Malaysia Muslims get counseling after church meet

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 10, 2011 4:34 AM
Malaysia Muslims get counseling after church meet

Islamic authorities will provide counseling to a dozen Malaysian Muslims to "restore their belief and faith" after they attended a community dinner at a church hall, a royal sultan said Monday.

The case has triggered worries among officials in Muslim-majority Malaysia that some non-Muslims were trying to convert Muslims. Proselytizing of Muslims is punishable by prison terms of various lengths in most Malaysian states.

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, the constitutional ruler of Malaysia's central Selangor state, said Islamic officials who inspected a dinner at a Methodist church hall in early August found "evidence that there were attempts to subvert the faith and belief of Muslims."

The sultan did not elaborate on the evidence or mention Christians in his statement, but said the evidence was "insufficient for further legal actions to be taken."

Church officials had repeatedly denied any proselytization occurred at the dinner, which they described as a multiethnic gathering to celebrate the work of a community organization that worked with women, children and HIV patients. Christian leaders had also criticized Islamic state enforcement officials for what they called an unauthorized raid.

Malaysia's state sultans command immense moral clout particularly among Malaysia's ethnic Malay Muslims, who regard them as the top authorities on Islamic issues. Muslims, who comprise nearly two-thirds of the country's 28 million people, are not legally permitted to change religion.

"We command that (Islamic officials) provide counseling to Muslims who were involved in the said dinner, to restore their belief and faith in the religion of Islam," Sultan Sharafuddin said.

Rev. Hermen Shastri, the general secretary of Malaysia's Council of Churches, said the sultan's statement "brings closure to the case."

"No one should speculate or aggravate the situation further," he told The Associated Press.

The sultan added Monday he was "gravely concerned and extremely offended by the attempts of certain parties to weaken the faith and belief of Muslims."

"We hope that after this, any and all activities ... for the purposes of spreading other religions to Muslims in Selangor must be ceased immediately," he said.

Malaysia's non-Muslims mainly comprise Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, some of whom have complained in recent years that enforcement officials are often overzealous in trying to uphold Islam and fail to respect the rights of minorities.