[lg policy] Under Cloud of Violence, Malaysian Christians Come Together

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 20 14:40:00 UTC 2010

Under Cloud of Violence, Malaysian Christians Come Together

Published: January 19, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR — They begin arriving in the soft morning light, before
the tropical humidity descends: Indian women in vibrant colored saris,
an elderly Chinese woman leaning heavily on her walking stick, parents
carrying bleary-eyed young children. Some stop to pray at a shrine
that holds a statue of the Virgin Mary, where candles flicker in a
light breeze.

Pews in the 50-year-old Catholic Assumption Church in Kuala Lumpur
filled quickly on Sunday before the hymns began, leaving only standing
room. Outside, more parishioners listened to the service via
loudspeakers in the church compound, where a little more than a week
ago a Molotov cocktail exploded.

The church, which was not damaged, is one of 11 across Malaysia that
have reported vandalism, including firebombing and shattered windows,
in the wake of a court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word
“Allah” to refer to God. Some in this Muslim-majority country believe
that “Allah” should only be used by Muslims, and the government has
filed an appeal against the decision.

A Sikh temple was also damaged and a bottle was thrown at a mosque in
the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Saturday.

The offices of the lawyers representing the Herald, the Catholic
newspaper that was granted the right to use the word “Allah,” were
ransacked last week.

The Dec. 31 ruling has raised religious tensions in this multicultural
nation, but the attacks have done little to dissuade Christians from
attending church.

“More people are praying for peace, for calm, so that this situation
may not be aggravated further,” said the Rev. Larry Tan, who conducted
the service at Assumption Church. “Whenever there is persecution, the
faith of people will come alive.”

Father Tan, who has seen police officers on motorbikes patrolling near
churches since the attacks started, said that some Catholics were
concerned about their personal safety but that they had received much
support from many in the Muslim community.

“Obviously we do feel a sense of being threatened,” he said.

Christians make up about 9 percent of Malaysia’s population of 28
million; Catholicism is the most common denomination. The Christian
community largely consists of ethnic Chinese and Indians but also
includes some indigenous communities who religious leaders say have
worshiped in Bahasa Malay, the Malay language, for centuries.

The government’s appeal over the court’s decision to allow non-Muslims
to use the word “Allah” is still pending, however some confusion has
emerged over the government’s stance.

Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister in the prime minister’s
department, was reported Friday as saying that Christians in the
states of Sabah and Sarawak would be allowed to use the word “Allah”
to pray.

However, “Allah” was not to be used by churches on the Malaysian
Peninsula, and Christians from Sabah and Sarawak would have to respect
this ruling when they were in the Peninsula, Mr. Nazri told The Borneo

Ng Kam Weng, director of the Kairos Research Center, a Christian
center, said it would be difficult to enforce two different rules
regarding use of the word “Allah.”

“There are thousands of East Malaysian Christians who have migrated to
work in West Malaysia. They have set up Bahasa-speaking churches where
everything is done in the Malay language. You can’t say these people
can no longer use the word,” he said.

Some commentators say the controversy has become more of a political
rather than a religious issue. Dr. Ng said there was a common
perception that the government was trying to portray itself as the
“defender of Malay and Islamic supremacy.”

Lee Kam Hing, a former history professor at the University of
Malaysia, said many indigenous Christians could be found in Sabah and

“They have been using the indigenous languages in their worship for
the last 100 or 200 years,” said Dr. Lee, a co-editor of the book
“Christianity in Malaysia.”

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Malaysian Council of
Churches, which represents Protestant churches, said the attacks had
left Christians feeling marginalized but he had not heard any reports
of Christians being personally attacked.

“So far we are thankful that it’s just been sporadic happenings,” he said.

No arrests have been made in relation to the attacks. However, the
police said that they had photos of suspects involved in the
firebombing of the Metro Tabernacle church in Kuala Lumpur, and
investigations were continuing.

After the service at Assumption Church, parishioners filed out through
the front courtyard as a lone security guard hovered near the

Sylvia Liao, a parishioner, said that the attacks had brought
Christians together and that she had received much support from her
Muslim friends.

“The more you hear about it, that different churches have been
vandalized, the more Christians have come together for peace and
harmony,” she said.


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