Religious tension mars merriment for Christians

Julia Yeow
Dec 21, 2011

In every mall and along every main street in Malaysia’s capital, elaborate decorations and loud, blaring carols bring about festive reminders of the season to be jolly.

But beneath the blinking lights and merry making, many Christians will be celebrating Christmas with an undeniable sense of unease due to rising tensions with Muslim authorities.

Malaysia is a secular state as defined in its constitution, but Islam is the official religion and is embraced by 60 percent of the population. Minority Christians make up about 10 percent, followed by Buddhists, Hindus and people of other faiths.

Religious violence is rare in the multicultural society, but minority religious groups have complained that their right to practice freely is increasingly threatened by a Muslim-dominated government.

Christians have always had to be “cautious” in dealing with the government, said Sam Ang, secretary-general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, the country’s largest evangelical group.

“I think there is definitely a sense of Christians feeling threatened much more now, although not so much physically.”

He said authorities often misinterpret the law according to their own convenience.

“There is always a risk. That is why churches would be wise to always exercise caution,” he said.

But one major church apparently threw caution to the winds on Aug 3 when it allowed an organisation with Muslim members to use its premises for a celebration.

Islamic religious officers raided the church during the dinner, and later claimed efforts were being made to convert the Muslims who were present.

The Damansara Utama Methodist Church denied the allegations and called the raid illegal. It said accusations of conversion attempts were false and malicious.

Christian leaders condemned the raid, saying the authorities showed no proof or warrant to enter the church premises.

The incident also sparked outrage among Muslim groups that demonstrated against what they claimed were aggressive conversion efforts by Christians. They called on Muslims to “take all necessary actions” to protect the sanctity of Islam.

In response, the Christian community was placed on alert for fears of a repeat of violent attacks on at least eight churches last year, including one that was gutted by a firebomb.

“Religion is such an emotional thing, that I find it hard to be at ease during this season,” said Vivienne Pal, a 33-year-old Christian.

“I’m constantly aware that things can get out of hand in a blink of an eye.”

Fear of drawing ‘unwanted attention’

Following the August incident, many major churches around the central state of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur re-evaluated their activities, for fear of drawing “unwanted attention”.

“We’ve had to be very careful about whom we help, and how we go about doing it because authorities are paying more attention to church activities,” said a pastor who requested anonymity due to his work among the poor and homeless of Kuala Lumpur.

“It’s sad because we don’t care about a person’s race or religion when we offer help, but now we need to be wise and cautious, so that our work doesn’t bring about unwanted attention and negative repercussions to the entire church,” he said.

“Our situation in Malaysia is not new, and Christians have been facing this although over the past three years, it’s become worse,” evangelical leader Ang said.

In spite of the increasing tension between the church and state, there are many who believe the maturity of believers from both religions will be able to mend the rift.

Mazran Nordin, an ethnic Malay Muslim, said he often visited churches in Europe and had no problem attending weddings in churches.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the maturity of a Muslim believer. If you are confident in your beliefs, why would you be afraid of being converted?” Mazran said.

“Everywhere you go, you can see normal Malaysians of all religions celebrating Christmas together,” said Thomas Philips, president of Malaysia’s Council of Churches.

“I don’t believe there is a distrust, and a feeling of any one religion being threatened. Those are just games the politicians and media play.

“From what we have seen, there is still much hope for people of all religions to live peacefully here,” he said.

– dpa

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Friday, 23 December 2011 - 7:04 am

    ///“I think a lot of it has to do with the maturity of a Muslim believer. If you are confident in your beliefs, why would you be afraid of being converted?” Mazran said.///

    It is not that our leaders do not know this logic. They are using religion as a boogeyman to scare the Malays so that the Malays will only vote for Umno/BN and no other political parties.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Friday, 23 December 2011 - 10:22 am

    Ignore the threat like all previous threats made.
    When Malaysians appear concerned and worried…that’s what Najib wants…for fearing trouble….means voters will vote for peace and that is vote BN again to govern.
    Focus to get rid of dictatorial rule and corruptions which are long overdue….by changing of government….and show you are the boss of these elected civil servants…and not the other way round.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Friday, 23 December 2011 - 11:17 am

    No fear factors created…no tensions…no problems…Najib is finished.
    He can stand for election at Pekan or Timbutu.
    He will be voted out.

  4. #4 by Comrade on Friday, 23 December 2011 - 11:56 am

    May more and more Malaysians be wise
    Not to be trapped by BN dirty tactics and lies
    It is mainly for their political survival
    Or to smear the good name of their rival

    Let us all get out of this mess
    For our country we all have to bless
    By voting out the evil BN coalition
    Let PR give us better administration

    Anyway, wishing all of you far and near
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
    Drive carefully when on the road
    May the Lord lighten your load

  5. #5 by cemerlang on Friday, 23 December 2011 - 1:36 pm

    Malaysians psyche. Borned as Muslims. Live as Muslims. Go as Muslims. What is genuine belief ? What is belief of convenience ? What is unquestionable belief ?

  6. #6 by jus legitimum on Saturday, 24 December 2011 - 4:36 pm

    We are otherwise very happily celebrating Christmas this year.The desperate evil power of 54 years deliberately exploits fake religious issue to frighten Malays in order to win their votes.But alas are the Malays these days still so ignorant and shallow minded that they can be fooled and manipulated by this corrupted and inept regime?
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

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