Monday, 17 December 2007

The Ma Tzu Controversy

Statue of Jesus Christ, Indonesia

Ironically, while Indonesia, with the most populous Muslim majority in the world has unveiled the tallest statue of Jesus Christ in Asia, Malaysia, which portrays itself as a model of cultural and religious freedom, is in the grip of religious intolerance.

The demolition of Hindu temples, big and small sited on private or government-owned land, the call for the removal of Christian religious symbols and statues in missionary schools, the setting up of moral police to spy on couples in public places and private homes, the instances of civil court judgments that allow Shariah court decisions to supersede them in favour of Muslims in cases that involve both Muslims and non-Muslims are ominous events that reveal a Malaysia sharply divided by a religious chasm.

Yet another case that will put Malaysia under the spotlight is the Ma Tzu (Goddess of the Sea) controversy in Sabah in 2006, that led to the resignation of the Deputy Minister of Sabah, Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, who is also the Chairman of the Thean Hon Charitable Foundation that initiated the Ma Tzu project on its own land and with its own money.

What transpired in the Ma Tzu controversy was the cancellation of the approval for the project by the Chief Minister of Sabah through the Kudat Town Board,even though the town board had earlier given its approval to the Foundation to build the Ma Tzu statue. The contractor of the project was ordered to stop work although work on the location for the statue had been 90% completed and the Ma Tzu statue had been brought into Sabah in pieces in containers. Now the pieces, still packed remain at the Kota Kinabalu port.

The letter from the state secretary of Sabah ordering a halt to construction work for the location of the statue

Construction of the location for the Ma Tzu statue

Pieces of the statue remain packed in containers at the port

The face of Ma Tzu

The bone of contention is said to be the statue’s ‘close’ proximity to the Asy-Syakirin Mosque which had led to the state’s Islamic Department to issue a ‘fatwa’ or decree to forbid the erection of the statue or any other statues, animal or human in the state of Sabah.

The letter from the state mufti forbidding the building of statues

The location of the statue and its proximity to the Asy-Syakirin Mosque

Stories have it that Tan Sri Chong met with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to resolve the issue and the Deputy Minister had tried in vain to persuade the Prime Minister to settle the matter as Article 11 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia guarantees the freedom to build places of worship for the various religions.

On 12 December 2007 at 11 am, a case was filed by Tan Sri Chong in the Kota Kinabalu High Court against the Mufti of Sabah for issuing a decree that forbids the building of Buddhist statues, and the Sabah State Government for ordering stoppage to all work on the location and on erecting the Ma Tzu statue, the Goddess of the Sea.

Photo credits: Malaysia Today

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