KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 – Are Christian evangelical groups using foreigners to try and spread the word of God to Malaysians?
Though it may have been happening for a long time, two cases this month alone seem to be an indication that it is being carried out more openly by foreigners who may not be aware of the sensitivities in Malaysia, as well as that it is illegal to proselytise to Muslims here.
Just two weeks after five Nigerian nationals were detained by police for distributing Christian religious materials in Penang, four more foreigners were arrested yesterday in Langkawi for the same.
The suspects, who ranged in age from 27 to 60, were from Finland, the police revealed in a statement today.
They were detained in their hotel at about 5pm, after the police received complaints from members of the public who were suspicious of their activities.
According to Langkawi district police chief Supreintendent Mohd Iqbal Ibrahim, the suspects were seen distributing religious materials to workers and traders at Jalan Pantai Chenang at 10.30pm on Sunday.
Police also seized 336 notebooks containing text from the Bible, 47 pens and two suitcases.
“The suspects were believed to have arrived in Langkawi on Sunday and were scheduled to depart tomorrow,” Iqbal said in a statement, adding that they are being investigated under Section 298A of the Penal Code for for causing disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity.
The suspects are also being investigated under Section 39B of the Immigration Act 1959/1963, Iqbal said.
Nigerian evangelicals caught in Penang
On November 8, police in George Town said the five Nigerians arrested were seen distributing Bible-inspired book at Lebuh Carnavon.
The suspects, two men and three women aged 25 to 30, were also found to have no valid travel documents.
According to police, they were also believed to have been part of a group that was spotted distributing the book to the public near Bukit Bendera earlier today.
In both cases, the police have not indicated if there is proof that the foreigners were passing Christian religious materials to Muslims.
Viral photos of Christian materials being distributed
The proselytising of Christianity to non-Muslims who are of other faiths has been going on for many decades but viral photos recently showing it being done in public areas and near a government school with Muslim students nearby has brought the issue into the limelight.
This issue however, seems to be only related to the evangelical churches, which are more aggressive compared with the older organised church denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England (Anglican).
There is a lot of emphasis placed by these evangelical churches on their followers to go to ground and spread the faith.
It has been speculated that foreigners coming to this country for this purpose could be a way to avoid action against any particular evangelical church by the authorities.
Discrimination against all Churches, Christians
However, as a result of these actions and arrests too, the whole Christian community, regardless of denomination, could now face discrimination from certain quarters and may even face action despite most churches abiding by the law in the country against proselytising to Muslims.
With the ICERD ratification issue now a hot topic, many Muslim groups, including political parties, such as Umno and PAS, are using the opportunity to call for more action against the act of distributing Christian religious materials, regardless of whether it is targeted at Muslims or not.
This brings to mind the case of the Muslim man berating the beer promoter in the Giant hypermarket in Ampang Point recently.
As can be seen in the video going viral, the promoter tells the man that she is only offering the beer samples to non-Muslims and those over 18, but this is ignored by the man, who has since apologised for his action.
– John S.
* The views expressed in this commentary are that of the writer and does not represent the views of NMT or its staff.