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Using religion for 'political play'
Activists link religious strife to political ambitionsMalay Musims comprise more than 60 percent of the country's population and dominate political institutions
- ucanews.com reporter, Penang
- September 19, 2011
âInterreligious relations in Malaysia have worsened of late and I credit it to being politicised by many groups,â said Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairperson of the Christian Federation of Malaysia. âWhen faiths are being politicised, they will become ugly, insensitive, irresponsible, sometimes immoral, divisive and inhumane," added the Anglican bishop.
BK Ong, a Penang-based social activist and election observer, said the ruling National Front government headed by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) âwants to recapture and maintain support of the majority Malay-Muslim population. Therefore, it is portraying itself as their religious champion.â
During the 2008 general election, the National Front government significantly lost their two-thirds majority in Parliament as well as five of the countryâs 14 states and territories.
Because of this push to secure the votes of Malay-Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of the population, âUMNO tends to side with the Malay-Muslims in any issue related to religion,â Ong said.
Religious issues have been played up in the past few years, such as the continued ban on Malay-speaking Christians from using the word âAllahâ for God, despite a high-court ruling to the contrary; the impounding of Malay-language Bibles; and recently, a raid by Islamic religious authorities on a Methodist church building during a fund-raising dinner for suspected proselytizing of Muslims, Ong added.
A Muslim academic who asked not to be named said that âinterreligiousÂ relations in this country, particularly between Christian and Muslim communities, have deteriorated to some degree over the last few years.â The Muslim, who also heads a Penang- based reform group, said âthe ruling party, sometimes via certain [pressure] groups, has exploited religion to advance their interests and perpetuate themselves in power.â
He added: âOften people with vested interests would attempt to pit one religious community against another in their attempt to appear as a âheroâ in the eyes of one community.â
For Reverend Eu Hong Seng, chairperson of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, the Malaysian Church has become a âconvenient football in the political play between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties.â
âHow is it that for over 40 years [since the formation of the nation], Allah, Malay Bibles and alleged apostasy were non-issues, but today, they are?â
On improving relations, Kee Tuan Chye, a prominent actor and journalist, said this is not easy âbecause one religion is given a special place above other religions.â
According to the Constitution, âIslam is the religion of the federationâ of Malaysia.
The Muslim academic who asked not to be named, however, offered this advice for both Christians and Muslims.
âUnite around certain pressing current issues such as fighting corruption, particularly the big fish in government and business corporations. Followers of faiths can also strengthen their bonds by collectively protecting and saving the environment from the avaricious appetite of the capitalists to turn every available green area into a concrete jungle.â