The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Church in Muslim Malaysia

I've been to Malaysia only once, and that was for a brief two-day visit 40 years ago. I also had a Malaysian friend during my college days -- his father was Malaysian ambassador to the U.S. -- who willingly answered my many questions about the country and its people. These two sources, then, neither of which is current, along with some occasional subsequent reading, have left me with the little knowledge I have of Malaysia.

I know, for example, that a majority of Malaysians are Muslim, but I didn't realize Muslims represent 60% of the population. I honestly thought it was much higher. Among the other 40% of the population are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and followers of traditional animist religions. I also didn't know that the Christian percentage of the population is almost 10%, and that the majority of these are Catholic. The Catholic population, although it is growing, is concentrated largely on the island of Borneo, part of which is Malaysian territory. (Click here to read an article about the pressures on Malaysian Catholics.)

And it would seem that these days the Catholics are not being treated very well. Indeed, among Malaysians, non-Muslims are generally considered inferior. This attitude, as you might expect, leads to all kinds of discrimination. Further aggravating the problem, however, is the presence of two legal systems: one based on the county's constitution and carried out in its civil courts; and another, the Sharia Court, based on Islamic law. As you might imagine, when Sharia law comes into play, non-Muslims are regularly discriminated against. This happens most often in legal matters involving religious conversion, inheritance, property rights, and court jurisdiction. Although Islam is its official religion, Malaysia is a secular state with a constitution that guarantees complete freedom of religion; and yet, despite this, the civil courts regularly defer to the Sharia courts when a case involves a dispute over one of these issues between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. And in Sharia courts the Muslim almost always wins.

In recent years the Catholic bishops have expressed themselves forcefully on thse issues, reminding the government of the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution. In one letter a few years ago, they stated, "that Islam is the religion of the Federation does not mean extending Sharî'a law to the entire legal system. . . . We reject any move to declare Malaysia an Islamic state or entail a role for Sharî'a law in the legislative and regulatory processes."

And then, a few months ago, two Muslim journalists, writing for the Al Islam magazine, attended a Mass and, impersonating Catholics, recieved the Eucharist which they intentionally spat out and desecrated. Such actions are against Malaysian law, but the attorney general apparently decided to take no action.

In the video I've included below Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, is obviously concerned about the government's inaction and the magazine's refusal to apologize. One can only imagine the public reaction had a Christian preformed an act of descration in a mosque. In a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia it's important for Christians to defend their faith and their rights under the law or the radical Islamists will only increase their attacks.

Pray daily for those courageous Catholics throughout the world who live and practice their faith despite open discrimination, persecution, and worse.

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