By Joseph C. DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent with BosNewsLife Asia Service
KOTA BARU, MALAYSIA (BosNewsLife)– Authorities are threatening to destroy a second church of Malaysia’s indigenous people, known as Orang Asli, a church official confirmed Monday, September 20.
Moses Soo, bishop of all Orang Asli churches in Kelantan state, said local authorities are targeting a nearly completed jungle church in Temiar village, in the forested Pos Pasik area , which is only accessibly for outsiders by four-wheel drive.
“The community has always had bamboo churches which have to be replaced once every two years. Two years ago, the government began providing brick houses for the villagers and this sparked the idea of a brick church too.” However the official Department of Orang Asli Affairs is threatening to demolish the church, which was financed by the community, he said.
“As a gesture of courtesy, the villagers sent a letter to the Department informing it of their plans. In August, they received a reply from Deputy Director-General Nisra Nisran Asra Ramlan, saying that permission was denied and they were to stop work immediately.”
Soo said no reasons were provided. “The land belongs to the Orang Asli and they consider it their right to build a church on it.”
Lawyer Lum See Cheng, who investigates the case, said he has advised the Orang Asli to ignore the letter. He said he has told the Department that “its permission isn’t needed” and that he requested “reasons for its rejection”.
“It has no authority to issue such orders, and by denying the Orang Asli a safer building, it is in fact going against its role of taking care of their welfare.” Cheng described the move as a “religion-related” issue. “Otherwise, I don’t see why the authorities would be so interested in meddling in the affairs of people who live deep in the heart of the jungle.”
There was no immediate response from local officials, but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has reportedly praised efforts to overcome tensions between different religious groups in his heavily Muslim nation.
If the church is demolished, it would be the second such incident in Kelantan: in 2007, an Orang Asli church in Gua Musang was demolished on orders from the Gua Musang District Council.