Tensions rise ahead of planned protests in Malaysian Bible dispute
- POSTED: 03 Jan 2014 23:24
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While churches in Malaysia deny propagating Christianity to the Muslim community, Muslim organisations are planning a protest outside churches in and around Kuala Lumpur.
KLANG: While churches in Malaysia deny propagating Christianity to the Muslim community, Muslim organisations are planning a protest outside churches in and around Kuala Lumpur.
Organisers of the protest on Sunday say they are holding it to defend the exclusive use of the word, "Allah", meaning god in Islam.
Religious tensions are on the rise in predominantly Muslim Malaysia after a state Islamic religious authority raided a Christian distributor earlier in the week.
The authorities seized hundreds of Malay language Bibles and arrested two people for allegedly propagating Christianity among Muslims.
Churches and Christian lawyers say the accusations are baseless and demand that the authorities show proof.
They feel that their right to religious freedom, as guaranteed under the federal constitution, has been compromised.
"There is no evidence that the church has used the Alkitab (Malay language Bible) to propagate the faith to Muslims. There is no evidence at all. If there is evidence, the authorities must bring those to light," said Francis Pereira from the Catholic Lawyers Association.
"The people who come to our church are people who come to worship. We are not calling to Muslims, ‘come over, come over, join us’. No. We are not doing such things. And we have never done that. It's ridiculous," said Lawrence Andrew, parish priest at St Anne’s Church.
Many Malaysians are concerned with what they see as a rise in Islamisation.
Last year, a court of appeal ruled that a Catholic weekly could not use the word "Allah" in its Malay publications.
More recently, churches in the state of Selangor were reportedly ordered to stop using the word "Allah" in their prayers.
The Sultan had decreed that the word "Allah" was exclusive to Islam, which is the official religion of the state.
But some churches are refusing to comply. They say that the state Islamic religious authority, better known as JAIS, cannot dictate what churches can and cannot do.
"The constitution guarantees every person who professes his religion to practice it in freedom,” said Father Lawrence.
“We have only one constitution so when people divide the nation into two, we are saying we have to have two constitutions? We are having a separatist movement within the country? They must be charged in court for that.”
Some Muslim leaders, including those from the ruling party UMNO, have labelled Father Lawrence a traitor for going against the Sultan.
Non-Muslims in East Malaysia -- which is predominately Christian -- are allowed to use the word "Allah" but the word is still off limits to non-Muslims in West Malaysia.
The church of Our Lady of Lourdes has been the target for Muslims, who are planning a protest outside the church on Sunday.
There are some 400, mostly East Malaysians, of Christian faith regularly attending services there that are conducted in the local Malay language.
The police have given assurance that no protesters will be allowed to go near the church and that all the services and prayers can be conducted as per normal.