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Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim
By Jay Ihsan* 
Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister.
Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia?
In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities.
For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia?
In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activity.
In 2017, Zakir Naik sought asylum and moved to Malaysia where he was granted permanent residency in a surreptitiously manner by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Despite India requesting Zakir's extradition from Malaysia, premier Dr Mahathir refused to part ways with the extremist preacher. India meanwhile in March this year declared Zakir's Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) an unlawful association and banned it for five years.
Dr Mahathir's excuse in allowing Zakir Naik to reside in Malaysia was pathetically flimsy ie. that the extremist evangelist would face harm at the hands of the people in India and that he wanted a country where Zakir would be safe.
Notorious for not honouring his words, Malaysia's Dr Mahathor during his tenure as prime minister had claimed that his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi made no request of wanting Zakir Naik back in India when both leaders met at a bilateral meeting in Russia in September 2019. India however denounced Dr Mahathir's claim.
As for the bigoted preacher whom countries like Canada and Britain want no dealings with, he remains unrepentant and ingratiate which led to Malaysians in 2019 making police complaints over Zakir's contentious remarks questioning loyalty of minority Hindus and saying ethnic Chinese are guests in Malaysia.
A 10-hour police grilling had the preacher apologising to Malaysians for race remarks but insisted they were not racist statements.
A beguiled Dr Mahathir in applying damage control said Zakir was free to preach about Islam but should refrain from talking about the country’s racial politics.

Malaysia's religious bigotry a nightmare

Zakir Naik is not the only headache that will haunt and pound Anwar in time to come. The newly minted prime minister has to walk the talk of upholding the rule of law and reform that which needs to be cleaned and cleansed and this includes putting a stop to corruption and abuse of power by church bigwigs.
A churchgoer who pleaded anonymity said corruption was a big problem in churches like the St.Francis Xavier, the 166-year-old church located in Malaysia's historical city of Malacca.
"Close to RM2 million was collected for the church's renovation which was done haphazardly. Then came the lockdown and work stopped. Now we hear refurbishment will proceed but at a cost of RM4 million. Granted that the price of things has shot up but there is no way it will cost a whopping RM4 million.
"Then there is the problem of church funds being siphoned and the present church priest forcing the finance committee to sign blank cheques. This troubling matter was made known to Bishop Bernard Paul who is in charge of the Malacca and Johor Diocese (Majodi) but the Bishop stayed indifferent to the wrongdoings taking place at the church.
"Many dedicated churchgoers have stopped going to St Francis Xavier church because there is no holiness left in this house of prayer. When the current priest screams at an elderly woman teling her to 'shut up and get lost' all because she questioned him about the prayer sequence, it is evident the church needs to be healed.
"We Catholics respect our vows. Yet when the priest himself tramples the vows of celibacy and makes no bones about having a girlfriend, why then should we listen to anything he says."
The whistle-blower said the church bigwigs are aware of the shameful situation facing the St Francis Xavier church but no one is disturbed enough to compel a "rehabilitation" of both priest and church.
Emails dated November 23, 2022 addressed to Bishop Bernard Paul and Archbishop Julian Leow remained unanswered. It however was the office of Bishop Sebastian Francis who oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of Penang which acknowledged the concern shared with a "thank you" email.
The churchgoer, struggling to hold back his tears, said a transparent system was needed to ensure only those truly deserving were appointed to serve the church and people.
"The environment in St Francis Xavier church is so toxic that even the statues would cry in shame and disappear if only they could.
"The arrogance of the priest and even nuns which represent the Sisters of the Infant Jesus order is appalling. They are status conscious and find you worthy of their time or a 'hello' only if you have a standing in society.
"This is so unlike the Canossian nuns who are gracious, humble and kind. The IJS nuns could and should learn some humility from them.

Church abuse of power continues

The troubling narrative is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Catholic church both abroad and Malaysia continue to make news for all the wrong reasons.
A former colleague said some years ago while covering news for Channel News Asia he was privy to teenagers who were subjected to sexual abuse by a church pastor in Malacca's Portuguese Settlement. The community there in a bid to hide the shame covered up such cases.
In 2017, a pastor was charged at the sessions court in Raub, one of the oldest towns in Malaysia's Pahang state, with 17 counts of molesting and raping a teenager.
Kok Chaw Fatt, 64, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges under Section 14 (d) of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and Section 376 (1) of the Penal Code according to Malay daily Sinar Harian.
"Such news worries us to no end. We should not be made to church-hop because of the hubris inflicting the church priest and top leaders. I shudder to think of the day when churches in Malaysia become meaningless and end up up pubs or clubs. This is not the legacy I want my children to inherit."
By the way, the church in Malaysia too has engaged in discussions with Zakir Naik. Just what the church hopes to achieve through such talks is puzzling given notoriety of the runaway preacher.
A pastor based in Petaling Jaya when informed of the problems besieging St Francis Xavier church, had this to say: "church is full of human".
The people of Malaysia however have sent a clear message both through their votes and by exposing the unscrupulous acts of religious leaders that they will not tolerate anyone stoking embers of race or attacking harmony among the people.
It remains to be seen with the passing of time the courage of Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim, who went to hell and back through his incarceration yet remained steadfast in his struggle to heal an ailing nation from graft and greed, in helping protect racial unity and peace and safe houses of prayers like the St Francis Xavier church from such contagious malaise.
*Freelance journalist based in Malaysia 



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