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Malaysian churches break taboo on politics

ICC Note:

Some Christians in Malaysia worried about a subtle “backdoor Islamisation” have broken through to the realm of politics by deciding to make their voices heard and urging other Christians and non-Muslim minorities to vote.

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3/3/08 Malaysia (Reuters) Malaysian churches have waded into the nation’s charged politics, openly urging Christians to support candidates who back religious freedom in this weekend’s election.

Race and religious tensions have mounted in the run-up to the March 8 vote with Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities complaining their rights are being trampled by the Muslim-dominated government.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia has joined the fray by telling Christians to vote for candidates whose political views and policies “reflect God’s standard and Christian values.”

In a rare move, the Catholic Church of Saint Francis Xavier near the capital Kuala Lumpur held a political debate last week, drawing some 300 people including opposition and government candidates.

“It’s very difficult to practice our religion freely. The leaders in Malaysia, the way they interpret Islam is very scary,” said Albert Tan, a Catholic.

In a country where race and religion are inextricably linked, rising religious tension also throws the spotlight on the privileges of the majority Malays, who are Muslims by definition.

Mosques are found in every nook and cranny in Malaysia but Hindus and Christians say it is difficult to obtain approval to build their own places of worship.

Non-Muslims have also complained, mainly in Internet chat rooms, about the state permitting building of huge mosques in areas with small Muslim populations. State television routinely airs Islamic shows but forbids other religions to be preached.

“I would say that the feel of subtle, backdoor Islamisation of the national life is a major concern,” said Wong Kim Kong, Secretary-General of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia.

Not all Christians are worried, though.

“They (the government) don’t stop you from praying,” said a 50-year-old churchgoer who gave her name as Lilian. “At the end of the day, the church is within yourself.”

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