On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Celebrate and be proud of our diversity

How we wish the building of churches in Malaysia could be much simpler. In reality, permission to build churches is fraught with many forms of obstacles, with numerous government agencies seemingly taking their time to approve applications. And there has been more bad news than good. 

The result is that more and more Christians have to attend services in office blocks, shopping complexes, hotel ballrooms and even warehouses. 

These days, proper churches have become heritage buildings. Just take a stroll down Pitt Street in Penang and you will see how mosques, churches and temples can co-exist but in new housing estates, we are told this cannot be possible. 

True Christian values require followers to be grateful and thankful for what they have. The law must always be respected and there must be no two ways about it. 

Certainly, we will pray for our leaders and civil servants to have the wisdom, justice and courage to do what is right for Malaysians, regardless of their race and religion. 

Thankful we should be. Malaysian Christians, who make up about 10% of the population, are able to celebrate their festivities openly, which comes as a surprise for many foreigners because of the country's predominant Muslim population. 

They do not expect to see huge Christmas trees and colourful decorations on display at shopping malls and hotels. They reckon the festival is celebrated on a small scale behind closed doors. What's more, Christmas is a national holiday and there is even an annual national-level Christmas celebration, which is attended by key government leaders. 

More importantly, Christians in Malaysia are able to worship without fearing for their security. There is no need for vigilantes to stand guard outside churches to prevent religious violence. 

Even in China, where most Christmas gifts and toys are manufactured, Christmas is tolerated only from a commercial and holiday perspective but not from a religious angle. Christmas service or mass is mainly for expatriates. 

There are no threats of extremists wanting to bomb churches and our government has consistently demonstrated its tough stand against extremists who threaten the country's security. 

For that, Malaysians must appreciate the stability in our country. It sounds like a cliche and sometimes we take this for granted. We become overly critical of ourselves. We tend to forget that not everyone shares the insensitive actions or words of a few people. 

In a multi-cultural society like ours, there are bound to be diverse views and prejudices. Sometimes these views clash, leading to much uneasiness, hurt and insecurity. 

There will always be times when the ride becomes bumpy but generally Malaysians, regardless of their ethnic and religious view points, believe in living in peace. 

Malaysia has always been a melting pot. It is in many ways a country of immigrants. A look at the country's history since the glorious days of the Malacca Sultanate will testify to that. 

The diversity and multiculturalism of Malaysia is something we should be proud of. There is no need to be apologetic about it and we must certainly resist any attempts to stop it. 

Malaysians have lived in harmony for over 50 years, tolerating and understanding each other's way of life, and we should never let any politician tell us to live differently. 

We should also be wary of those who use religion to justify their actions, particularly when it is their own interpretation of religious matters. No one has a monopoly over religion. All followers and those affected by it have the right to discuss and deliberate on such matters. Religion is not the sole right of scholars, theologians, missionaries and priests. 

The beauty of Malaysia lies in the fact that the majority of its people are tolerant, moderate and open-minded. We are quick to shout down the killjoys who tell us not to attend open-house events or to wish each other happy holidays. 

Eating turkey, singing carols and donning the red Santa headgear does not make one a Christian. It is simply a time for winding down, meeting up with friends for a meal and spending some money. 

We believe that most Malaysians are decent, practical people who understand that the country is multi-racial and we all need to appreciate and understand its pluralism. 

And certainly, my friends of all races and religions have never let the minority impose their views on them. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Malaysians.