KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 ― In the face of worsening religious ties, a new Christian movement has emerged to fill the gap at the grassroots level where interfaith cooperation announced by those in power often fails to reach.
Professing to be an agent of peace, the Putrajaya-backed Christians for Peace and Harmony in Malaysia (CPHM) that will be launched officially on June 2 is aiming to engage non-Christian Malaysians with “people-to-people” sessions to rebuild interfaith ties, particularly between Christians and Muslims.
“Now there are many levels today, where Christians engage with the multi-faith Malaysian society, but these are at the very top levels.
“We have, in Selangor, the Council of Churches Malaysia and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia which engage with the government at official levels in raising issues concerning the Christian community.
“At the grassroots level, however, there are no representatives of the Christian community engaging with other faith communities such as the Muslims and the Hindus,” Lee Min Choon, a member of the CPHM’s board of trustees, told Malay Mail Online.
Lee, a lawyer and a former chairman of the Bible Society of Malaysia, said this is where CPHM could work to overcome religious misunderstandings and foster balmy ties with the other faiths.
He pointed out that there was currently a “vacuum” at such levels that could be filled by CHPM’s and its activities.
As with the Christian saying that charity starts at home, CHPM also began with the mission to promote Christians outreach.
“On the part of Christians, our non-governmental organisation was started to encourage and mobilise Christians to engage with the other communities and become friends… good Malaysians,” he added.
Religious ties have been strained in Malaysia during recent years, particularly over a high-profile legal tussle between Muslims and Christians over “Allah”, the Arabic word for God.
In 2008, the Home Ministry prohibited the Catholic Church from printing “Allah” in the Malay language section of its Herald newsletter, prompting the Church to sue for what it claimed was Christians’ constitutional right to use the word.
The six-year long legal battle ended in defeat this year when the Federal Court chose not to hear an appeal against a 2013 decision denying the Catholic newsletter from using the Arabic word for God.
Although technically limited to the case of the Catholic Church and the Herald, the decision has been taken to mean Muslim exclusivity over the term “Allah”.
The continued friction between the two faiths can also be traced to allegations of Christian efforts to proselytise to Muslims — illegal in Malaysia — that manifested in a controversial protest that forced a church in Selangor to remove its cross two months ago.
In April, about 50 Taman Medan Muslim residents staged a protest against the Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church for putting up a cross on its façade, claiming the act was a challenge to Islam and could influence young Muslims.
Lee pointed out that the Taman Medan incident was a good example of what happens when interfaith ties are not cultivated at the grassroots level, as misunderstandings could flare up from a lack of interaction among the country’s various faiths.
“We need people to engage with one another as brother and sisters. Otherwise, people at grassroots level will keep to themselves, and then have conflicts.
“We believe that Christians have to do our own part to overcome these issues and not be paralysed by it ourselves,” he added.