Although Christians make up only 9 percent of the population, they remain the prime targets of Malaysian Islamic enthusiasts.
In a Dec. 12 article, the New York Times detailed the fear that Malaysian Christians live in as a result of constant accusations by Muslim organizations that they are trying to “Christianize” the entire country.
Although “Christianizing,” or spreading the faith of Christianity, is against the law, Muslims are free to proselytize to others in Malaysia. The central government’s Department of Islamic Development holds that no one has ever been charged with trying to convert Muslims, but penalties in Selangor State for the crime of attempted conversion by Christians include a year in prison and a fine of 10,000 ringgit, or nearly $3,200.
The most difficult part for Christians is the lack of involvement by the Malaysian government to stop the verbal and political attacks on Christians who are becoming more involved in Malaysian politics.
There have been incidents including the leader of the dominant governing party, United Malays National Organization, saying 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 said, according to the Times. In August, Selangor officials interrupted a church dinner outside, claiming they had information that Christians were proselytizing to Muslims.
Kam Weng Ng, the director of the Kairos Research Center in Kuala Lumpur that studies Malaysian Christian issues said, “Off the cuff, it is natural that Christians feel a sense of foreboding given the long campaign directed against the Malaysian Church by influential politicians that are seen to be aligned to the ruling coalition, Barisan National, in the past few years.”
He told The Christian Post, “There have been calls to ban the Malay Bible and restrict proselytization-which effectively translates into restriction of Christian religious activities in general.”
“Since the beginning of 2011, the authorities refused to renew the visas of foreign lecturers and students at the local Bible colleges/seminaries despite renewed appeals from Christians,” Ng continued.
“To be fair, this demand has since been dropped following some public outcry. But there is no assurance that similar demands will be imposed again in future. I suppose the authorities are satisfied that the Christians have been duly reminded to be mindful of their political bosses.”
Many Christians have been afraid of protesting and of possible backlash. Himpun, an organization formed to protect Islam, continues to hold rallies and push for the government to punish Christians for converting Muslims. Christian groups maintain their innocence.
“I am fairly certain there is no systematic program of proselytization of Muslims carried out by the Malaysian churches, which are mindful of backlash from the authorities,” Ng protests. “If there are Muslims converting to Christianity, it is likely that these Muslims converted out of their own initiatives when they are exposed to diverse religious beliefs and ideologies in this world of global communication, media and the internet. How widespread are these conversions is anybody guess.”
Ng also wanted to point out that Christians and Muslims misunderstand Malaysian law regarding proselytizing. He says federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam. Any regulations must respect the overriding provisions for religious liberty in the Federal Constitution.
In Ng’s view, control and restriction does not translate to prohibition.
The Times article suggested that Malaysian Christians may have a less than happy Christmas season, but Ng tells The Christian Post that this is not the case.
“Christians are determined that they will not allow such intimidation to spoil their Christmas celebration,” says Ng. “Their conscience is clear- Christians have always been exemplary citizens and they will not cease from the long and honorable tradition of sharing of the Christmas message of peace and good will to all people.”