On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Need for plan on places of worship

Rightly, the criteria taken into account would be the
ethnic composition in the area concerned. This is to ensure that the
sensitivities of every race are taken into account.

In Shah Alam, for over a decade, the Catholic community has been waiting for
approval to build a church. Until today, their prayers have yet to be

The reason for the long wait can be attributed to the fickle-mindedness of the
Selangor government.

An application to build the church was first made in 1977 when the Mentri Besar
was Datuk Hormat Rafei.

Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib then withdrew the approval
following objections from some residents who felt that a church in the area was

The stalemate continued until Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar approved the
application. Preliminary work was carried out last year and tenders were

On Dec 20, the state government, now under Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed
Khir Toyo, withdrew approval for the construction of the church on a piece of
land opposite the Montfort Boys' Town and offered an alternative site, about
2km away.

The church committee said the alternative site lacked infrastructure and no
construction work could be carried out for at least three or four more

The church is crying foul, saying that the state government had created
legitimate expectations among the Catholic community in Shah Alam.

With the building site reportedly twice relocated, the case has gone to court.
The church filed an application for a judicial review and the case is scheduled
for hearing on July 26.

These legal proceedings are meant to obtain leave from the High Court to
challenge the decision of the Selangor government which approved the original

What the church is attempting to do is ask the court to set aside decisions
which infringe on established legal principles, including administrative

The matter is now best left to the wisdom of the judges.

But there is a need for an acceptable framework to facilitate the planning of
places of worship for non-Muslims.

State authorities must seek the views of the Malaysian Consultative Council of
Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism and relevant bodies on such

State authorities cannot act unilaterally, otherwise they will infringe on the
constitutional rights of non-Muslims.

There has been some degree of unhappiness over the building of places of
worship because of alleged interference from overzealous officials and

In some cases, the actions of some bureaucrats run contrary to the policy of
the Federal Government.

The right forum to discuss matters of land and places of worship is the
National Council of Local Government, which meets twice a year and is chaired
by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Abdullah is a fair-minded person and Malaysians believe that he will give just
consideration to the sentiments of moderate Malaysians.

It is good for proper places of worship to be built for the spiritual needs of

Currently, some churches are operating in shophouses, office complexes and even
cinemas. For some worshippers, these places are not exactly conducive in searching
for peace and calm.

Churches in Malaysia, it appears, have run into more bureaucracy than Chinese
and Indian temples.

Interestingly, 17 years ago, the Sultan of Selangor expressed regret that there
was no place of worship for non-Muslims in the state.

The Star quoted the Ruler as saying on June 17, 1984, that he feared
non-Muslims would eventually have no religious activities. He urged the state
government to remedy the situation before it worsened.

At the same time, he reassured non-Muslims that they were free to practise
their religion without hindrance although Islam was the official religion of
the state.

He said he was aware that portions of land had been identified for non-Muslims
as places of worship but further progress had been blocked.

For Malaysians, such statements from the Sultan, who is now the King and the
Head of Islam, and visits by the Prime Minister to homes of non-Muslims during
festivals speak well for the harmony of a multi-cultural society.

We should consider taking another step forward by setting up an inter-religious

Regular meetings between the consultative council and Islamic bodies could be
held to promote inter-religious understanding.

Bureaucrats and politicians should not underestimate the high degree of
religious tolerance and mutual respect among ordinary Malaysians. It is thus
unjust and unthinkable for anyone to obstruct the rights of any citizen to
practise his religion.