pp. 60-68
  18. ^ Malaysian Indian Community: Victim of ‘Bumiputera’ Policy ORF Issue Report (2008)
  19. ^ Johan Saravanamuttu (2009), Conflict and Compromise in Inter-Religious Issues in Malaysia, Is. Jrnl. Conflict Resolution, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 87-102
  20. ^ Michael Peletz (2002), Islamic Modern Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691095080
  21. ^ Hinduism in Malaysia Malaysia Hindudharma Mamandram
  22. ^ Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics 2010 Department of Statistics, Government of Malaysia (2011), Page 83-101
  23. ^ http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/download_Population/files/census2010/Taburan_Penduduk_dan_Ciri-ciri_Asas_Demografi.pdf
  24. ^ Sophie Lemiere, apostasy & islamic Civil society in Malaysia, ISIM Review, Vol. 20, Autumn 2007, pp. 46-47
  25. ^ Perry Smith (2003), Speak No Evil: Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law, UC Davis Journal Int'l Law & Pol'y, 10, pp. 357-399
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ Temple row – a dab of sensibility please,malaysiakini.com
  28. ^ Muslims Destroy Century-Old Hindu Temple,gatago.com
  29. ^ Pressure on multi-faith Malaysia,BBC
  30. ^ a b c Hindu group protests 'temple cleansing' in Malaysia,Financial Express
  31. ^ Malaysia ethnic Indians in uphill fight on religion Reuters India – 8 November 2007
  32. ^ a b HAF Condemns Continuing Destruction of Hindu Temples in Malaysia, Calls for Support to Protesting Malay Hindus, HAF report
  33. ^ HINDRAF home
  34. ^ NGOs discuss Indian issues with PM in heart-to-heart chat The Star – 15 December 2007
  35. ^ "Malaysian Muslims protest against proposed construction of Hindu temple". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. 29 August 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  36. ^ Malaysia Muslims protest proposed Hindu temple Associated Press – 28 August 2009
  37. ^ Temple demo: Residents march with cow's head YouTube. 28 August 2009

External links[edit]