Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Al-Kitab Row Not One-off

Alkitab row shows wider check on non-Muslims, says Pakatan
By Melissa Chi March 27, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Leaders from the Opposition have described the controversy surrounding Malay bibles and the use of “Allah” by Christians as just the tip of the iceberg in the erosion of non-Muslim rights.

DAP publicity chief Tony Pua (picture) said the government did not seem to be picking specifically on Christians, but other religions other than Islam as well.

“I think that the government has the same treatment to all religions, it’s just that the Christians are speaking up today. If you look at the school system, government departments, you can see mild forms of preferences or restrictions of religions increasing over the years.

“It is already happening, it’s just that [followers of] other religions are not speaking up about it,” he said.

He said for example there was a limit on the number of temples that can be built, and that if it was in a Malay majority area, no other places of worship could be built in the vicinity.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) had issued a strongly worded statement yesterday accusing the government of riding roughshod over religions other than Islam when it imposed conditions for the release of 35,000 Malay bibles seized from Port Klang and Kuching.

In a series of news statements that started earlier this month, the Christian organisation denounced the government for defacing its holy books with the home ministry’s official seal, an act it said amounted to desecration.

About one in 10 Malaysians is Christian.

The MCCBCHST said the authorities seemed to want Malaysians to believe that the Alkitab conflict is solely a tussle between two creeds, Islam and Christianity; and affects only Muslims and Christians.

“After the Christians have been ‘fixed’, who next?” the council had questioned. Pua said, however, that he was anticipating the government would give “superficial forms of religious freedom”, ahead of the coming Sarawak elections.

But he remained convinced that the voters would not buy into the government’s ploy and that more Malaysians were waking up to the reality in terms of limited freedom of religion in the country.

“What they say is true. The question is whether or not it will find resonance among the communities,” he said, referring to the council’s suggestion.

When asked if the continuation of the current religious controversies might heighten the religious or racial tension in the country, he said it will have to depend on the ruling government.

“It depends on the wisdom of the ruling party or ruling elites, leaders, if they decide to uphold the constitution, then there will be no issue but if they take it upon themselves to uphold a particular belief in the expense of others, then it is hard to say,” he said.

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. Article 11 provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion and is subject to applicable laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

Under Article 3, the Constitution also provides that Islam is the religion of the country but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony.

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