Allegations that church leaders are plotting to make Christianity the official religion in Malaysia are stoking religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country once again.
The accusation was made on two blogs which were then quoted in a front page story in Utusan Malaysia, a Malaysian daily owned by the ruling party.
The newspaper claimed that Christian leaders had dinner with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and discussed making Christianity Malaysia’s official religion.
Lim denied the claims and his party, the Malaysian Democratic Action Party, has lodged a complaint against the newspaper with the police.
“We have never asked for Malaysia to become a Christian, Hindu or Buddhist state,” he said.
The dinner was organized by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, Global Day of Prayer, Marketplace Penang and the Penang Pastors Fellowship.
Organizers insist that the only issues discussed at the dinner related to corruption and bribery in the marketplace and had nothing to do with Christianity’s position in Malaysia.
“The Christian community in Penang is disturbed by the unwarranted and unsupported claims,” they said, according to The Star newspaper.
A police investigation into the claims is ongoing. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the investigation would focus on clarifying whether there was any truth in the newspaper’s report and whether the newspaper “had a role in playing up the sensitive issue.”
Relations remain volatile between Malaysia’s majority Muslim population and Christians, who make up only 10 percent of the population.
When the controversy broke out over the weekend, Hussein reacted by saying that the status of Islam as the official religion was “sacrosanct and can never and must never be questioned.”
Speaking to Vatican Radio, the editor of Catholic weekly Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew, suggested it was “not prudent” of the home minister to insist on taking action.
He told the radio that the allegations against the Christians are absurd and that the government is simply trying to stir up controversy in order to revive Muslim support.
“They are beginning to feel they are losing the popularity that they once enjoyed,” he said. “Because they are losing the popularity, they would enjoy some uneasiness that would create confusion – that would create fear – in the people.”