Unease grows over Muslim head for top convent school

(The Malaysian Insider) – For Catholic Malaysians, Putrajaya’s latest pick of a Malay-Muslim principal to head the prestigious SMK Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) underscores a worrying trend to disregard the Church’s contribution and rights in the country.

Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam waded this week into a growing row between the 112-year-old school’s Catholic owners and the Ministry of Education (MOE) after its new principal Datin Seri Zavirah Mohd Shaari’s surprise arrival at its doorstep.

“The appointment of the principal of CBN is not only contrary to the government policy of maximum consultation but has given the impression that it is the government’s strategy to take over the mission schools in total disregard for the status, ethos and special character of mission schools, especially CBN,” Pakiam said in a statement published earlier this week in Catholic paper The Herald.

He was appealing to Education director-general Datuk Seri Abdul Ghafar Mahmud to reconsider the ministry’s decision and pick a suitably qualified person nominated by the school owners under the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters order. The school is considered among the top convent schools in the country.

The case comes on the heels of a recent drama over the police’s extra conditions for carolling permits on two South Klang churches less than two weeks ago.

Earlier this year, right-wing Malay-Muslim groups triggered a national uproar over persistent rumours that churches are on a campaign to convert their own and pushing unfounded allegations of a secret political plot to install a Christian prime minister in the next general election.

Christians say such issues are an attempt to erode their religious rights in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

CBN, which has produced notable personalities such as Bersih 2.0 chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and former International Trade Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, is one of 60 convent schools in Malaysia, Sister Rosalind Tan told The Malaysian Insider.

Tan is the mother provincial of the IJ Sisters and the person in charge of the order’s administration in the country.

She related that the school’s board of governors were taken aback when Zavirah reported for duty last week.

The previous head, Ann Khoo, retired last month because there was no prior notice from the Education Ministry.