Stamp featuring local church sparks debate in Malaysia

The stamp bearing the St George's Church in Penang is part of a new series of five stamps featuring landmark buildings of the five main religions in Malaysia.
The stamp bearing the St George's Church in Penang is part of a new series of five stamps featuring landmark buildings of the five main religions in Malaysia.PHOTO: POS MALAYSIA

Malay rights group cites it as an example of Muslims being bullied since PH took office

KUALA LUMPUR • A controversy has broken out in Malaysia over postage stamps bearing a famous local church, amid a tussle between the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and Malay groups.

Malay rights group Isma, or Malaysia Muslim Solidarity group, said the issuing of a new stamp bearing a Christian symbol was "another example of Muslims being bullied" since PH won power in May last year.

Isma president Aminuddin Yahaya said on Facebook: "So, if outsiders label Malaysia as a Christian nation, we should not be angered because we have been portrayed as such."

But the post office, Pos Malaysia, said stamps showing prominent places of worship in the country - a mosque, Hindu and Buddhist temples, a Sikh gurdwara and a church - were first issued in November 2016. This was well before PH came to power. The new series of five stamps was issued on May 11.

Each stamp features a landmark building of one of the five main religions in Malaysia, including the St George's Church in Penang, which was singled out by the Isma chief.

Civil rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan wrote on Twitter: "According to Aminuddin Yahaya, the president of Isma, Islam is being bullied because now there is a stamp with a church. But in 2016, (Malaysia) was under Barisan Nasional. Isma kept quiet then.

"In 2016. Was Islam also bullied in the BN era?"

The tussle is part of a wider fight between Malay and Muslim groups which back the Umno-led BN and Parti Islam SeMalaysia. The groups are trying to weaken PH's image among Malay voters.

 
 
 
 

These groups are pushing the narrative that Malaysia's majority race - the Malay Muslims who form some 60 per cent of the country's 32 million population - is being sidelined and "bullied" since PH came to power. Also according to this narrative, too much support is being given to the minorities - comprising non-Muslim Chinese, Indians and other races.

Mr Aminuddin has since deleted his post.

Malaysia's de facto Islamic Affairs Minister, Mr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has urged the Muslim community to stand up against the "corrupt narratives" of certain groups or individuals, as such thinking does not promote Islam.

"The whole Muslim society must stand up against these thoughts which will lead Muslims and Malays into backwardness," Mr Mujahid said in Penang last Friday evening, as quoted by the Malaysiakini news site.

The push by these groups against PH started when the government appointed non-Muslims as the chief justice, attorney-general and de facto law minister soon after it came to power, raising concerns that the moves would weaken Malay and Muslim rights.

After Mr Richard Malanjum retired as Chief Justice, he was replaced this month by a Muslim, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, the first woman in the post. But the appointment was largely ignored by these critics.

The PH government also spent RM26 billion (S$8.6 billion) to bail out two institutions close to the hearts of Malays - the pilgrimage fund Tabung Haji and land development authority Felda. Again, these efforts were largely ignored by the critics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 19, 2019, with the headline 'Stamp featuring local church sparks debate in Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe