Malaysian Muslims denounce Christian conversion efforts

October 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Asia, Malaysia, newsletter-asia, Persecution

Malaysian Muslims protest against what they say were attempts to evangelise Muslims, in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur October 22, 2011/Stringer

Malaysian Muslims protest against what they say were attempts to evangelise Muslims, in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur October 22, 2011/Stringer

Malaysia, October 22, 2011: About 2,000 slogan-shouting Malaysian Muslims gathered near the capital on Saturday to denounce alleged Christian attempts to convert Muslims, widening a religious rift that could cost Prime Minister Najib Razak minority votes in upcoming polls.

The rally led by non-governmental bodies comes amid an escalating row over accusations of covert conversions among Muslims and a raid on a Methodist church, which has divided Muslims and angered ethnic minorities.

Men, women and families gathered in a stadium in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur to unite against what they said were attempts to evangelize Muslims, an offence in a country where over half the population follows Islam.

“We have gathered today to save the faith of Muslims due to the threat of apostasy,” Yusri Mohamad, chairman of the organising committee, told the crowd.

“Some people say they (non-Muslims) work hard to spread their religion and that there is nothing wrong with apostasy. These are the voices which we want to drown out with our gathering today.”

Ethnic Malays, who make up over half of the population, are Muslim by birth and constitutionally forbidden to leave the faith. Non-Muslims are guaranteed freedom of worship.

The protest follows a recent meeting in a church which was raided by Islamic authorities on suspicion of attempts to convert Muslims. The church said it was a charity meeting.

In keeping with Muslim tradition, men wearing skullcaps and women in traditional dress and headscarves sat separately in the stadium on Saturday as clerics delivered fiery speeches and urged followers to remain faithful.

Banners strung across the stadium read “Say no to apostasy, don’t challenge the position of Islam” and “Together let’s prevent apostasy”.

Religious singing groups entertained the crowd, while they chanted “Let’s gather to save the faith of Muslims” and “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

“This gathering is good so that Muslims can unite because the recent raid on the church has raised fears about apostasy,” said Muhammad Basori Hassan, a trader in his 30s, who attended the protest.

The four-hour gathering was peaceful and the turnout was a fraction of the 10,000-strong crowd which took to the streets in July to demand electoral reforms, but analysts said it would have ramifications for Najib in the next general election.

Malaysia’s next election is not due until 2013 but many expect Najib to call one early next year before economic growth, projected at 5 percent in 2011, slows amid a possible global downturn.

Khoo Kay Peng, a political analyst, said the protest would only further stoke fears among minorities and would not garner new Malay support for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

“For people who are already voting for Barisan Nasional, the gathering is preaching to the converted as there will always be fears by some that outspoken Chinese will erode Malay rights,” he said.

“Barisan needs instead to move to the centre and bridge the gap.”

Analysts say political parties have traditionally used race and religion to sway support in this multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country.

In recent years, ethic strife between Malays, Chinese and Indian minorities has inflamed racial tensions. But the squabble between Muslims and Christians has taken centerstage amid a rash of church bombings, the seizure of Bible shipments and legal action over the Christian use of the word “Allah”.

— reuters

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