KUALA LUMPUR, June 2 — There is more freedom of religion in Malaysia compared to Singapore and the United States, both of which imposes stricter laws against various faiths, a prominent Christian preacher said today.
President of a new non-governmental organisation Christians for Peace and Harmony Malaysia (CPHM), Reverend Wong Kim Kong said that an individual preaching a different religion can be prosecuted in Singapore but not in Malaysia.
“In Singapore, if you preach other religions in a sermon, or you pray to a god made of wood, they’ll report to the police under the Singapore Religious Harmony Act, you’ll (be) prosecuted.
“In Malaysia, even if you talk bad about a different religion, not that we want to, they won’t disturb you,” he said during a press conference ahead of CPHM’s official launch.
He claimed Malaysians are also allowed to freely practice their religions at any location while Americans face difficulty even when wanting to pray.
“For the Christians, the Buddhist, the Hindus, you can build a shrine anywhere, you can open a church in any shop lot.
“You can even form a church without registration because the constitution allows you to practice your religion.
“Even in America, you can’t pray. So it just depends on which angle you look at,” he said.
He also noted that the debacle over the usage if the word Allah, an Arabic word that means god, in Bibles using Bahasa Malaysia has also been misinterpreted as an attempt to convert Muslims into Christianity, which it is not.
“I want to assure you that the accusation is actually not true. The church, as far as I know, never use the word Allah to preach the gospel,” he said.
“But the word Allah is used by our Bahasa Malaysia-speaking congregation to denote the god that they believe. So it’s not a tool for evangelism,” he added.
He further explained that the usage of the term was in no way an attempt to coerce others into Christianity.
“But I cannot deny the reality that sometimes overzealous Christians share the good news, every religion has this type of people, but by and large the Malaysian Christians are not extremists.
“We don’t coerce, some may out of enthusiasm, but generally they are peace-making,” he said.
This comes amid religious tensions silently brewing in Malaysia, with right-wing Muslim groups like Perkasa and the Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) pitting themselves against various interfaith groups.
The country’s minority groups have repeatedly lashed out at the authorities’ allegedly nonchalant responses to remarks issued by Muslim fundamentalists against the sensitivities of the non-Muslims here, insisting that their inaction have only emboldened these groups and others into inciting more violence and hatred.
Earlier this year, influential UK paper Financial Times columnist David Pilling had written that growing religious intolerance in Asian countries could turn into a “disaster” for the region.
He cited Malaysia as an example of yet another country with “hardening ideology” but did not elaborate on the disaster this might cause.
Malaysia also made international headlines when it banned a Catholic Church publication from using the word “Allah”, which is deemed here as exclusive to Muslims, as well as the seizure of Malay and Iban medium Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) last year.
In April this year, a group of Muslims protested against a church’s hanging of a cross on its facade, claiming the symbol was a threat to them and their religious beliefs.