The Common Good

Buddhists Expelled from Malaysia for Praying in Muslim Hall

The government of Malaysia expelled a group of Singaporean tourists for chanting Buddhist prayers inside an Islamic prayer room where they erected a large Buddhist painting on the wall facing Mecca.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo courtesy RNS/Auswandern Malaysia/
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo courtesy RNS/Auswandern Malaysia/flickr.com

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

The government also revoked the permanent resident visa of the businessman who allowed the Buddhists to pray at his beach resort in Johor state, about 185 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The government’s response is the latest in a series of crackdowns on behavior deemed disrespectful of Islamic traditions and beliefs.

A Malaysian human rights group, Lawyers for Liberty, protested the action.

“Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the escalating religious intolerance in Malaysia, where in recent months several minor incidents of perceived insult against Islam have been blown completely out of proportion,” a statement by the group said.

Recent harsher punishments include the imprisonment of Malaysian citizens — Muslims and non-Muslims — who appeared in YouTube videos deemed to violate Islamic standards.

In one much-discussed incident last month, a couple that posted a Facebook photo of themselves eating pork during the Islamic month of Ramadan were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act. They pleaded not guilty.

The case involving the Buddhists gained attention after a video of the prayer session was posted on YouTube in mid-August.

The video shows the one-room building’s sign, above the front entrance, identifying the site as a Muslim prayer hall.

Inside the building, about a dozen men and women, dressed mostly in white, are heard peacefully chanting a Buddhist prayer while sitting cross-legged on the floor, led by a Buddhist monk wrapped in a maroon robe.

The camera zooms in on a large, colorful, Tibetan Buddhist “thangka” painting hung prominently in front of the group, on the wall which Muslims face while praying in the direction of Mecca.

The Buddhists do not appear to realize they were being filmed in the video posted on Aug. 10.

When villagers near the beach resort saw the YouTube video, they angrily sought out the tourists and took them to a nearby police station, according to the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The tourists complied with demands to leave the country and returned to Singapore.

On August 13, police detained the businessman who operated the resort while a local court investigated his alleged offense of violating a place of worship.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he then revoked the resort operator’s permanent resident visa because the Singapore resident was “insensitive to Muslims and Islam,” the Malaysian Insider reported.

Some Malaysian lawyers said the government acted prematurely by canceling the resort operator’s visa, because he had not been convicted in a court.

About 20 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people are Buddhist, compared with a 61 percent Muslim population. An additional 9 percent are Christian and 6 percent are Hindu.

Richard S. Ehrlich writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)