The persecution of Malaysian Christians, David Martin

I was moved to share the trials and tribulations as a Malaysian Catholic having read an article in a local daily today over how Middle East Christians are driven out of their countries due to discrimination.

A little background. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents were Catholic converts. As such, I was baptised as an infant by Fr James Meehan, a Mill Hill missionary in Kuching, Sarawak.

I was enrolled in St Joseph’s primary school where Cathecism classes are a part of the curriculum for Catholic students. That said, the rights of others were not impinged upon as Muslims were sent to Agama Islam classes while the rest had Moral Education.

Spending 11 years at St Joseph’s, I could recall the numerous crucifixes as well as holy pictures all over the school. Even the classes which hosted Agama Islam lessons had them. No one accused the school of covert attempts to convert any impressionable young Muslims then.

In secondary school, we’d head down to St Joseph’s Cathedral across the road for services on church feast days such as All Saints and Ascension Day. Nary a complain was received from parents of non-Catholic students whose classes are disrupted by the absence of some students and even teachers who attended Mass.

The school’s first non-ordained religious principal, Gerald Stephen Lee, pioneered a Day of Prayer in the ’90s. This was a day where activities were planned for the believers of different faiths in the school. Atheists were given the freedom to join in with their friends or to spend their time in the library.

By being brought up in an environment where respect and acceptance of our diverse faith was propogated by educators, harmony was aplenty. I’ll stick out my neck by saying that mission schools in Malaysia are the breeding grounds for a society that accepts, nay embraces its differences and revels in them even.

Alas, having left the safe coccoon of Kuching, I’ve since had my idealistic views on religious freedom in Malaysia smashed to smithereens.

Coming to the big city, I’ve had to adapt to a society that frowns upon those who do not profess the religion of the Federation.

For many generations, Christians in Malaysia dating as far back as before the country even existed would worship in their mother tongue. For some, it would be Malay where the Almighty is referred to as Allah.

Of course, the fact that the term had been used for aeons meant nothing to certain quarters in the country. Their sense of outrage was only given an awakening when a former home minister decided to apply the law restricting the usage of the word somewhat belatedly.

It saw a rise in sentiments where Christians were considered to have challenge the sanctity of Islam. That could not be further from the truth. Threats were issued thus, subjecting Christians to duress and fear.

We all knew what happened after Justice Lau Bee Lan ruled that Christians were free to use the word Allah. Churches and anything remotely connected to Christians were targeted in a series of arson attack.

Outraged Malaysians voiced their displeasure over these attacks. I’d like to think that there are more fair-minded Malaysians than senseless bigots. It was thus disappointing when a prominent member of the ruling coalition questioned the PM’s action in giving aid to a church whose premises were destroyed.

Almost two years on, the case remains unresolved as it sits gathering dust in our much vaunted Palace of Justice. I suppose that our purveyors of justice may have a case of amnesia over the oft-repeated adage “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

What about the copies of the Alkitab that were seized previously by the authorities? Left to literally rot in the hot and humid atmosphere in a warehouse, the Holy Scriptures were then defiled by being stamped with a serial number purportedly to monitor its distribution.

Of course, anyone with reasonable intelligence will tell you that the pitiful excuses given by the authorities to justify their blatant disrespect for Christians as mind bogglingly stupid.

Now if you’re outraged with the discrimination I’ve highlighted so far, your top is about to be blown. The April 2009 issue of Al Islam magazine featured a piece on how two undercover journalist infiltrated St Anthony’s Church in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur to investigate claims of conversion.

Not only were the allegations proven untrue, the journalists concerned desecrated the Holy Communion and had the temerity to mock our beliefs in their article.

Despite the uproar, the journalists got away scot free as the Attorney-General decided against charging them for any offence. To rub salt to the wound, an apology was grudgingly made only when demanded upon by the Catholic Archbishop of KL. So much for insincere apologies.

Let’s move on. Earlier this year a renowned ustazah equated Valentine’s Day with a day which encourages “free sex”. Of course, those two magic words are currently in vogue judging by how liberally they are used to describe even awareness programmes on discrimination faced by the LGBTs in our society.

I’ve gamely debunked the ustazah’s arguments through an opinion piece “Christianophobia in Malaysia” which was carried by The Malaysian Insider earlier this year.

Another prominent ustaz, who happens to be a lecturer in a local university, is also fond of taking potshots at Christians in the country with unsubstantiated allegations. Despite his repeated misdemeanour, the authorities chose not to chare him for his seditious comments.

Even driving to attend our weekly services are a hassle today. We risk getting summonses for parking at the road shoulders. This year alone, I’ve been issued two summonses for parking at the road shoulder outside St John’s Cathedral on Sunday. On both occasions, I was neither double parking nor asked to moved by Rela members on duty.

Subsequently, the parish priest requested those issued the summonses to pass them to the church to be “dealt with”. Not wanting the church to pay for the summonses if it was unable to cancel them, I paid both. I do wonder if our esteemed traffic cops are as summons happy outside other houses of worship.

Last weekend I had the honour to meet a prominent Christian lawyer, who has represented converts in court, at a hill resort. Over lunch he shared the heartaches and tears his clients faced over not being able to renounce their Muslim faith.

I find it somewhat mystifying why does faith require the full protection of the law? Are we doing our faith any justice by mistreating others in the name of religion? Can the end truly ever justify the means?

You see, I’m feeling the weight of these persecutions we face daily in the country. I’m nevertheless thankful that I am able to be more than just a Sunday Catholic by speaking out even at the risk of persecution by the authorities.

There is no place in our society for one to be discriminated on accounts of professing a different faith. Those with hidden agendas fuelling hatred and strife in the name of religion must be dealt with severely with the full force of the law.

I hope that in my lifetime I’ll see the goodwill extended to everyone regardless of race or religion in east Malaysia prevalent throughout the country. All like-minded Malaysians, Catholics, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, et al, should stand up and make their voices heard to force this change.

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