2006 Ipoh apostasy protest

The Ipoh Church Protest refers to the November 5 2006 gathering of an estimated 1,000 Muslims organized by various Islamic groups. The protest took place after a short message service alleged a church in Ipoh was to convert a group of Muslim Malays into Christianity.

MS

The SMS message said:-A number of Malays will be baptized by Azhar Mansor at the Silibin Church, Ipoh. Recently 600 students from Ungku Omar Polytechnic have converted to Christianity, revealed by the Perak Mufti at the state masjid. Forward this SMS to those who want (support) Islam. ( Sejumlah Melayu akan dibaptiskan oleh Dato Azhar Mansor Ahad ini di Gereja Silibin. Seramai 600 plajar Poli teknik Unku Omr Ipoh telah msuk Kristian baru2 ini. Pendedahan oleh Mufti Perak ptg ini di masjid Negeri. Sampaikan SMS kpd orang-orang yang mahukan Islam. )

That malicious SMS ( which had indeed been circulating for almost three days before the incident ), on November 5, 2006 was enough to mobalise Muslim protestors ranging from individuals to political parties-read PAS and Muslim NGOs to gather outside the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. In truth what was to take place and did indeed take place in the church was the First Holy Communion celebration for 98 children.

In the aftermath and in the days following the incident, the Perak Mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria began to shed some light on the issue. He first revealed that a woman from Selangor whom he later named as Raja Sherina as the originator of the text message. The woman had apparently on October 21, 2006 at 9.33 am sent the said SMS to him.

According to the Mufti, this woman had claimed that she had studied at the International Islamic University and the Al-Azhar University. On her return from Egypt she was doing social work with missionaries when she converted. However, she claimed that she later returned to Islam.

The Mufti further claimed that the woman and her husband had come back to his house on October 22, 2006 to confirm the substance of the message.

Investigation

According to the Mufti, the Perak Mufti Department then decided to record his meeting with Raja Sherina and copies of the VCD were later handed over to Special Branch, Perak Menteri Besar, the Prime Minister’s Department and the Islamic Development Department for further action.

Thereafter on November 2, during a meeting at the conference room of the state mosque with members of non-governmental organization the Mufti once again brought up the issue of the SMS. The Mufti then claimed that on November 3, 2006 he was informed that a number of NGO’s who attended the meeting would hold a peaceful protest against the alleged baptism. As the highest religious official of the state, the Mufti could have and should have in no uncertain terms stopped the proposed protest. Instead he made some sheepish attempt by discouraging the protestors before leaving town for Syria.

What all this means is that as early as October 22, 2006 and some 12 days before the alleged baptism ceremony, the Mufti and many others already had knowledge of the SMS and the impending “baptism “. Thus the Mufti as a religious leader could and should have acted with greater responsibility first preventing the protest and secondly and more importantly verifying the authenticity of the SMS. Neither of this was done. Instead time was spent doing a VCD recording. The 12 days was a period long enough for the Mufti and all concerned to do among others number of thing:-
*Investigate further about Raja Sherina background and verify the truth of her claim;

*Since the national mariner Azhar Mansor was said to be going to perform the baptism rites, why did the Mufti or other authorities not contact and obtain confirmation from him. After all he was in Langkawi. A denial by Azhar Mansor could have expeditiously resolved and concluded that the SMS was false; [ [http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=16145 Mariner Azhar: I have not renounced Islam] , theSun, November 17 2006]

*Find out the procedure how one is baptized into Catholicism. For the uninitiated, in Catholicism only a priest can conduct the baptism rites. Thus no lay Catholic much less a recent convert would not be allowed to perform the baptism rites and that includes Azhar Mansor even if he had converted;

*In the spirit to ensure religious harmony, the Mufti could have verified the authenticity of the SMS with the Church. Naturally this would have been easier had there been open channels of communication;

*Investigate and verify if there was any truth that 600 students of Ungku Omar Polytechnic had indeed converted to Christianity.

Perhaps it may not be wrong to assume that what was hoped for, was to catch the Church in the act. That would have been sensational news and Azhar Mansor would have been the icing. Instead and thankfully the SMS and the alleged event has turned out to be one big hoax and now the Mufti is scurrying away and hoisting the blame solely on the messenger. The SMS turned out to be not only malicious but also mischievous, irresponsible and has without any doubt has damaged inter-religious relationship. Now the authorities are searching for Raja Sherina and Raja Sherina (if caught) could be charged under the Sedition Act or under the Multimedia and Communication act.

Reaction

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called for tough action against the people who had sent out a misleading SMS with racial and religious overtones.

"They must be penalised severely whatever their intention may have been," he told.

Abdullah, who is also Internal Security Minister, said he has directed the police to investigate because those who sent the SMS harboured evil and mischievous intentions to arouse anger and reaction that could lead to racial and religious tension, especially between Muslim and Christian minority, whom make around 10% from the population. [http://www.pmo.gov.my/website/webdb.nsf/915b75851947326448256e86000c5808/c591a5eebd9b81bf4825721f00037a35?OpenDocument&Click]

Trivia

*During that day some muslims who attended the gatherings wanted to enter into the church to see and check whether there are any elleged malay students attending mass and preparing for baptism but the church authority would not allow them to enter for certain reasons by giving an assurance that non of these accusations were proven to be true.
*Witnesses said to have not seen any Malay girls or anyone suspicious at the precint.
*The action of the Church authority raises suspicion among the muslim community because they did not allow anyone to witness the occasion. (Please note: The parishioners did not want any disruption the special occasion of the First Holy Communion for 90 over children. The doors to the church remained open for all to see. The mass was even conducted impromptu in Bahasa Melayu for all to hear/understand especially for the muslim community
*The church remained closed for public excess except for christian devotees on that day. (restrictions was enforced by the police to prevent overzealous muslims from causing any harm)
*No physical assault or mistreatment has been reported by both sides.
*FRU and police ascort were sent to control the situation.

ee also

*Islam in Malaysia
*Apostasy
*Lina Joy
*Nyonya Tahir

Notes and references


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