KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 – Catholic church officials were told to remove crucifixes and to avoid hymns being sung when Prime Minister Najib Razak attended the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur’s Christmas tea party last Saturday.
The overzealous bid to protect the prime minister’s Islamic credentials was described by sources familiar with what happened as “paranoid” and done without Najib’s knowledge.
The sources also noted the actions of officials from the prime minister’s office could have jeopardised warming religious ties.
The Malaysian Insider understands that Najib’s men may have been spooked by the National Fatwa Council’s recent repeated announcements over Muslims at non-Muslim celebrations and had tripped over themselves to ensure his attendance at the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur’s Christmas Day high-tea passed without a hitch.
It was Najib’s first time attending a Christian function in his official role since taking over power in April last year.
The Malaysian Insider understands the PM had been invited to last year’s open house hosted by the Mar Thoma church in Brickfields here, but did not attend.
Najib has been instrumental in bringing the heads of different creeds to the same table earlier this year to try and peacefully resolve the long-standing interfaith disputes after a series of attacks against houses of worship nationwide.
The violence erupted following a controversial court ruling allowing Christians to also use the word “Allah” to refer to God beyond the Muslim context.
Sources disclosed that this year, the PM’s aides had issued a list of instructions to Archbiship Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam to facilitate Najib’s attendance on Christmas Day.
Among the directives given were:
. To remove any overt Christian symbol, such as crucifixes, from the party premises
. That carollers not belt out hymns
. Not to quote from Scriptures or say any Christian prayer during the visit.
Similar conditions have been laid in previous Christmas celebrations, including those graced by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong himself, said a member of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the umbrella body representing the various denominations.
The instructions usually came from the staff without the knowledge of the dignitary, said the insider who has been on the organising committee on more than one occasion.
“Previously, the carollers even sang some Christmas hymns. The King was there. No one made a fuss. I don’t think they heard.
“I suspect the PM would not have objected either,” he had observed that a member of Najib’s office had conferred with Pakiam and made a quick circuit of the party grounds at Bukit Nanas shortly before the PM dropped in.
The Archbishop could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
But another member of the CFM echoed the observation.
“No conditions from PM. Only from his staff. That resolved by ABP very quickly,” the source told The Malaysian Insider in a text message, calling the Archbishop by initials.
The sources noted that Najib’s aides had little to be anxious about as the party was held outdoors where several marquees had been set up, where religious paraphernalia were the least likely to be fixed.
Grace was said before Najib turned up.
There were two groups of carollers serenading the crowd – one from Africa, the other a local outfit – but the guests were too caught up in their chatter and did not appear to be paying them any attention.
“They were overly fearful but there was nothing for them to be fearful about,” a source pointed out, dismissing Najib’s aides as too “paranoid”.