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THE recent round of anti-evangelical Christian bashing was part of a pattern where Barisan National (BN) looked for scapegoats to distract the public from its weak position, a political scientist said at an interfaith forum on Christian evangelicals today.

Dr Maszlee Malik said BN politicians had employed this tactic in the past by politicising issues involving ethnic Chinese, Singapore or allegations of ‘Christianisation’, in order to rally support and stoke Malay or nationalist sentiments.

Today he addressed evangelical concerns about recent rhetoric, such as lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff’s accusation that Selangor Assembly Speaker Hannah Yeoh had used her biography to proselytise Muslims, the uproar last month over the Jerusalem Jubilee celebration in a Malacca church that was eventually cancelled, and a call by a Muslim human rights group to ban evangelical Christianity.

“If you notice, all this bashing and blaming of scapegoats is when BN is in crisis,” said Maszlee at the forum ‘Deceitful? Distracting? Or Dedicated? Evangelicals and Current Controversies’ held at Menara Wesley in Kuala Lumpur today.

Some academics and think tanks inflame these sentiments, added Maszlee, who also teaches at the International Islamic University Malaysia in the Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences.

Kamarul Zaman, who made issue out of Yeoh’s book, is a an academic at Universiti Utara Malaysia, while the call to ban evangelical Christianity was made by the Centre of Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centre), a think-tank formed by a coalition of Islamic organisations, which includes other academics.

Rhetoric like this exploits the growing ignorance Malaysians have of each other because people were receiving their information about other races from limited sources, he added.

“Malaysians have lived together for so long, yet know so little about each other. The information that the races have about each other’s religion and culture is not at the degree that it should be, given that we have lived so long together,” he said.

“This is the failure of our education system and our social system, and we need to change this.

“For example, Chinese speakers get their information about Muslims from Chinese newspapers. Likewise, Malays get their information about other religions and cultures from the Malay media. The media shouldn’t be the source of all information alone, the media can only give us a glimpse of things,” he said.

The other speaker at the forum, Bishop Emeritus of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, Rev Hwa Yung, also said religion had been used as a political tool in Malaysia many times and cited PAS lawmaker Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz’s claim that evangelical Christians had ‘infiltrated a major political party’ to carry out their ‘Christianisation agenda’.

“Why is he only saying this now? Did not PAS join DAP in Pakistan Rakyat before? It’s a clear use of religion as a tool in politics to demonise their opponent.”

‘Malaysian Christians not Zionists’

Hwa also addressed perceptions surrounding the Jerusalem Jubilee celebration in Malacca and said it was not true that the majority of Malaysian Christians supported Zionism.

“There is affinity between the Jewish faith and Christianity because of history, so there is sympathy for Israel from Malaysian Christians, but that’s not the same as supporting Zionism.

“The majority of Malaysian Christians are not Zionists. They don’t accept everything that Israel does as right,” Hwa said, adding that many Palestinians were Christians and also suffered under the Israeli regime.

Hwa, however, admitted that national Christian bodies could have clarified this stance more publicly to quieten the uproar from Muslims over the Jerusalem Jubilee meeting.

“That is something we should look at,” he told the crowd of roughly 100 people at the forum, which included several Muslims.

Hwa also explained the terms ‘evangelism’ (sharing and spreading the Christian Gospel), ‘evangelicalism’ (a movement or theological group within Protestant Christianity) and ‘evangelical’ (theological position).

“Evangelism in Christianity is similar to ‘dakwah’ (preaching) in Islam,’ Hwa said.

Maszlee, however, said that while that both Islam and Christianity were proselytising religions, it remained a very sensitive point for Muslims and any attempts by Christians to fight for their rights to preach would be taken negatively.

He said part of this stemmed from the Malay psyche where Christianity, introduced to Malaya through missionaries before independence, was still equated with colonialism.

“The moment they see you insisting on your rights to preach, the more this enhances the discourse of hatred.

“There are many other means for Christians and Muslims to work together — to protect the environment, to fight corruption and extremism, more inter-faith dialogue — proselytisation need not always be the focus,” Maszlee said. – July 8, 2017.


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