New Restrictions for Malaysian Christian Pilgrims to the Holy Land (Israel)

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Christian Federation of Malaysia is unhappy that Christians are forced to shorten their pilgrimages to one week, again halved from previously, among other measures seen to restrict the religion’s followers constitutional freedom.

“Although the freeze was lifted in April 2011, Christians wishing to make a pilgrimage must now do so through their respective churches only, religious leaders say, with churches asked to write to Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs for permission.

“That process takes between two to three months, people involved in organizing such trips say. If a letter of permission is granted, it can take an additional one to two weeks for immigration officials to handle the necessary paperwork,” WSJ reported…

But Malaysian authorities have disputed that their rules are unreasonable. “We are not making it difficult for them to go to Jerusalem to do their pilgrimage. I don’t see (the conditions) as difficult,” Wan Muhammad Rumaizi Wan Hussin, principal secretary of the Security and Public Order Divison in the Ministry of Home Affairs, was quoted as saying by WSJ (Source: Malaysian Insider 6 July 2012).

Likewise Malaysiakini  (6 July 2012) reports:

The government, said the report, did not feel their regulations were problematic.
“We are not making it difficult for them to go to Jerusalem to do their pilgrimage. I don’t see (the conditions) as difficult,” Home Ministry officer Wan Muhammad Rumaizi Wan Hussin was quoted saying.

Another way restrictions were reportedly tightened was for churches organising pilgrimages to show proof the pilgrims are Christians by sending copies of birth certificates or church memberships cards to the Home Ministry.  Previously, a cover later to the Immigration Department saying that the pilgrims were Christians was sufficient proof…The report also states that Christians were unhappy about the need to inform the government what they do doing the pilgrimage, including where they pray and stay.

Comment: Oh yeah, what a disingenuous statement from the Home Ministry office Wan Muhammad when he says, “We are not making it difficult for them…I don’t see the conditions as difficult.”

Would he or his fellow-Muslims accept even half the conditions set for them when they go for their pilgrimage (Haj) in Mecca? Muslims would be outraged even if such conditions are imposed by their own Muslim authorities, much less from officials of another religion. Why would Muslim authorities feign innocence/ignorance and suggest that Christians should find the restrictions “not difficult” and “acceptable”? Of all people, Muslim officials should be sensitive and not roughshod over fundamental rights of religious pilgrims, in view of the paramount importance given to pilgrimage in Islam. What an affront!

The fact is – the Malaysian state has no business to interfere and restrict the freedom of Christians or other non-Muslims making pilgrimage to their Holy Land. PERIOD.

Christians should voice alarm as this new violation of their rights as it is part of a disturbing trend. The Barisan National government seems bent on curbing their religious rights by imposing one restriction after another – from banning of use of religious terminology and the Alkitab to withdrawal of visas for Christian lectures teaching at Bible colleges, unprecedented raid of a church (DUMC)…What’s next?

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‘Gov’t Making Christian Pilgrimage Harder’

Malaysiakini (6 July 2012) LINK

Malaysian Christians are complaining that government regulations are making it harder than ever to for them to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal website, Christians used to have little problems visiting the holy city in Israel via travel agencies for the purpose of pilgrimage.

However, since lifting a 2009 freeze on travel to Israel in 2011, various restrictions were put in place that hinder travellers.

The report details complaints of how travellers to Israel now have to apply through their respective churches, where each is only allowed a quota of 20 pilgrims.

Prior to 2009 there were no quotas and involvement of the churches in making a travel application.

The government, said the report, did not feel their regulations were problematic.

“We are not making it difficult for them to go to Jerusalem to do their pilgrimage. I don’t see (the conditions) as difficult,” Home Ministry officer Wan Muhammad Rumaizi Wan Hussin was quoted saying.

Churches must show proof pilgrims are Christians

Another way restrictions were reportedly tightened was for churches organising pilgrimages to show proof the pilgrims are Christians by sending copies of birth certificates or church memberships cards to the Home Ministry.

Previously, a cover later to the Immigration Department saying that the pilgrims were Christians was sufficient proof.

The report also states that Christians were unhappy about the need to inform the government what they do doing the pilgrimage, including where they pray and stay.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Reverend Hermen Shastri (right) is quoted as saying they would not accept these impediments put before the churches, including the quota on the pilgrims per trip.

Shastri is also reported to have said that the Malaysian government was “always shifting the goal posts”.

Christians have been the target of controversies in recent years, with some promoting a conspiracy theory that Christians groups were working to usurp Islam as the official religion and others alleging a concerted effort by them to convert Muslims.

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Christians Upset by Putrajaya Curbs on Jerusalem Pilgrimage

Malaysian Insider 6 July 2012 LINK

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — Christian Malaysians are unhappy with Putrajaya’s latest move to impose quotas, limit travel time and lengthen immigration approval for their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, an act they see as further erosion of their religious freedom under the constitution, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has reported.

Until 2009, Christians in this Muslim-majority country have been freely performing pilgrimages to the holy city of the world’s three major faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — despite Malaysia having no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Despite lifting a two year ban on Christian Malaysian pilgrims last year, which was ostensibly imposed due to heightened security risks posed by the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Putrajaya has tightened the rules for their travel, according to an article published yesterday titled, “Malaysian Christians Complain About Israel Travel Rules”.

The international business paper reported that immigration authorities allow each church to send only up to 20 Christian Malaysians into Jerusalem in one year, halved from before 2009, and have in recent months cancelled at least one church group’s trip after it exceeded the quota.

Citing unnamed sources, WSJ reported Wisma Putra later reversed its decision and approved the trip, but did not disclose the reason.

“We are not going to accept any impediments put before us. So if they say quota, we are not going to accept that,” Reverend Hermen Shastri, the general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) told WSJ.

The CCM is an ecumenical fellowship of churches and Christian organisations that are part of the larger Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) representing 90 per cent of the country’s 2.8 million Christians.

WSJ also reported that CFM is unhappy that Christians are forced to shorten their pilgrimages to one week, again halved from previously, among other measures seen to restrict the religion’s followers constitutional freedom.

“Although the freeze was lifted in April 2011, Christians wishing to make a pilgrimage must now do so through their respective churches only, religious leaders say, with churches asked to write to Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs for permission.

“That process takes between two to three months, people involved in organizing such trips say. If a letter of permission is granted, it can take an additional one to two weeks for immigration officials to handle the necessary paperwork,” WSJ reported.

The widely-read international paper quoted Shastri as accusing Malaysian authorities of “always shifting the goal posts” during meetings between government officials and Christian leaders.

But Malaysian authorities have disputed that their rules are unreasonable.

“We are not making it difficult for them to go to Jerusalem to do their pilgrimage. I don’t see (the conditions) as difficult,” Wan Muhammad Rumaizi Wan Hussin, principal secretary of the Security and Public Order Divison in the Ministry of Home Affairs, was quoted as saying by WSJ.

Christians form 9.2 per cent of Malaysia’s 28.3 million-strong population.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

Christians, however, have argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that has been used by those of other religious beliefs, including the Jews, in reference to God in many other parts of the world, notably in Arab nations and Indonesia.

Conservative Muslim groups have also accused Christians of attempting to convert Malays, resulting in heightened tension between followers of the two religions.

One Response to “New Restrictions for Malaysian Christian Pilgrims to the Holy Land (Israel)”

  1. Malaysia Government Relaxes Travel Restrictions on Christian Pilgrims to Israel « Religious Liberty Watch Says:

    […] Malaysia government suddenly decides to relax travel restrictions on Christian pilgrims to Israel? LINK Presumably, with the restrictions lifted, Christians should feel grateful to the government and vote […]

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