For peace, pastor wants Muslims, Christians to quit converting others

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri (right) speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri (right) speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, Jan 14 — A Christian pastor has urged both Muslims and Christians to stop spreading their faith amid deepening tensions over the “Allah” row between the two Abrahamic religions. 

Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Protestant umbrella body, Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM), said that religious discourse could not continue if non-Muslims are prohibited from propagating their beliefs to Muslims, while the reverse is allowed under the law. 

“So it is better for Christians and Muslims to declare ‘we don’t proselytise anybody’, and we’ll live in peace,” Shastri told a forum on freedom of religion here last night that was mostly attended by non-Malays.

Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution prohibits non-Muslims from propagating their faith to Muslims, which has been used as the basis for various state laws throughout Malaysia — except for Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories — to ban non-Muslims from using certain Arabic words and phrases, including the word for God, “Allah”.

The Christian minority in Malaysia has been accused of attempting to proselytise to Muslims, with Terengganu Mufti Dr Zulkifly Muda reportedly commending the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) for confiscating Malay and Iban-language bibles to stem such purported conversion attempts.

At the forum, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, chairman of Muslim think tank Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), questioned why Muslims could not put themselves in the shoes of Christians who are banned from sharing their faith to Muslims.

“If I were to live in Australia, and Australia says that I can’t share my beliefs with my friends, I’ll feel like I’m being persecuted,” said Ahmad Farouk.

“Why can’t Muslims feel the same? Feel what Christian brothers feel when they are prevented from sharing what they believe. Just because we’re the majority in this country, we can do what we like? That’s wrong,” he added.

Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) chairman Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) chairman Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Ahmad Farouk told The Malay Mail Online after the forum that for the sake of reciprocity, non-Muslims should be allowed to share their religious beliefs with Muslims.

“As much as Muslims could proselytise to others, then others could also share their faith with Muslims,” said the Muslim.

“We have to revise the law. It’s based on Clause 4 of Article 11. So we have to revise Clause 4... in the 21st century, others should have the same right,” he added, referring to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution.

Ahmad Farouk said that Article 11(4) was “not so relevant anymore” and called for discussions and debates on whether it should be repealed. 

Rev. Father Clarence Devadass, director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute (API), said at the forum that “mutual trust” was crucial to maintaining respect and harmony. 

“Jesus called for childlike qualities. There are no racial or religious divisions in the eyes of a child,” he told some 200 people in the packed hall, where several people were forced to stand in the aisles.

National Indian Action Team (NIAT) chairman Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May
National Indian Action Team (NIAT) chairman Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim, chairman of the NGO National Indian Rights Action Team (NIAT), said that the Jais raid against the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) on January 2 was an injustice.

“Injustice is forbidden in Islam,” Thasleem told the forum.

At the forum, which was jointly-organised by non-governmental organisations IRF, Pusat Komas and the Community Action Network (CAN), a Malay man questioned the message that the speakers were trying to deliver, noting that missionary work is part of the three Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“When you talk about rights, is it the right to proselytise? What is the message that the panel is trying to deliver to rural Malays?” asked the man, who identified himself as Hafiz Mokhtar.

Ahmad Farouk replied by quoting Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shiite imam: “He says that we are either brothers in faith or equals in humanity”.

Director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute, Father Clarence Devadass, speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute, Father Clarence Devadass, speaks at a forum on freedom of religion in Petaling Jaya January 13, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May