When I was growing up in Malaysia, everyone was deemed to be either a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh. I was categorised as a Buddhist (even though I was never informed by my parent that I was Buddhist) . The closest that I understand about Buddhism was from Chinese movies, namely The Goddess of Mercy and HK movies on the classic, Journey to the West. My parents are not atheist, but neither are they true Buddhist in the real sense. We do not have image of Buddha or any Buddhist prayer objects at homes, though I understand that they do visit Buddhist temples at times. When I was young, we have altars for certain ancient Chinese gods (maybe the kitchen god and door god), and we did worship during festive days to receive blessings from our ancestors.
In schools, the Malay classmates would undoubtedly be Muslims, while some Chinese, Indians and Eurasians were Christians, the majority of Chinese were classified as Buddhist, while the Tamils and other Indians were usually considered Hindus, with sprinkling of turbaned Sikhs being regarded as Sikhism followers. Islamic studies was compulsory subject for all Muslim students, while non-Muslim need not attend any religious class. Few would dare to tell the teacher that they were non believer or freethinker. There was this joke being circulated around then about a boy who proudly declared to the teacher that he was a free-thinker. The annoyed teacher then remarked; “Do you see the rope over there. Well, I use it to hang free-thinkers”.
One the whole though during my younger days in Malaysia, the question on the existence of god rarely came into mind . My parent did not seem to mind that I did not pray like them. Once a while it did cross my mind that maybe a higher almighty and all-knowing god exist somewhere there, and he was taking good care of me and my family members. Christianity did make some inroad into my life in my teenage days ( perhaps it was due to the possibility of meeting girls in Christian fellowship meetings), but I lost interest soon after I understand more about science, particularly after learning Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Even before that, I would find myself trying hard to understand why Christians find so much inspiration from reading the Bibles. I could not find any inspiration or revelations from reading it, and discovered that reading novels by authors like AJ Cronin, PG Wodehouse, John Steinbeck, DH Lawrence, Harold Robbins etc were much more interesting and inspiring.
One a side note, I have recently discovered that my high school biology teacher, Mr Richard Yeo, is now a Muslim. I have not really met him after I left school, and it should be about 30 years now. It seems he has gone to the Haj, and is a respectable person in the Malay / Muslim community in Malacca. He was a very good science teacher, and I remember him vividly telling everyone not to mix science with religion, when he was teaching the controversial topic of evolution . My guess is that he found someone he truly loved, and she happened to be a Muslim lady and thus he had to embrace Islam.
Note: The following article is from Russia Today:
World’s most dangerous religion: Atheists face worldwide persecution – report
Published: 10 December, 2012, 15:03
From the Christian West to the Islamic Middle East, atheists face discrimination and persecution including execution, life in prison, the revocation of citizenship and the denial of education and medical services, a new report has revealed.
A 69-page study titled ‘Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Nonreligious’ has been released by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The report covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries, and lists numerous individual cases where atheists were persecuted for their beliefs.
The report cited discriminatory laws that deny atheists the “right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship [and] restrict their right to marry.”
Other laws include “obstructing access to public education, prohibiting them from holding public office, preventing them from working for the state, criminalizing their criticism of religion, and executing them for leaving the religion of their parents.”
The report argues that atheists in Islamic countries – such as Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan – face some of the worst discrimination, including capital punishment. The study did not list specific recent executions, but claimed that capital punishment was often shifted into life imprisonment sentences, as in Afghanistan.
The publication of atheist or humanist views is strictly prohibited under blasphemy laws in countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia, the report said.
In most of these countries citizens are required to register as participants of an officially recognized religion – usually Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Without this registration, citizens are not allowed to receive medical services, drive, attend university or travel aboard, forcing non-believers to lie.
Anti-atheist discrimination in North America and Europe
The report emphasizes that non-believers are discriminated against even in North American and European nations. In the US, “atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans.”
And in at least seven US states, “constitutional provisions are in place that bar atheists from public office and one state, Arkansas, has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial.”
Other discriminatory incidents included instances were soldiers in the US Military were forced to attend evangelical Christian events, and when a detention center in South Carolina denied prisoners any reading material except for the Christian Bible.
In the Canadian province of Ontario, the state funds Catholic religious education but does not providing funding for any other religious schools. “One-third of Ontario’s public schools are Catholic schools,” and those institutions can exclude non-Catholic children and staff, the report said.
In Switzerland, a teacher was fired from his job in 2010 after raising concerns over the state’s promotion of Catholicism in public schools. “[The teacher] was told he was fired for removing the crucifix from the classrooms in the public school at which he taught,” the report said.
Every year, British children are turned away from local state-funded schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.
Polish musician Dorota Rabczewska was fined $1,450 for ‘offending religious feelings’ when she said in a 2012 interview that the Bible is full of “unbelievable tales.”
Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini called in 2010 for “Muslims, Jews and Christians to unite to fight the ‘threat’ that he claims atheism poses to society.”
Heiner Bielefedt, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, welcomed the report’s publication and expressed concern over the lack of awareness that international human rights protections apply as much to atheists and religious skeptics as to other groups.