Church Leaders Happy With Najib’s Pledge But Wary It Won’t Trickle Down

Church leaders are happy with Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s pledge to the Christian community, but expressed concern that the prime minister’s message will not filter down to conservatives and extremist elements in his party and government.

Najib had reassured the Christian community in Malaysia on Christmas Day yesterday that the government recognised them as an essential part of the nation.

Christians form about nine per cent of the country’s 28 million population.

“I hope that was not only from him alone, but it (also) has to be from the other part of the government,” Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) chairman Datuk Ng Moon Hing told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

CFM, the umbrella body of all Christian denominations in the country, organised its annual Christmas Day party attended by all political leaders.

Ng’s view was mirrored by the Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, who said the prime minister needs courage, determination and consistent effort to accomplish his promises.

“Hopefully he can get his whole team to (work at it),” Pakiam said.

The church leaders agreed that Najib’s attendance in the Christmas event was a nice gesture towards the Christian community, but would be for naught if he failed to confront extremists elements in his party and the government.

“What’s troubling to Christians is that the government has not spoken up to the extremists what its views are,” said Hermen Shastri, the general secretary from the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM).

The CCM is an ecumenical fellowship of churches and Christian organisations that are part of the larger Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) representing 90 per cent of the country’s 2.8 million Christians.

Last year, Umno-owned daily Utusan Malaysia published a report entitled Kristian Agama Rasmi? (“Christianity the official religion?”), where it was alleged that DAP leaders and Christian clergymen were conspiring to take over Putrajaya, abolish Islam as the religion of the federation and install a Christian prime minister.

In the aftermath of the report, Malay supremacist group Perkasa and its president Datuk Ibrahim Ali threatened Christians nationwide with a holy war against any move to usurp Islam with a Christian state.

Najib then meet church leaders to clear the air but the Home Ministry had only slapped the daily with a warning letter for publishing the unsubstantiated report.

Shastri warned that by not taking any action on extremists, it will undo and make difficult the plans that the PM wants to accomplish.

“(This will happen) as long as some groups keep on saying that Christians are a threat,” Shastri said.

The church leaders have listed several issues affecting the Christian community that has yet to be addressed by the government, with the issue of insufficient land for religious sites chief among them.

“What we felt previously is that there are certain issues that the government could be more upfront (with) when dealing with them,” confessed Philip Kok, a bishop with the Lutheran Church of Malaysia.

“I think a lot of time, (we are facing) a struggle against bureaucracy. Some difficulties looked like it was (a problem with policy), but then the policy is interpreted in a different light,” Ng explained.

According to Ng, churches receive no land allocation from the government, which makes it hard for them to build more cemetery sites and buildings to cater to a growing number of Christian population.

The Anglican bishop also revealed that the lease for some sites of missionary schools have expired, yet their application for lease extension had not been entertained.

“The government is not paying for the schools actually, the mission schools belong to the mission board,” he said, adding that the government refused to consult the board when appointing headmasters and principals for the schools.

“It reflects bad on the government,” Ng said.

Pakiam claimed that infringements against Christians’ right are happening with alarming regularity.

“The Allah issue of course we have some sort of agreement and hopefully it will not flare up again in the future,” spoke Kok.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng had urged the federal government on Monday to allow the use of the word “Allah” in the Bible, to prove that the authority are really putting the people first.

“It looks small, it looks petty but it affects people on the ground,” Ng stressed.

Kok however, was more upbeat on what the Christian community should expect from the prime minister.

“The speech was very comforting ... his presence shows that the government is sincere in building up relationship with the Christian community.

“As long as we’re open to dialogues, open for conversations, we can come up with solutions to these challenges. It is normal in a country as diverse as Malaysia,” Kok said.

“It takes time, we can understand, but he has to determinedly go at it,” encouraged Pakiam.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

Christians, however, have argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that has been used by those of other religious beliefs, including the Jews, in reference to God in many other parts of the world, notably in Arab nations and Indonesia.

Conservative Muslim groups have also accused Christians of attempting to convert Malays, resulting in heightened tension between followers of the two religions.

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