Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital and largest city of Malaysia with a population of 1.89 million, is the seat of Malaysia Parliament on which the country depends for cultural, economic, political and major transportation needs.
KL has its origins in the 1850s when Raja Abdullah and his brother decided to develop the mines in the Klang River district. Chinese labourers were brought in from Lukut. Many from the first batch were killed by a fever. Among the second batch were two clansmen of Yap Ah Loy – Hiu Siew and Ah Sze – who set up business near the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. The site became a thriving settlement and soon became known as Kuala Lumpur. Hiu Siew became the first Kapitan Cina to oversee the development of tin mines. After his death in 1868, Yap Ah Loy became the Kapitan Cina and his position was confirmed by Raja Mahdi in June 1869.
Years of civil war which ended in 1873 had taken a heavy toll on the people and property in KL. The town was plagued by diseases and constant fires and floods. Yap then persuaded the Chinese to help with the reconstruction work. Aided by the Resident of Selangor, J.G. Davidson, the town began to develop. Yap maintained his position as Kapitan until 1879 when the first European officer was appointed to administer KL.
In 1891, 79% of the KL population (approx. 43 786) were Chinese. Yap pressed the British government to finance a Chinese school for the Chinese children.
In July 1896, the Federated Malay States came into being and Kuala Lumpur became its capital and the seat of the Resident-General.
In January 1942, Japan captured KL and remained in occupation until August 1945 when the commander of the Japanese Army surrendered to the British Administration following the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 1952, election was introduced and it began with the KL municipal election. The idea of an alliance between UMNO and MCA evolved. On 8 Jan, the KL UMNO branch and the Selangor MCA branch made an official announcement that they would jointly contest the KL election. They won 9 out of 12 seats. When UMNO and MCA saw the pact as workable formula to gain cross-communal support and overcome ‘communal barrier to political unity’, they moved towards closer cooperation in the pursuit of self-government. An Alliance was formalised in February 1953. Historian Dr Joseph Fernando observes that the alliance was a byproduct of the then changing political trends and "a consequence of deep-seated communal sentiments in UMNO and MCA."
In Aug 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained its independence from British rule. KL remained as capital through the formation of Malaysia on 16 Sept 1963.
In Oct 1957, the Alliance Party – a coalition of UMNO, MIC and MCA – was registered as a political entity. Racial issues had not been resolved despite the appearance of harmony.
In 1969, racial tension broke out when the Alliance encountered a major setback albeit a simple parliamentary majority in the general elections. The May 13 Incident took place in Kuala Lumpur and continued for some time, resulting in many deaths and leading to a state of emergency and suspension of Parliament until 1971, and eventually a reform in economic policy.
The March 2008 general elections saw the opposition parties for the first time dominating the majority of the constituencies. Barisan Nasional (BN, formerly the Alliance) was left with only one representative, i.e. Federal Territories Minister Zulhasnan Rafique in the Setiawangsa seat. Political analysts attributed BN’s failure to its racist agenda and failure to bring reform as promised. UMNO, the ruling party of the coalition, is known to make racist remarks from time to time for political mileage. In his response to the Permatang Pauh loss on 26 Aug, UMNO vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (who is also the International Trade and Industry Minister) expressed his concerns and admitted that UMNO needed to change as voters now wanted "something which are fairer, not racial-based (politics) but one that is based on the profile of the multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysians" (NST, 27/8/08).
On 1 Feb 1972, KL was declared a city and became a Federal Territory (FT) in 1974. KL was also the capital of Selangor until 1978 when Shah Alam was declared the new state capital.
Islamisation and religious freedom
On 29 Dec 1959, the Junior Minister in the Prime Minster’s Department who was in charge of the Broadcasting Information Service and the Malayan Film Unit confirmed that Radio Malaya would cease to broadcast weekly Christian church services from 1 Jan 1960.
1) In 2007, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail suggested the country's legal system be changed to take Islamic legal reference rather than English common law as its basis (Bernama, Aug 26, 07).
2) Religious Overzealousness
- In April, at the seminar organised by the Islamic of Understanding Malaysia (IKIM ) and the Syariah Judiciary Department Malaysia, syariah court of appeal judge Datuk Mohd Asri Abdullah proposed to prosecute non-Muslims who commit khalwat with Muslims so as "to be fair to both parties." His statement received support from the Syariah Lawyers Association of Malaysia. The seminar had reportedly produced a draft resolution which included stiffer penalties on Muslims caught for khalwat, prostitution, consuming alcohol and gambling, and categorizing apostasy as syariah crime (The Star, Apr 3).
- In June, two restaurants (a Hindu and a Muslim) in Bangsar were raided by officers from the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), DBKL and the Domestic Trade and Industry Ministry. Religious pictures from both restaurants were confiscated.
