By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 — The Cabinet’s interfaith panel will act against a “provocative” seminar by Johor education and Islamic authorities on the “threat of Christianisation”, which has sparked outrage among Christians.
Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, head of the Special Committee to Promote Inter-religious Understanding and Harmony, said the seminar flies in the face of the government’s school-level inter-faith harmony week launched last month by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is himself from the southern state.
“They should not have such provocative titles,” he said of the seminar themed “Pemantapan Aqidah, Bahaya Liberalisme dan Pluralism Serta Ancaman Kristianisasi Terhadap Umat Islam. Apa Peranan Guru?” (Strengthening the Faith, the Dangers of Liberalism and Pluralism and the Threat of Christianity towards Muslims. What is the Role of Teachers?).
Organised by the Johor Education and Mufti Departments, the seminar requires the attendance of two religious teachers from each of the 55 national schools across Johor.
“I will instruct my officers to look into it and the content of the seminar. We just launched the inter-faith harmony week in schools. This is not inline at all. I will advise them not to use such a title,” the National Unity and Integration Department (NUID) director-general told The Malaysian Insider.
He added that while “it is fine to improve your faith”, such seminars “will cause the [non-Muslim] community to feel uncomfortable.”
Azman also said in a text message later he has informed the federal government’s “education director general for immediate action.”
The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) told The Malaysian Insider yesterday it was “shocked and in disbelief” over “the fact that it (the seminar title) is officially on the website suggests that the state department is lending support to this thinking that there is a threat against Islam.”
When contacted, Hasimah Abdul Hamid, the supervisor for the Islamic Education Unit of the Johor Bahru Education Office, declined to comment on the programme’s stance towards the apparent threat of Christianity against Muslims.
“The purpose of this programme is of course to strengthen the faith of Muslims,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
Christians form 9.2 per cent of Malaysia’s 28.3 million-strong population.
In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim God.
Christians, however, have argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that has been used by those of other religious beliefs, including the Jews, in reference to God in many other parts of the world, notably in Arab nations and Indonesia.
The inter-faith panel was set up by Putrajaya in the aftermath of a High Court ruling allowing the Catholic Church to use the term Allah in January 2010 that led to several places of worship, mainly churches, being firebombed.
Over the past year, Malay media such as Utusan Malaysia and conservative Muslim groups have also accused Christians of attempting to convert Muslims, resulting in heightened tension between followers of the two religions.