Thousands of Malaysians are backing a campaign for the release of a Muslim couple after they were arrested in Sweden for allegedly smacking their 12-year-old son’s hand when he refused to pray.
Azizul Raheem Awalludin, who is the Stockholm director of the Malaysian tourist board, has been on remand for over a month with his teacher wife Shalwati Nurshal, and anger back home has erupted over both their detainment without charge, and that their four children were placed with non-Muslim foster parents.
A Facebook page, Bring Shal and Family Home, has amassed more than 14,000 followers in five days as the Malaysian media reports that the oldest child, Aisyah, is uncomfortable about living in a house where non-halal food is served and a dog is kept.
“Although they do not feed us non-halal food, we share the crockery and utensils used for non-halal food,” she said.
“We have to fend for ourselves. Every day we have to take the public transport such as the bus or train in cold weather. We don’t have enough warm clothing.”
The teenager also complained about the Swedish authorities stopping the children from seeing relatives who had flown into look after them.
The detained couple have requested the Swedish Social Services to let their children be temporarily cared for by a Muslim family at the Malaysian embassy in Sweden until their case is resolved, according to Free Malaysia Today newspaper.
Rohani Abdul Karim, Malaysia’s Minister for Families told Malaysian media that the Government was doing all it could to resolve the case through diplomatic channels: “We believe there was no child abuse involved.”
“It was probably a misunderstanding about the parents educating their children religiously and instilling good Muslim values in them from a young age.”
Swedish authorities, who were alerted about the incident by the boy’s school, are continuing to investigate the parents.
Sweden has strict laws banning all physical punishment of children, and many internet users have questioned how the family were ignorant of these protection laws – when it is believed they had lived in the country three years.
Sweden’s laws has surprised many in Malaysia though, where parents smacking their children is widely accepted as normal.
Philip Golingai, a columnist in the Kuala Lumpur newspaper The Star, reminisced about being beaten by the rotan, a cane, during his childhood in the 1980s: “Some of my schoolmates had it worse. Their parents hit them with broomsticks, feather dusters, clothes hangers, belts and irons.”