Christian-Muslim tensions simmer in Malaysia, minorities worried about rights

September 12, 2011

(The Dream Centre Damansara Utama Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, September 9, 2011. A raid on the church by Muslim authorities has raised religious tension in Malaysia/Bazuki Muhammad)

A raid on a church by Muslim authorities has raised religious tension in Malaysia and could cost Prime Minister Najib Razak votes in an election set for 2013 but which many expect to come much earlier. The raid has sparked an angry verbal battle between Christians and the majority Muslims, forcing Najib to seek what may be an elusive peace between the ethnic Malays and minorities, both of which believe the government isn’t doing enough to safeguard their rights.

Conservative Muslims want the government to crack down on what they say is growing boldness by Christians to try to convert Muslims, which is an offence in Malaysia, while ethnic minorities worry their rights are being eroded. Analysts say Najib is caught in a bind and will have to tread extremely carefully to avoid being seen as favouring either side in his efforts to mediate.

“Najib is caught between wanting to secure a conservative Malay-Muslim electorate and a political reality where he is losing ground among minorities who are more mobilised and politically aware,” said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Singapore Management University.

Race and religion have always been touchy subjects in a country split between ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians but analysts say the latest quarrel is coming at a delicate time for Najib, whose popularity has been sliding since May 2010.

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