SARAWAK, Malaysia, March 13, 2014—A Roman Catholic native in the Malaysian state of Sarawak cries foul over what he sees as the discriminatory attitude of their government and fellow nationals towards Christians in this predominantly Muslim country.
In an exclusive interview with the CBCPNews, Earl Roscoe, a fifth-generation Catholic from the Bidayuh ethnic group in the city of Kuching, minced no words in condemning this pervasive undercurrent of “anti-Christianity”.
Malaysian Christians, who make up a small but vibrant religious minority group in this Southeast Asian nation (9.2% of the 2010 population) where Islam is the state religion, allegedly face prejudice and hostility from their Muslim compatriots.
“Compared to their Muslim counterparts, Christian Malaysians applying for high positions, especially in the civil service, do not stand a chance of being employed only because they are professing what in the government’s view is the wrong religion,” Roscoe explained.
The 24-year old botanist laments the hostility being levelled by many Muslim Malays against Christians of any denomination.
A Christian will most likely be rebuked, even harassed, for wearing a cross in public, Roscoe pointed out.
He recounted that there are cases of religious hooligans destroying Church properties. These include arson and vandalism.
Malaysia is home to hundreds of indigenous ethno-linguistic groups of which Malays are the most dominant politically and economically.
But a criterion in the Malaysian law is clear on what particular people should be considered “Malays”.
Article 160 of their constitution defines “Malay” as “a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language; conforms to Malay custom.”
This makes it difficult for Malays to convert out of Islam into another religion like Christianity.
Likewise, a non-Malay Malaysian who converts to Islam can lay claim to privileges commonly enjoyed by Malays, provided the person meets certain conditions.
Roscoe told CBCPNews that many Malays are “closet Christians” who could not openly practice their new religion.
“They fear that their families would disown them… They might even lose their jobs,” Roscoe shared.
The native “non-Malay” Malaysians, who live mostly in the Bornean states of Sarawak and Sabah, consist of the Melanau, Dusun, Iban, Bidayuh, Bajau, and others.
Living apart from mainstream Malay society, most of these groups had never been “Islamized” remaining animists until their introduction to Christianity in the 1800s.
Roscoe’s great, great grandfather was the first to be baptized in his family who was converted into the Faith by the Mill-Hill missionaries from the Netherlands.
The city of Kuching where the Roscoes live has 185,027 Catholics. Its own archdiocese counts 11 parishes but only has 22 priests, each of whom on the average serves about 8,410 souls.
Its head, Archbishop John Ha, is a Malaysian of Chinese descent.
Roscoe, who is a frequent visitor to the Philippines and who sees himself as a “Pinoy at heart”, shared that because of how Christians are being treated in Malaysia, he might one day move here and adopt Filipino citizenship.
“I could be a free Catholic here,” he added. (Raymond A. Sebastián)