Malaysia

Respect Islam and we will respect you, Najib tells Christians

By Yow Hong Chieh
July 22, 2011
Latest Update: July 22, 2011 08:35 pm

SEPANG, July 22 — The government will engage with Christians groups here that love peace and respect the country’s Islamic leadership, the prime minister said today.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the Barisan Nasional (BN) government would work with Christians who wished to uphold world peace and harmony as it was committed to the “global movement of moderates”.

“We wish to tell our friends, the Malaysian Christians . . . if they respect us, we will also respect them,” he told some 200 BN supporters at Kompleks Bunga Raya here.

“This is our message. Islam is fair to all. Islam is beautiful, Islam is grand, Islam is pure, Islam is noble.”

Najib returned today from a 10-day trip to Europe that included a visit to the Pope at the Vatican, where he sealed formal ties with the city-state.

He is only the second Malaysian prime minister to visit the head of the Catholic Church after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad met Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Putrajaya’s relationship with Christians remains strained following the Home Ministry’s decision to bar the Catholic Church here from using the word “Allah” in the Malay-language version of its newpaper, The Herald.

The case is pending a Home Ministry appeal of the 2009 High Court ruling allowing the church to use the word, which some Muslims argue should be reserved for Islam.

Several churches across the country were fire-bombed in January last year following the ruling.

Matters were further brought to a head when 35,100 Malay-language bibles were seized by the Home Ministry, causing outrage among the Christian community.

The bibles were later released after a flurry of negotiations between church leaders and Putrajaya ahead of the Sarawak state election, on the condition that they be marked with a cross and the words “Christian publication”.

Many Catholics, however, remain unconvinced by Najib’s attempts to pacify the community, as evidenced by a widely circulated letter to the Pope accusing the prime minister of manipulating religious sentiment.

Christians form close to 10 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million population.