Muslim group in Malaysia forces church to remove cross

(Photo: REUTERS / Olivia Harris)Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak inspects the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) youth during the annual assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur November 27, 2014. Razak on Thursday bolstered a law protecting the sanctity of Islam and the country's traditional rulers, the sultans, in an about-turn to scrap a law banning criticism of the government. The Malaysian leader told a meeting of his ruling UMNO party that the act would be maintained and strengthened.

About 50 Malaysians have pressured a newly-inaugurated church to remove a cross on the building, claiming that the symbol "challenged" Islam given that the area was inhabited by a Muslim majority there.

Local residents of Tama Medan said the protest in Petaling Jaya was staged during a Sunday service April 19, drawing criticism from church leaders and state legislators.

One assemblyman described the action as "politically motivated."

The group marched toward the church around 10:00 a.m., insisting that the sight of the cross in an area populated by Muslims seemed to be an affront to Islam. Such symbolism could also "influence younger minds."

A village leader managed to calm the protesting residents after speaking with the pastor of the church.

"After meeting with the priest, the church agreed to take down the cross by next Sunday," said village leader Datuk Abdullah Abu Bakar, The Star Online reported. "If they have the authority to run, we cannot stop it."

"But we ask out of concern, being a Malay area, that they take down the cross," he asserted.

Police arrived at the site around 10:30 a.m. and acted as intermediaries between the protesters and church leaders.

Giving her take on the incident, PKR assembly representative Haniza Mohamed Talha said the protest was clearly "politically motivated" after learning the residents belonged to the Umno, the largest political party in Malaysia.

"One of the demonstrators was an Umno candidate who contested against me for the state seat in 2008 and lost," Talha told The Star Online when sought for comment.

The United Malays National Organization or Umno is in the ruling coalition and as it supporter has declined in recent years it has supported greater Islamic influence in the country where Muslims make up some 62 per cent of the 19.5 million people.

"Another one of them calls himself the village head. There are no villages in Taman Medan. It is an urban area."

The legislator likewise pointed out that other churches used to put up a cross on rented lots like the one in Taman Medan and those did not earn the ire of the community there.

Talha castigated the actions of the protesters saying it "tarnished the image of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims."

"Comments from Muslims which I read on social media also expressed anger at this group for giving our religion a bad name," she said.

"I can understand the concerns of non-Muslims, but I'd like to assure them this is not what Islam teaches its followers. I urge this group of protesters to return to the right teachings of Islam, as preached by the Prophet Muhammad," she added.

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