KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 ― Armed only with their conviction and religious pamphlets, some Muslim groups have been taking to the streets in a bid to promote their faith to followers of other creeds, including Christians, whom Malaysia’s Islamic authorities have repeatedly branded “enemies of Islam”.
Believing the current climate of religious distrust that permeates the country is due to the lack of non-Muslim understanding of Islam, gained only through the belligerent views aired through the media, these Muslim missionaries are convinced that education and propagation are the keys to winning over non-believers to the religion of peace.
“It’s about sharing with people the good news; there’s a hereafter,” Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, a Buddhist-turned-Muslim, told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
Wong founded Multiracial Reverted Muslims (MRM) in 2010, a group comprising mostly Muslim converts, or “reverts” as he terms them ― based on the Muslim understanding that everyone is born Muslim because there is only one God ― which has been actively working to spread the positive aspects of Islam through street evangelism.
As part of their missionary work, almost a thousand MRM volunteers hit the streets throughout peninsular Malaysia last December 20, just days before Christmas, handing out religious brochures or tracts, including one titled “Jesus Christ in the Quran”, which provided an Islamic explanation on Jesus, a figure that exists in both monotheistic religions born in the Middle East.
There are differences however, notably Islam’s rejection of the Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity as the son of God. Muslims also believe that God had saved Jesus from crucifixion.
“We tell them that Jesus is a messenger of God,” Wong said.
He pointed out, however, that MRM preached to all non-Muslims, not just the Christians, saying that Buddhists and freethinkers have also converted to Islam through the NGO’s efforts.
He estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people were reached based on the number of tracts distributed and street preaching during the event that was organised in collaboration with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Hidayah Centre Foundation.
Data on conversion to Islam in Malaysia, however, is dicey. When contacted, an official from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) told Malay Mail Online that statistics on Muslim converts were unavailable.
Wong stressed that MRM did not coerce or bribe people to embrace Islam, saying: “We don’t promise them they’ll get a certain amount of money”.
He also urged Muslims not to hate Christians, whom he described as the people “closest” to Muslims.
“Christians believe they’re the true religion and they want to save you from hellfire. Is it good or bad? People want to save you from hellfire… They’re good. Why are you hating people doing good things?” Wong said.
Wong also told Muslims, “Do you have that kind of intention to save people from hellfire first, just like the Christians do? You don’t. In terms of intentions, you’re worse than the Christians. At least the Christians have the intention to save you from hellfire”.
Christianity and Islam are like Judaism, monotheistic religions that trace their common roots to Abraham, which is why the three religions are also called the Abrahamic faiths.
However, in recent years following the Catholic Church’s 2008 court challenge to assert its constitutional right to refer to God as “Allah”, an Arabic word that conservative Malaysian Muslims claim belongs to them exclusively, Jakim as the country’s foremost Islamic authority that also prepares the weekly Friday sermons, has dubbed Christians and Jews as “enemies of Islam”.
Such pronouncements have tested the religious tolerance between followers of Islam and Christianity in this Southeast Asian nation of 29 million, where race and creed are often blurred.
Some Malay Muslim groups have accused Christian evangelical groups of trying to convert weak Muslims with financial aid and some politicians have even claimed there were attempts to subvert Islam’s position as the religion of the federation as prescribed in Malaysia’s constitution and install a Christian as the head of government.
But other Muslim groups believe a softer touch than straight-out belligerence is needed to shine Islam’s image, even in a country where it is already the dominant faith.
Hidayah Centre Foundation (HCF), another Muslim evangelical NGO headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, similarly has monthly street evangelism programmes and weekly classes for Muslim converts.
“We had the project ‘1 Million Risalah’ for sharing with non-Muslims last year. We hope to finish it this year,” HCF founder and chairman Nicholas Sylvester told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
He said HCF, which has offices in all states, managed to distribute just above 200,000 tracts last year.
Nicholas, a Kadazan who converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism, said a few thousand people have been converted to Islam through HCF since it was founded in 2005, comprising former Christians from the Orang Asli community and from Sabah and Sarawak, Buddhists and Hindus, among others.
“Our KPI from Allah is not how many people you manage to convert this year. The KPI is did you convey or not?” he said.
“If you really believe this is the way for salvation, the way for success in this life, then why didn’t you share? We’re afraid ‘Allah’ will ask us that. So our task really is to convey, to share, and if people like, they can embrace the religion and we’ll support them,” Nicholas added.
He stressed that non-Muslims should not be forced to embrace Islam.
When asked if Christians should be allowed to propagate their faith to Muslims, which is not allowed under several state laws, Nicholas pointed out that Prophet Muhammad had allowed Christian priests to proselytise and discuss religion with him.
“That kind of spirit was practised by the Prophet and the caliphs,” he said, adding that the current Malaysian context, however, did not allow that.
Racial and religious tensions have simmered for the past few years as Muslim groups accuse Christians of trying to convert Muslims with their insistence on referring to God as “Allah”, while Christian groups complain of Bumiputera Christians in Sabah being duped into embracing Islam.
Original source : Malay Mail