01/19/2016, 18.41
MALAYSIA

Malaysian Christians and Muslims divided amid overtures, fears and suspicions

For Fr Lawrence Andrew, editor of Malaysia’s only weekly paper, "The Church is working hard to reach out to Muslims, and the result is the meeting between our archbishop and the mufti." In the wake of the Jakarta attacks, the “fear of Islamisation” is growing.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – “Many steps towards mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims have been taken in Malaysia; yet, suspicion and divisions prevail,” said Fr Lawrence Andrew, SJ editor of The Herald, a Malaysian Catholic Weekly.

“The Church,” he notes, “is working hard to reach out to Muslims, to be a builder of bridges, and that is what made our archbishop and the mufti meet."

On 8 January, Mgr Julian Leow, archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, met for the first time with Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri (pictured), Federal Territories mufti. The two discussed religious tolerance and mutual respect.

For Fr Andrew, “This is the beginning of a long journey. For now, they have not opened new scenarios, but the mufti promised to visit the Catholic cathedral and I think he will do it.” This would a first for the country.

Behind the dialogue, The Herald’s editor said, there is a desire to defuse sectarian tensions, but also “a fear of Islamisation, especially with the new threat from the Islamic State.

“After what happened in Jakarta,” he added, “the threat touches us closely. Some suspects have been arrested in Malaysia, men who might be linked to the attacks, but we cannot see how real the danger is”. In fact, two days ago, police arrested four men; one of them was planning a suicide attack in the capital.

Until yesterday, Christians also eagerly waited for Christian leaders to meet with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, expecting that topical issues like the security laws and conversions might be discussed.

"In reality, it [the meeting] was a belated Christmas dinner,” Fr Andrew said. “The prime minister did not have time to receive the Christian delegation during the holiday, and did it now. I don’t think they talked about thorny issues. No public release was issued either.”

Despite the difficulties, some signs of hope for dialogue can be seen even among Muslims. "It is very encouraging that the Sultan of Johor* is very open to Christianity. This is an important sign that will bear fruit in the future."

In Malaysia, Muslims are 60 per cent of the population of more than 28 million people. Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members.

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Catholics number 180,000 out of a population of 1.1 million people.

In general, Christians play an important role in the nation's life; however, in recent years, they have been the object of attacks and violence in relation to the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.

* One of Malaysia’s federal states.

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