Malaysia (MNN) — Malaysia still has the reputation as one of the most liberal and tolerant Islamic countries in the world. How long that will last is unknown. Thousands of Malaysian Muslims rallied in the capital on February 18th to support the adoption of stricter Sharia law, a proposal that religious minorities fear could infringe their rights.
The prime minister has thrown his support behind a bill that will incorporate parts of the Islamic penal code, or “hudud”, into Malaysia’s existing Islamic legal system. It is slated for debate in parliament next month.
Observers are calling the Malaysian society increasingly racist, as the ethnic Malay majority is clearly being favored, while the Chinese and Indian ethnicities are discriminated against. Critics of the bill warn it could pave the way for full implementation of hudud, which could disrupt the fabric of Malaysia’s multicultural and multi-religious society.
That’s the backdrop behind the recent abduction of 62-year-old Pastor Raymond Koh. On February 13th, in less than 60 seconds, Koh was kidnapped in broad daylight by a group of masked people. Since then, there has been no word, no ransom calls, and no communication. As situations go, this doesn’t seem to be significant except for his immediate church and family. However, it’s gone viral.
Open Doors USA’s President and CEO Dr. David Curry explains, “You see the humanity of this pastor who has loved his community, reached out to the poor. You see the hurt on the face of his wife in the video she shared. It’s this boiling point that I think is coming to the Christian community in Malaysia. They’ve been under pressure and under attack; they need our prayers there.” (Click here to watch the video, courtesy of TheStar.com.)
Police are investigating, interviewing witnesses, and checking CCTV footage. But according to family members, they have made little to no progress. On February 19th, The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) publicly condemned Koh’s abduction, saying religious leaders should be spared from attacks or intimidation. Family members offered a RM10,000 reward for any information on his whereabouts.
At this point, any motive is speculation, says Curry. What isn’t conjecture is: “You have a country where you are born into a particular faith, you’re not allowed to change your faith; we have some news that trickles in from time to time that maybe people are being re-educated in ‘old school’ camps. We know that kidnappings like Pastor Koh’s happen there, on occasion.” The pressure is increasing with every step toward Sharia.
Already, “pastors are sometimes abducted,” he adds. “They go missing in these areas. It could be extremists; it could be another group. We don’t really know who kidnapped him, but we know he was an outspoken person of his faith. He was a pastor well known for trying to reach out to people and share his faith and live his faith.”
A decade ago, Koh founded Harapan Komuniti, a ministry that holds free tuition classes for children and English lessons for adults. In 2011, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided a fundraising dinner at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church and accused him of proselytizing Muslims. That case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence, but with Koh’s disappearance, the mystery deepens.
There are concerns about the religious motivation behind the abduction. In light of the Sharia bill up for discussion, it underscores the concerns non-Muslims have about the potential of the law’s enforcement. Curry spells it out this way: “There’s a lot of pressure on people who want to decide for themselves that they want to be a Christian, who want to read the Bible. There are these lawsuits that continue to come up in Malaysia — one, in particular, where they’re trying outlaw the use of the name of God in that Malaysian language for Christians.” (Click here to see read the Malaysia profile on the Open Doors World Watch List.)
There is one ‘best case’ scenario, he says, but that also has a land of shadows beyond it. “It’s not uncommon in some of these Asian countries for the police force to pick up people to interrogate them, without reporting it, and then releasing them later. That would certainly be the best case option. I think his chances of surviving would be much higher. People are beginning to wonder, ‘Why are they not speaking? Are they behind this?’ I don’t know the answer to that. No one knows the answer to that, but it shows you how toxic the situation is there in Malaysia right now for Christians and for religious minorities.”
Given the increasing restrictions placed by the Malaysian government and society upon the local churches and new believers, Open Doors calls for prayers from Christians, worldwide. Pray for new believers who are thirsty for spiritual nourishment and fellowship.
Finally, “Pray for Pastor Koh, but also for the community of pastors and believers in Malaysia. I think this is an example of how this is coming to a boil. The pressure is rising on Christians in Malaysia.”