Tuesday, 14 July 2009

2 Malaysian Muslims stir anger over church article

Malaysian authorities are investigating two Muslims who sparked complaints after they pretended to be Christians at a church service to write a magazine article, officials said Tuesday.

The investigation poses a fresh challenge for the government in its efforts to reduce religious friction in this ethnic Malay Muslim-majority country, where religious minorities have complained that their rights are being sidelined in favor of Islam.

A churchgoer filed a police complaint last week after reading an article in the monthly Malay-language Al-Islam magazine written by contributor who described how he attended a Roman Catholic mass with his friend and hid his Muslim identity.

The writer said they were trying to confirm rumors that many Muslim teenagers were being converted to Christianity in Kuala Lumpur's churches every Sunday. He described how they tasted communion wafers to blend in with the crowd, but found no evidence to support the rumors.

Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, the Catholic church's main publication in Malaysia, said the men had "insulted the Christians" through their actions.

"For us, this is a very holy matter," Andrew told The Associated Press. "They have shown disregard, disrespect. ... So we are very upset about this."

Representatives of Al-Islam, which writes about Islamic teachings and news, could not immediately be contacted.

Police federal crime investigations head Mohamad Bakri Zinin said officials were investigating the two men for possibly causing religious disharmony - a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Joachim Francis Xavier, the Catholic man who filed the police complaint, said the men had been irresponsible and that their actions could cause religious tensions.

"If everyone starts to intrude into each other's services and write about it, there will be chaos," Xavier said.

He noted that non-Christians were welcome to attend church ceremonies, but they cannot take communion. The magazine article also indicated the men had spat out the communion wafer because they took a photograph of it partially bitten.

Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities - who comprise about one-third of Malaysia's population - often say their constitutional right to practice religion freely has come under threat from Muslim-dominated authorities. The government denies any discrimination.

Religious disputes include a court battle between the Catholic church and the government over a 2007 order banning non-Muslims from translating God as "Allah" in their literature. The government says its use would confuse Muslims, but Christians say the ban is unconstitutional.