THE Malaysian government will investigate a recent viral photo showing members of a Kuala Lumpur-based atheist group to determine if there was any Muslim present, said Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.
The photo in question shows a meeting of the Atheist Republic, an online Facebook group with more than 1.7 million followers around the world.
The seemingly innocent gathering of dinner and drinks attracted the attention of the government after it was highlighted by pro-Islamist blogs, provoking a strong backlash from some in the Muslim community.
According to Bernama (via Malay Mail Online), Asyraf emphasised the need for a detailed investigation to be conducted and urged for the involvement of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission as it involved the faith of Muslims in the country.
"If it is proven there are Muslims involved in atheist activities that could affect their faith, the state Islamic religious departments or Jawi (the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department) could take action. I have asked for Jawi to look into this grave allegation,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Reactions from netizens were often violent in nature and called for extreme actions against the attendees, including death threats requesting their beheading, labelling them "apostates”, and demanding the government "throw them out of the country”.
Vancouver-based Atheist Republic founder Armin Navabi spoke to Malay Mail Online in response to the reaction.
"We have consulates in every country including Philippines which is in the same area, but guess what, we don’t have these nonsense attacks on them. No government cracking down on our people simply for the fact they change their minds,” he said.
The Muslim-majority country has freedom of religion laws enshrined in the Constitution stating every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion, however, leaving the Muslim faith can still prove difficult.
As Malaysia is a federation, matters of religion are handled by state governments with punishments for apostasy ranging from a fine and strokes of the rotan (caning) to a five-year prison sentence depending on the laws of the state.