KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — A Muslim charity which had allegedly planned conversion events in Sarawak’s remote Belaga district has denied luring locals with money or employing force, The Borneo Post reported today.

“It is not the Islamic way to `buy’ people to embrace Islam,” welfare group Yayasan Amal Sarawak (YAS) chairman Mukhtar Suhaili was reported as saying in response to claims that RM6,000 had been offered to Belaga villagers to convert to Islam.

“Our programmes are more towards engaging and sharing with fellow Muslim colleagues on welfare matters,” he reportedly claimed yesterday.

Mukhtar acknowledged that the organisation had initially planned a welfare programme from tomorrow until October 19 in Punan Bah village in Belaga, but said Sarawak’s Islamic authorities had ordered its cancellation.

“However, the plan was cancelled upon a directive from Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak and Majlis Islam Sarawak due to unforeseen circumstances,” said Mukhtar.

The English-language daily also reported last week that Yayasan Amal Malaysia’s Sarawak branch had failed to get the Sarawak government’s approval to carry out its proselytisation programme this week in remote Belaga, an area deep in the Borneo state’s interior populated mostly by indigenous Christians.

The event in question was called: “Program Ziarah Dakwah Mahabbah dan Amal Kebajikan” [translation: Proselytisation visit and welfare programme] scheduled for October 15 to 19, the paper reported citing a state official.

“This is in line with the powers of the Sarawak Islamic Council as provided in Section 58(1) of the Sarawak Islamic Council Ordinance 2001 and Section 11 of the Sarawak Syariah Criminal Offence Ordinance 2001,” the daily quoted Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman, an assistant state minister, as saying in a statement on the refusal of consent.

According to the English-language daily, Section 58(1) of the Sarawak Islamic Council Ordinance 2001 states that no one can teach or propagate or explain any doctrine on Islam publicly without the written consent of the council.

Unlike elsewhere in Muslim-majority Malaysia, Sarawak’s population is predominantly Christian.

Its current Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has repeatedly pledged to protect the state’s racial and religious harmony, including the right of its Bumiputera Christians to use the word “Allah”.

Use of the Arabic word for God has stirred much religious controversy in the country in recent years, drawing a deep line between Muslims and non-Muslims in the multi-cultural country of 28 million people.