Updated: July 15, 2016 11:32 AM GMT
A Malaysian Muslim woman walks past a Hindu temple on her way to work in Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 12. (Photo by AFP)
The recent desecration of Hindu temples in Malaysia and a racially tinged protest march by members of the ruling party has minority groups in the country on edge.
Police say they are investigating seven temple attacks over the last two months in the northern states of Penang and Kedah in Peninsular Malaysia.
"No need to relate it to Islamic State or racism, please stop this," Penang police chief Abdul Ghafar Rajab was quoted as saying by local media on July 14 when revealing that a man had admitted he was responsible for two of the incidents.
National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said July 11 that a task force had been set up to investigate the temple attacks while also ruling out acts of terrorism as a cause.
Penang Deputy Chief Minister P. Ramasamy, who is also the Penang Hindu Endowment Board chairperson, is not so sure.
Malaysiakini.com quoted the deputy chief minister complaining that there seemed to be a lack of concern by the authorities about the attacks.
"Lack of swift police action and the isolation of temples were the reasons why so many temples were attacked and deities smashed," Ramasamy said.
"Some vandalism might give the appearance of hate crime whereas the others could be the result of robberies," he said.
Ramasamy said he is worried that apart from robbery, the quick succession of attacks within a short period also points to rising racial and religious polarization in the country.
On top of this there have been death threats and calls to arms made by the so-called Islamic State over the last few weeks.
Many non-Muslims fear that the recent temple desecration and the Islamic State threats are being used by unscrupulous politicians to erode religious freedom in multi-ethnic Malaysia.
Some Christians speaking on condition of anonymity told ucanews.com that believe non-Muslim communities are targeted as a ploy to unite the politically divided Muslim community.
A protest march by members of the ruling United Malay National Organization (UMNO) on July 12 added to the disquiet already being felt after a mufti (Islamic legal expert) labeled those opposing hudud (the system of punishment set up by the Quran) as "kafir harbi" (warring infidel) last month.
The Penang march was aimed at the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a national opposition party that rules the state. The marchers cast "hell money," a funeral offering by Chinese for deceased ancestors, around the headquarters of the predominantly Chinese supported political party.
The notes were cast outside the building several times by some 200 protesters led by UMNO members who accuse DAP of slighting Islam.
News reports quote one of the protesters as explaining that the use of the "hell money" was their way of saying they "want DAP people to die."
That the temple attacks and the xenophobic protest have come just a week after Prime Minister Najib Razak urged the public to help fight militancy in the country, is disturbing, said a Christian couple in Penang who requested anonymity.
"He (Razak) must do something to stop the intimidation by government supporters but he never does anything," they said.
Najib had urged Malaysians to notify the police if they came across any suspicious activity. "We must reject extremism and militancy," he said in a live broadcast at the Seri Perdana Complex in Putrajaya during an Eid al-Fitr function on July 6.
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