Tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities in Malaysia are rising after a Malay doctor facing marital problems is reported to have rejected sending his children to Muslim organisations for care. The man is said to have preferred to seek childcare from a church in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, instead.

A Malay-language tabloid reported that an official from the Selangor state Islamic Affairs department (JAIS) had claimed that the Malay doctor had committed an offence that could lead to a prison sentence of up to three years, a fine of not more than RM5,000 (US$1,700), or both.

The country’s population is 60% Muslim, which comprise mainly of Malay ethnics. The Federal Constitution upholds the freedom of religion of other faiths under Article 11, but it disallows them from proletysing to Muslims.

In recent weeks, allegations of Christians proletysing to the Muslim community have increased tensions between the two faiths, following a church raid conducted by JAIS during a thanksgiving dinner held at the church premises on Aug 3.

JAIS had claimed that it had the right to conduct a raid on the church, following a complaint received that the church had attempted to convert the 12 Muslims that attended the dinner.

Subsequently, a witchhunt on Christians attempting to convert Muslims, as well as Malay Muslims believed to have converted to Christianity, is said to be more rampant as well.

A tuition centre was shut down by the Education Ministry on Aug 20, following claims that the teachers were trying to convert several Malay Muslim children studying there.

Multi-religious and multi-ethic Malaysia is often confronted by controversies regarding apostasy among the Muslims and the banning of usage of the word ‘Allah’ in Malay-language Christian bibles.

One of the most high-profile apostasy cases in recent years is the Lina Joy case. Raised as a Muslim, Lina challenged the courts to have her identification as a Muslim removed from her identity card, after she had converted to Christianity.

Malaysia has slightly under 10% Christian population, with the bulk of them living in East Malaysia, which in turn, is known to be the deposit box of Barisan Nasional – a political alliance led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Political analysts say while the recent church raid is not likely to initiate winds of change in votes among the Christians in East Malaysia, heightened religious tension does not sit well with Najib who is expected to call for general elections by the first quarter of 2012.