In Malaysia, celebrating Christmas means you have to obtain a police permit just to sing carols in public. In early December, news reports surfaced that parish priests in Klang, a town located in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, were asked by the district police to provide details of home owners that carolers would visit.
This is on top of a police permit that churches have to obtain in order for carolers to move in groups from one place to another lawfully. Churches would usually have to furbish the police information such as the carolers’ full names, identity card numbers, date , times and locations they will be at for singing old-time carols such as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World”.
The new conditions imposed on carolers became the talk of the town, hot on the heels of a street protest ban, after the Malaysian Parliament recently passed the Peaceful Assembly Bill. Christian leaders voiced concerns that these stricter rules are yet another attempt by the government to regulate worship among Christians.
Christians form less than 10% of Malaysia’s population of 28 million, with the majority being in East Malaysia. 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.
While the Federal Constitution guarantees its citizens the freedom of worship, the Christian population in this country have faced several threats and restrictions this year, causing nervousness among its citizens that religious clashes would occur in Malaysia.
There were already several times when Malaysian Christians were accused of trying to ‘Christianize’ the nation. The allegations were incidentally supported by East Malaysians’ usage of the word ‘Allah’ in their Malay-language bibles (which is not a problem even in Islamic countries in the Middle East) and accusations that the opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, is a Christian political party.
The latest controversy on religion happened just a few months ago, when the state religious affair department raided a church during a thanksgiving dinner held at the church premises, following claims that the church had attempted to convert the 12 Muslims that attended the dinner.
Subsequently, there was a witch hunt on Christians attempting to convert Muslims, as well as on Malay Muslims believed to have converted to Christianity. A tuition centre was shut down by the Education Ministry, on claims that the teachers were trying to convert several Malay Muslim children studying there.
The uneasiness of the Christian population in Malaysia has received much publicity from the press this year, resulting in The New York Times running an article about it, headlined “For Malaysian Christians, an Anxious Holiday Season”.