PETALING JAYA, Dec 25 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak today reassured the Christian community in Malaysia that his government has not forgotten them despite growing feelings that they are being sidelined.
The prime minister appeared to placate the community by praising the contributions of Christians in Malaysia, especially the role played by mission schools in raising the bar in education.
“I do not want to be a prime minister for only a particular section of the community. I’m a prime minister for all Malaysians, and I’ve said that repeatedly,” Najib reminded a Christian crowd at a Christmas party here.
Najib cited the recent lift of a ban for Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem as proof that the government recognises Christians as essential to the nation.
“I believe that a God-fearing Christian, with strong values, would be good for Malaysia,” he added.
Najib also called for Christian leaders to continue engaging in dialogue and to engage the government constructively.
“I am pleased to note that we have, for the past three years, a permanent dialogue mechanism,” he urged, referring to the government interfaith committee headed by Datuk Azman Amin Hassan.
Najib told the crowd that he was inspired by Christian leaders who are active participants in the committee and had encouraged the government to improve interreligious relations.
Besides praising mission schools, the PM also paid tribute to the many charitable initiatives run by churches such as welfare homes, legal aid clinics, and outreach programmes.
The Lutheran Church of Malaysia’s Bishop Philip Lok had earlier in his opening speech thanked the PM for lifting the ban.
“Indeed, this is a wonderful Christmas gift for many of our members,” Lok said.
Around 1,000 Christians gathered in the Luther Centre here for a Christmas High Tea celebration organised by umbrella body Christian Federation of Malaysia.
Lawmakers across the political divide were spotted at the event, including the Minister of Information, Communications and Culture Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, Gerakan President Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon and DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng.
Also present were MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha and vice-president Datuk Donald Lim, DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok and PKR’s vice-president Tian Chua.
Earlier this month, Putrajaya had rescinded its quotas, age floor and other travel limits imposed last year on Christian Malaysians wishing to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s move, ahead of Christmas and national polls, was seen as a bid to win back dwindling support from the minority community that barely makes up 10 per cent of the country’s 28 million-strong population but is regarded as a swing vote group in urban areas and crucial to the battle to reclaim the middle ground.
Christian Malaysians had voiced their unhappiness with Putrajaya after churches were allowed to send only up to 20 pilgrims to Jerusalem a year besides limiting their stay there to a week, among several constraints, acts they saw as further erosion of their religious freedom guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
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.