- In June, JAKIM declared Celcom SMS contest un-Islamic as it was tantamount to betting, "and betting is a form of gambling which is forbidden in Islam" (Bernama, Jun 18)
- In July, FT PAS Youth presented a memorandum to the KL mayor to cancel a concert by Inul Daratista, an Indonesian dangdut singer, because her dance movements were "too sexy and immoral."
- In August, FT PAS Youth called for a ban on Avril Lavigne’s concert. The Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal subsequently rejected the application to hold the concert on grounds that it coincided with the Merdeka period and religious programmes: "We don’t want the day to be filled with such pop and rock culture. We should be instilling a good culture in the young but here we are allowing other parties to organise things" (The Star, Aug 21). However, the cabinet allowed the concert with certain conditions. On 29th, a Muslim NGO organised a peaceful rally from Masjid Negara to Dataran Mederka in the afternoon, while PAS Youth distributed flyers in the evening at the stadium to show their disapproval.
3) Banning books on Islam
It was reported in June 2007 that the then Internal Security banned 37 books titles and publication on Islamic teachings on grounds that they contained ‘twisted fact’ that could undermine Muslims’ faith. In November, the ministry added to its list another seven books on grounds that they would create confusion and anxiety among Muslims and harm public peace. In January 2008, 11 books were banned because the contents deviated from the mainstream religious teaching. Recently in August, two more books were banned for giving misleading view on Islam. One of the books, ‘Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism,’ had been distributed since 2005.
Religious overzealousness has definitely spilled over to the non-Muslim groups. The government and civil servants have been intentionally or unintentionally imposing Islamic guidelines and personal conviction upon others. Below are some of the examples
4) Freedom to use Bahasa Malaysia
- On 25 Dec 2007, at the Christmas gathering hosted by Christian Federation of Malaysia in KL, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s (Pak Lah) message was criticised as a "great Christmas letdown" by the then Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang. Pak Lah had apparently failed to address the Herald controversy while promoting religious moderation and calling against extremism. Herald the Catholic Weekly was prohibited from using the term "Allah". The then Internal Security Ministry imposed a new condition – remove the Bahasa Malaysia section or risk losing permit. The ministry said that 'Allah' could not be used in the context of any religion other than Islam. Che Din Yusoff, senior officer of the Publications and Quranic Texts Control Division, was quoted as saying that the use of the word was a "design to confuse the Muslim people."
The Christian community was outraged and criticised the government for wrongfully interfering in the internal management of the church and that its action was unconstitutional. On 28 Dec 2007, Herald publisher filed a suit against the government, seeking appropriate declarations of the use of 'Allah'. Two days later, a letter of approval from the ministry was hand-delivered to Herald. There were no conditions attached. On 4 Jan 2008, The Star reported the cabinet’s decision disallowing Herald to use the word 'Allah' in its publication. The ministry issued a new Publication Permit dated 12 Feb 2008 stating prohibition to use the word 'Allah'. Herald proceeded with its lawsuit, and filed an application for Judicial Review at the KL High Court on 19 March. On 5 May, the court allowed Herald to challenge the government’s order. Meanwhile, 8 Islamic religious councils have applied to intervene. The court set 7 Jan 2009 for hearing.
- In Jan, the ministry seized from several bookstores Christian children books because they carried pictures of Moses and Noah. It was later learnt that the books, "taken away during a routine check by officials of the ministry’s publications unit," had been returned to the MPH bookshop. In the same month, two boxes containing 32 English Bibles were confiscated by Customs officials from a woman who had just returned from a visit to Manila. The books were later returned to her.
- In July, 8 CDs on biblical teaching were confiscated by the Customs officers at LCCT on grounds that they contained prohibited words, breached JAKIM guidelines and would affected public order. The owner bought the CDs in Indonesia for personal enrichment.
On 30 Dec 2007, 54-year-old Wong Sau Lan died in Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The deceased’s husband was told that the body would be released only for the purpose of performing Christian rituals and must be returned to the FT Islamic Council for a Muslim burial. A certificate of conversion dated 31 Dec stated that Wong converted to Islam on 24 Dec at a flat in Cheras. Finally on 18 Jan 2008, the KL High Court ordered Wong’s body to be released for Christian funeral after the Islamic council retracted its claim that she had converted to Islam.
In April, Pak Lah suggested a notice-to-convert requirement to prevent problems caused by disputed religious status of a deceased person. The announcement, lauded by some, was heavily criticised by many.
6) Conversion, apostasy & intolerance
The Bar Council forum on "Conversion to Islam: Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini and Shamala Revisited," held on 9 Aug, demonstrated not only deep distrust among religious groups but a close-mindset on dialogues related to religious matters. It has all the more shown that racial and religious issues are easily hijacked by unscrupulous politicians. The federal government had, in its various responses, too quick to predict the consequence and discourage open dialogues, arousing unwanted sentiments among the people. Ironically, 2 days before the forum, Pak Lah called for more interfaith dialogues in his address at the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism anniversary dinner.
