Malaysia: Sense of a people set apart remains
An article from a Malaysian news source details the mounting frustrations of Christians in the country who feel that a “creeping Islamisation” is slowly stripping away their rights to worship without interference.
5/27/08 Malaysia (TheStar)
JACKIE (not her real name) is a successful Kuala Lumpur based executive working for a local business group. Beneath her glamorous, professional exterior, however, is a committed Christian who spends a great deal of her spare time doing charitable work for the disadvantaged.
Jackie is also an indisputable source of the hottest corporate gossip – invariably tied with Umno politics.
However, in the months leading up to the March 8 election, I noticed that Jackie had become less comfortable about the political climate. Something was ruffling her neatly-coiffed feathers.
Finally, after I’d pushed her to explain her silences, it all poured out – the anger and frustration of a being a Christian in Malaysia:
“Karim, in the past we were happy enough – they left us alone and we could practice our faith without problem. Anyhow it’s written in the Bible – ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto the Lord what is His’. We know where to draw the line. We know how to be loyal Malaysians but now everything’s upside down.
“Over the past few years, the pressure’s been building up. There’s the Lina Joy case, the demonstrations in Ipoh, the body-snatchings, the seizure of Bibles published in Malay and uproar over Article 11. It’s doesn’t stop! They never let you forget that you are different.
“And just when you think things are getting better something else explodes onto the headlines.”
In Penang, I encountered a charming but forthright religious leader who told me: “At best it’s like the Malay dance, the ronggeng – two steps forward then one step back. We’re always under pressure, always being squeezed. Frankly, I shall be very happy to leave this country though I was born here.”
Has Malaysia really become this closed-minded when it comes to religion?
According to Reverend Herman Shastri, general secretary to the Council of Churches Malaysia, who I spoke to before the March polls: “Points of tension between the different religions have been taking place with more frequency.
“Part of this is due to the fact that information is more easily disseminated now, but it is also indicative that Malaysians are changing. The youth, in particular the young leaders, are more willing to defend the rights of their faith.”
Decades of creeping Islamisation under the aegis of leaders like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has seen a steady erosion of Christian confidence, and it is this wave that swept Jackie from being a die-hard Barisan supporter to a sceptic.