Malaysian Christians are more fearful than cheerful this holiday season as tensions rise with Muslim counterparts.
The New York Times reports Muslim groups continue to accuse the Christian minority of trying to “Christianize” the country and politicians by using the tension to court their Muslim majority base
“It’s unfortunate that the authorities don’t take the relevant action against those making such wild allegations,” Bishop Jason Selvaraj of St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral told The New York Times. “We are upset about that. There’s a sense of justice is not done. We have not done anything wrong.”
St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Malaysia.
Although Malaysia’ s constitution encourages religious freedom, Islam is considered the country’s official religion.
“Christianizing,” or spreading the Christian faith, is against the law, but Muslim’s may proselytize to others.
In Selangor State, penalties for the crime include up to a year in prison and a fine of 10,000 ringgit, or nearly $3,200.
The central government’s Department of Islamic Development says that no one has ever been formally charged with trying to convert Muslims, but recent statements by Muslim politicians and groups have offended and left Christians in fear.
In August, Selangor officials interrupted a church dinner outside Kuala Lumpur, claiming they had information that certain Christians were proselytizing to Muslims.
The sultan of Selangor concluded there was “insufficient” evidence to take action, but that did not stop Muslim politicians and leaders of Himpun, an organization formed to protect Islam, from continuing the attacks on opposing political parties and Christian organizations.
Ahmad Maslan, a deputy minister from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant governing party, said Islam would be “lost” if the opposition, the Democratic Action Party, gained seats in the next election.
“Say goodbye to Islam, because they are agents of Christianization,” he told the Times.
Himpun held a rally in Kuala Lumpur claiming that government is not doing enough to enforce laws that prohibit proselytizing to Muslims.
Christian groups and leaders maintain that they are not trying to convert Muslims and that politicians are stirring up the debate to earn more votes.
Ng Kam Weng, director of the Kairos Research Center that studies Malaysian Christian issues, said that UMNO politicians may also be trying to scare Christians who were becoming more politically active and playing large roles in civil society groups.
He said churches were careful not to proselytize to Muslims in fear they could provoke a “backlash from authorities.”
The Malaysian Insider reported that Christians have even been reluctant in reporting the continuous news and blog attacks by Islamists in fear of what may come next.
“I don’t think we want to make a police report right now because there’s a lot of confusion right now,” Sam Ang, The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), told The Malaysian Insider.
Christians make up just 9 percent of the Malaysian population.