Season to be jolly – and afraid for M’sian Christians

For the minority religious group, there is a sense of unease in the wake of rising tensions with Muslims authorities.

“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.

Julia Yeow, Free Malaysia Today

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 practise freely is increasingly threatened by a Muslim-dominated

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 the 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.

An emotional thing

But one major church apparently threw caution to the wind 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 (DUMC) 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 demonstarted 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.”