MIRI (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Four indigenous civil society groups in Sarawak on Thursday (Dec 20) joined church organisations to protest against remarks by Education Minister Maszlee Malik over Islamic propagation in state schools.
The indigenous organisations, which fight for human rights for Sarawak native groups, were protesting against his comments early this week that indicated schools in Sarawak and Sabah are fertile grounds for Islamic conversion.
Dr Maszlee said in Parliament that the two East Malaysian states are "medan dakwah" (arena for Islamic propagation).
He asked Muslim teachers from Peninsular Malaysia sent to Sarawak and Sabah to spread their faith by converting local non-Muslim students.
The four native groups are from the Orang Ulu and Dayak communities. representing Gerakan Anak Asal Sarawak, Borneo Resources Institute, Tanah Hak Bangsa Asal Sarawak and Save Sarawak Rivers. They held the protest in Miri.
Social activist Peter Kallang, chairman of Save Sarawak Rivers, told The Star that what Mr Maszlee said was very alarming.
"Teachers are civil servants. They cannot double as preachers to convert non-Muslim students. The Education Ministry is violating the rights of Sarawakian and Sabahan non-Muslims if it is sending teachers from the peninsula here to convert local students to Islam," he said.
The groups want an official investigation to determine how many teachers from the peninsula were coaxing students in East Malaysia under their charge to convert to Islam.
On Wednesday, the Association of Churches in Sarawak said it was "deeply concerned" about Mr Maszlee's comments.
"The statement by the Education Minister is not in the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and appears to be sanctioning Islamic religious teachers from Peninsular Malaysia to promote Islamisation and propagation to local students in non-religious schools in Sabah and Sarawak," ACS said in a statement.
Mr Maszlee in a speech on Thursday said his words "medan dakwah" had been misunderstood.
"When I said teachers in Sabah and Sarawak must use it as a medan dakwah, some immediately think of religion. That is a narrow interpretation. Making someone smart is also dakwah."
"When I raised it in Parliament, those in Sabah and Sarawak (complained), saying I used schools for dakwah. I want to correct this. Teaching goodness is dakwah," he said, according to Malaysiakini news site.
Mr Maszlee, a former academic at International Islamic University Malaysia, is the MP for a Johor constituency. He is a first-time lawmaker and Cabinet minister.