Malaysians have surnames

Illegitimate children often have a hard time in traditional Islamic society in Malaysia - especially when everyone recognizes them by their name. That should change now. But there is resistance from the religious side.

Faisal Abdullah does not have his surname because his father is called that, but because he has no father. At least not an official one. His mother did not want to marry her boyfriend at the time, either before or after Faisal was born. So the child was born out of wedlock - and the registration authority in Malaysia gave him the name "bin Abdullah", son of the servant of Allah. In Malaysia all illegitimate children are called "Abdullah": "bin Abdullah" the boys, "binti Abdullah", daughter of a servant of Allah, the girls. Babies born less than six months after their parents' wedding are also not allowed to bear their father's name.

Naming regulations

60 percent of the population of Malaysia are Muslims. Your children are usually given a surname that is derived from their father's first name. If this is not known or if the parents are not married, the child must be called Abdullah. At least that is what state fatwas and legal opinions from 1981 and 2003 prescribe.

Fatwas, however, are not laws, but clarification or assistance from the point of view of a certain authority on everyday issues. Most recently there was a flood of fatwas in Malaysia to drive back Western influences that are increasingly a thorn in the side of conservative Muslims: from yoga to botox treatments and nightclubs to patting dogs that are considered unclean and Halloween - all of this is now with a fatwa.

When the children suffer from the name

It becomes problematic when fatwas contradict civil law provisions - as is the case with naming. Here the Malaysian Court of Appeal has now ruled in favor of hundreds of thousands of illegitimate children who suffer from the Abdullah in their name for their entire life. They are teased at school, often feel strange in their families, they are not allowed to inherit and not continue the family line.

The specific case concerns a boy from Johor, now seven years old, who was born in 2010 five months and 24 days after his parents got married. The registration authority then entered the surname Abdullah on the birth certificate - against the wishes of the parents, who wanted the child to be given the father's name. The appellate court emphasized in its judgment that it could not make sense of a birth certificate to show "all the world" that a child was born out of wedlock. The child carries this stigma with them throughout their lives. "We believe that Islam does not condone such public humiliation of an innocent child."

Islam in Malaysia is the state religion

The verdict sparked a wave of criticism among conservative Muslims. "Islam is the religion of the country, so Islamic laws must be followed," said the influential Mufti Harussani Zakaria. He is also not concerned that the anti-child regulation has no basis whatsoever in the Koran or the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

But in fact, Islam is the state religion in Malaysia, and the minorities in the country and moderate Muslims are increasingly feeling this. For example, a popular beer festival in the capital Kuala Lumpur was recently canceled with flimsy justifications.

Cancellation of the film start of "Beauty and the Beast"

The cancellation of the film launch of "Beauty and the Beast" in the spring because the Disney group refused to cut out a scene with "a gay moment" made international headlines. There is also a move to expand the influence of local Sharia courts, which are allowed to judge a handful of family disputes. Up to three years' imprisonment can already be imposed if Muslims violate Islamic law on family issues. The catalog of punishments also includes six lashes for this. Depending on the "offense", this number is to be increased to 100 and the prison sentence to 30 years.

The question of the name remains open for the time being. The director of the registration authority refuses to obey the ruling of the court of appeal and has appealed to the next higher court. That, in turn, suspended the judgment until it came to a conclusion itself.