In response to calls for resolving marital problems involving conversion of one party Islam, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim (who has since resigned) said several amendments had been proposed covering the Law Reform (Marriages and Divorce) Act 1976, Amendments to the Islamic Family (Federal) Law 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law 1993. Meanwhile the joint committee comprising syariah and civil lawyers formed in April would be reactivated to solve inter-religious and other related issues, according to the Minister in charge of Islamic Matters in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
At the Dewan Rakyat in May, there was a call for an Act on apostasy. "The questions we need to clarify are whether permission can be given for a Muslim to renounce Islam, how to stop Muslims from becoming an apostate, the issue of faith rehabilitation and the status of a Muslim convert who wish to return to his (or her) original religion," said Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi, a BN member of Parliament from Batu Pahat (theSun, 6/5/08).
7) There is no provision in the Federal Territories Islamic laws to convert out of Islam, nor is there any stipulation for apostasy.
8) Places of worship
- a. At a meeting on 14 February at the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), 20 Hindu temples were identified for relocation or demolition to make way for various development projects. They were: the Muniswarar temple and 13 others located along Jalan Semarak (to make way for the Duta-Ulu Kelang Highway), another three on Jalan Puchong and Jalan Tun Sambanthan (located on sites targeted for housing development projects), and the remaining temples slated for demolition for various breaches of regulations.
- b. In March, a suit was filed at the KL High Court against five local authority officials for contempt of court. Apparently in February, the authorities had demolished the Sri Maja Nageswari Temple in Ampang despite a court injunction prohibiting them from doing so.
- c. Recently, the Malaysia Hindu Sangam was outraged when temples were left out in the KL Draft City Plan 2020; it queried whether the DBKL move was intentional in removing religious sites (malaysiakini.com, 21/8/08).
In April 2008, Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal revealed that the government had planned to streamline the existing policies on construction and demolition of places of worship to be acceptable to all religious groups.
Freedom of expression
Recently, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) ordered all Internet service providers (ISPs) to block Malaysia Today website citing "insensitive, bordering on incitement" articles as reason (the website has since been unblocked). According to Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, the news portal carried "libelous, defamatory and slanderous" content.
Under the Multimedia Super Corridor’s10-Point Bill of Guarantees, it is stated that that Government promised to "ensure no Internet censorship."
Earlier in July, Catholic weekly Herald and Catholic Asian News received cautionary letters from the Home Affairs Ministry for covering political issues on Anwar Ibrahim. Publications Control and Al-Quran Texts Unit senior officer Che Din Yusof claimed that they had violated permit conditions, i.e. religion.
In May, Pak Lah called on the authorities to take action against Karpal Singh for saying that Sultan of Perak did not have jurisdiction over civil administration. His remark was deemed to be seditious by UMNO politicians.
In April, the Home Affairs Ministry had refused to renew the publishing permit of Tamil newspaper Makkai Osai for breaching licensing guidelines. Syed Hamid however did not specify the areas of violation. Permit was renewed after an appeal.
A remark made by the newly elected Titiwangsa MP Dr Lo' Lo' Ghazali concerning DBKL should not be dismissed lightly: "…corruption is synonymous with City Hall" (malaysiakini.com, 7/4/08). On 3 Sept, 15 residents from Medan Damansara lodged a report with the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) against DBKL and mayor Datuk Ab Hakim Borhan for approving hill development. A week before the report, a landslide occurred due to soil erosion from the hill (The Star, 3/9/08).
- The Public Gardens, later renamed Lake Gardens were officially opened in 1889.
- During the mid-1910s, the people of KL (and Penang) became the first to enjoy a regular supply of electricity.
- On 18 June 1959, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong formally declared open the Kuala Lumpur division of University of Malaya, the first university in the Malaysian soil.
- On 29 Dec 1959, the Junior Minister in the Prime Minster’s Dept. who was in charge of the Broadcasting Information Service and the Malayan Film Unit, confirmed that Radio Malaya would cease to broadcast weekly Christian church services from 1 Jan 1960.
- The power of God to break the deep-seated communal spirit,
- The political parties will no longer exploit racial issues and incite religious sentiments,
- Clean and transparent civil administration, just and righteousness in governance.
- Sensible local authorities and the religious bodies who uphold freedom of religion for all and are not overzealous due to personal religious conviction
- The people respect one another, open-minded and willing to dialogue, not easily succumb to agenda of the unscrupulous politicians or religious extremists.
- Against the spirit behind materialism and apathy.
- The Church: salt and light, Christlike in all our ways, bearing witness and presenting ourselves as role models in the society, for the sake of God’s glory.