Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang holds up a booklet of the party's manifesto for the 2018 general election. (Photo: AFP)
Two Malaysian Christians have called on the attorney-general to hold a prominent Muslim politician to account for what they see as seditious comments that denigrated Christians.
The two Christians, who are residents of the state of Sabah, said they want to see Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), charged under Section 3 of the Sedition Act in the Criminal Code for an article he wrote four years ago.
In the 2016 article published in a PAS-run newspaper, Hadi accused Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities in Malaysian states like Sabah and elsewhere by paying them off to convert to Christianity.
“Unfortunately, after being rejected in Europe, Christian missionaries have taken their teachings to those African countries where the people are far from being educated and civilized. They have also taken these teachings to the interior areas of our country, such as in Sabah and Sarawak [states in Malaysia],” the senior Muslim politician, 73, argued.
“They have spread their religion not by using knowledge and reasoned argument but by baiting their targets with money and other forms of aid. This is transgression in the name of religion. It is a danger that must be fought.”
The two Christians filed a complaint with the High Court in Kuala Lumpur last week, saying they want to have Hadi declared unfit for any government position because of his anti-Christian bigotry.
“It has been more than four years since the defendant issued the statement but no prosecution has been brought against him,” they said in their affidavit.
“We respectfully believe that the defendant has made an unfounded statement and cast aspersions on Christians and/or Christian missionaries. The defendant’s statement has affected the Christian community in the country and has thus become a matter of public interest.”
Anti-Christian statements are hardly uncommon in Muslim-majority Malaysia where Christians account for 13 percent of the population, according to a census last year. Two-thirds of Malaysian Christians live in just two of the country’s 13 states, Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, where they make up a third of the population.
Earlier this year, during a recent session in parliament, Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh, a prominent Muslim politician, said that the texts of the New Testament had been corrupted by Christians over time and so they did not reflect the true teachings of Jesus.
His comments caused widespread outrage among the country’s Christians, including its Catholics, and several lawmakers urged Zawawi to apologize for his religiously divisive comment.
Zawawi refused, arguing that Christians had no right to be offended because it was a “fact” that their scriptures had been corrupted.
“They have no right to be offended,” the Muslim lawmaker said. “What I said was not an accusation but a fact,” he added. “There is no need to apologize … What I said is right. Why should I apologize?”
In response, Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim, a prominent Catholic clergyman based in Kuala Lumpur, joined several other religious leaders from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism in decrying Zawawi’s comments as “totally unacceptable to all peace-loving Malaysians of all faiths.”
Archbishop Kim also issued a separate statement in which he said that the Muslim lawmaker “showed a reprehensible disrespect not only for his fellow Malaysians who are Christians but also for all the efforts of our forefathers in forging peoples of diverse creeds, colour and cultures into a peace-loving and harmonious nation.”