Ban on Malaysian Muslims and non-Muslims praying together will 'polarise' nation

Christians attend Sunday Mass to celebrate Malaysia Day at a church in Tambunan, Malaysia.Reuters

The Archbishop of South East Asia, Ng Moon Hing, has criticised a new directive in Malaysia banning Muslims and non-Muslims from praying together. 

He said the ban, issued last week by Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), was "ridiculous and confusing", and risked polarising the nation. 

The directive prevents Muslim and non-Muslim prayers from being said alongside each other at the same event, and orders that they must instead be "replaced with an activity where a message of unity is shared".

Responding to the order, the Archbishop said: "I think the Malaysian government has contradicted themselves." 

He said that on the one hand the Malaysian king and Prime Minister had made public statements emphasising good interfaith and cultural relations, while on the other issuing a ban on Muslims and non-Muslims praying together that is "ridiculous and confusing". 

The Archbishop warned that the directive risked damaging social harmony.

"For the past century, Malaysians and during pre-Malaysia days, there were no problems at all, even at government functions," he said, according to ACNS.

"I believe this directive is going against the very harmonious spirit of the nation and will polarise the nation further.

"I don't understand how praying together could create discrimination and disrespect, instead the opposite, respect and appreciation will result."

Malaysia ranks 42nd on the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries where it is the most difficult to be a Christian. 

Ethnic Malay are automatically identified as Muslim on their ID cards, while under the country's constitution, Muslims are forbidden from converting to other religions.

Last November, four Finnish tourists were arrested in northern Langkawi island after police received complaints that they were handing out Christian materials in public places.

They were freed soon after but deported and banned from re-entering the country. 

Persecution in Malaysia has remained in the spotlight over the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, who has been missing since February 2017. 

Earlier this year, Malaysia's human rights commission, Suhakam, blamed religious authorities and the Special Branch of the Malaysian police for the pastor's disappearance.