Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Planned mandatory mosques law may cause polarisation, says Sabah church group



The Putra Mosque is seen shrouded with smog in Putrajaya June 12, 2009. — Reuters pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 ― An influential Sabah Christian group has objected to a proposed state law that will make it compulsory for mosques to be built in new housing areas, saying such a move may drive a bigger wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Borneo state.
The National Fellowship (NECF) Commission on Sabah Affairs (COSA) said that the proposal for such a blanket policy was misguided as there has never been any problem in gaining approval for the building of mosques and Muslim prayer halls in the state, unlike for non-Muslim places of worship that it says have been subjected to unnecessary delays in obtaining approval for their building plans and in land acquisition applications.
NECF-COSA chairman Reverend Datuk Jerry Dusing said the current building by-laws are already working and saw no necessity for a change in the status quo
“Why put (the building of mosques as) mandatory, as if Malaysia is only (made up of practitioners of) one kind of religion?” he told The Malaysian Insider after the NECF-COSA issued a media statement to highlight the issue.
Sabah Assistant Finance Minister Datuk Tawfiq Abu Bakar Titingan had proposed that local authorities enforce the requirement of providing a mosque site for each low- and medium-cost housing project in Sabah to ensure Muslims residents could carry out their religious obligations with ease, state news agency Bernama had reported on September 21.
Dusing, who is also president of the Sabah branch of Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), said church leaders had not been consulted prior to the proposal and only recently found out about it from reading newspaper reports.
He said that previously, the state government would seek the views of the different religious groups before making a decision on such a “sensitive matter”.
He pointed to the 2007 controversy over the construction of a 108-foot high statue of Mazu ― as Taoists in Sabah call the patron deity protecting seafarers ― in mainly Muslim Kudat, a coastal town in the northern tip of Sabah
He claimed the Sabah chief minister had discussed the matter with the different religious group leaders before deciding to cancel its approval first granted to the project in 2006.
Dusing also said the state Barisan Nasional (BN) government had consulted church leaders when Muslims wanted to build a mosque in Penampang, which had met with objections as the western Sabah town was predominantly Christian.
“Rather than making it mandatory, wouldn’t it be better to have a discussion first to see the views of all religious groups and go on an approval process? Let those in the local authority decide,” he said, adding that NECF-COSA was also concerned that non-Muslim house buyers may eventually end up having to shoulder the added cost to build the mosques passed on to them by developers.
Muslims make up some 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million population, but the country’s 9 per cent Christian minority mostly hail from Sabah and Sarawak, considered the “fixed deposit” vote bank for the ruling BN coalition.
The Christian community there has grown increasingly vocal in recent years in standing up for what it perceives as an encroachment on their constitutional religious rights following the continued legal tussle over the use of the word “Allah”; the Catholic Church was barred from publishing the word in its weekly newspaper despite it being allowed to do so following a High Court decision on December 31, 2009.
Last year, shipments of the al-kitab, the Malay-language Bible catering to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christians, were blocked or confiscated at ports, before the government finally bowed to pressure.

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