Seminar on Christian ‘Threat’ sparks outcry in Malaysia *Vietnam jailing of Christian pastor sparks controversy

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Asia, Malaysia, newsletter-asia, Persecution, Vietnam

Malaysia, March 31, 2012: More than 100 Islamic studies teachers in Johor have been ordered to attend a seminar on the “threat” of Christian proselytizing, sparking yet another controversy involving religion in multi-religious Malaysia.

The teachers, from 55 government schools in Johor, have been told to attend the one-day seminar this Saturday, jointly organized by the state education department and the Johor mufti department.

It is illegal in Malaysia to try to convert Muslims to another religion. Muslim leaders said the government of Muslim-majority Malaysia has a duty to defend the religion while Christian leaders called the seminar inflammatory.

“The problem of Christianisation has been around for a long while, it is real,” Datuk Sheikh Abdul Halim Abdul Kadir, president of the Malaysian Ulama Association, told news Web site The Malaysian Insider. “You need to educate teachers, especially the young ones who are unaware of this problem.”

Christian leaders meanwhile decried the seminar. “It is highly insensitive to be held in such a public domain and having the sponsorship of a government agency,” said Herman Shastri, secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia. “The government should put a stop to this.”

Herman said Christian churches do not condone preaching to Muslims but could not rule out that some isolated fundamentalist groups might attempt it.

Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, head of a Cabinet committee promoting inter-religious understanding, also slammed the seminar as counterproductive to federal efforts to improve religious tolerance.

“I will instruct my officers to look into it and the content of the seminar. We just launched the inter-faith harmony week in schools. This is not in line at all,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

The seminar comes after allegations elsewhere around the country that Christians are preaching to Muslims. Last August, the Selangor Islamic authorities raided a church in Petaling Jaya to investigate allegations that Christians were converting Muslims covertly at a fund-raising dinner.

Since October, a Muslim non-governmental organization called Himpun has organized four rallies, attracting thousands, to protest against proselytizing to Muslims.

Professor Shaharuddin Badaruddin, political science lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara, said the government needs to contain such inter-religious flare-ups which usually happen close to elections, when religious hardliners try to pressure a government eager to please Muslim voters.

“Most important is to promote civilisational dialogue, rather than take the confrontational approach to resolving inter-religious issues,” he said. “These issues are normal but needs to be contained to follow the 1Malaysia concept” by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

– the jakarta globe & straits times

Vietnam jailing of Christian pastor sparks controversy


Vietnam, March 27, 2012: Christian Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh thought he was helping Vietnam’s Christian community by having a house church. However, the church was not registered with the government and the 43-year-old has been sentenced to 11 years in jail for “disrupting national unity.”

The one-day trial in Gia Lia province has left many questioning the role of faith and Vietnam’s communism. But ultimately, the case, which saw Chinh admit to being in charge of the Mennonite church in the Central Highlands, has left Christians fearful that a backlash, even violence, could become more common.

“11 years in jail because he didn’t register a church that was not hurting anyone? I am shocked,” said Christian woman in Hanoi Pham Nhat, who told she knew people who attended Chinh’s church.

“They always spoke so highly of him and how he was a giving person, so it is wrong that he has to go to jail for his faith,” she added.

Chinh, who was arrested in April, was also convicted of handing out anti-government leaflets and “enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing,” the report said.

In communist Vietnam all churches have to be sanctioned by the state, a system criticized by rights groups.

“The overarching atmosphere for religious freedom in Vietnam is hostile,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He called the compulsory registration of religious groups and organisations “a deeply bureaucratic process riddled with pitfalls and Catch 22s.”

Chinh’s case highlights the strange relationship between religion and politics in Vietnam. Political analysts say that while the system is opening up, those responsible for religious institutions must be ready to follow all the regulations no matter what.

“We have to be aware that even though Vietnam is for the most part liberalizing the current rules and regulations for these kinds of things, they don’t want to be seen as relaxed when people don’t follow the law,” said Hanoi University professor Gi Ungien.

For now, the Christian community will have to wait for Nguyen’s release and whether he will receive any form of clemency.

“I really hope so because he is a good man,” added Pham.

– bikyamasr

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