A MCA parliamentarian’s scathing speech on religion and history in the Dewan Rakyat two weeks ago has prompted an unannounced visit by Umno Youth members bearing a protest letter.
On March 15, Kelana Jaya MP Loh Seng Kok had complained in the House about the ‘imbalance’ in the history textbook syllabus, Muslim prayer recital guidelines and the problems faced by non-Muslims in relation to places of worship.
One of his peers had warned him then about the potential hazards of speaking his mind and about his choice of words.
It is learnt that, six days later, some 50 Umno Youth members, led by Kelana Jaya division chief Abdul Halim Samad, paid him a visit. Their sudden arrival at about 9.30pm took those at the office by surprise.
Loh was handed a protest letter. It is learnt that Abdul Halim told him, “We don’t want to hear any explanation now; this is our letter, you read and answer it.”
The MP was also purportedly told that Umno Youth would “take action” if he failed to respond to the letter within several days. Some in the group had brought along video cameras to record the brief meeting.
It is learnt that the Youth wing has rejected Loh’s proposal to set up a religious development department on the grounds that this would undermine the position of Islam as the official religion.
The Kelana Jaya division had apparently held a meeting to discuss the speech and concluded that Loh’s proposal had hurt the feelings of Malay Malaysians, who make up the majority of voters in the parliamentary constituency of the same name.
It is also learnt that a copy of the letter to Loh has been sent to Umno leaders at the national, state and divisional levels, as well as to Malay-based non-governmental organisations.
Contacted today, Abdul Halim confirmed that he had submitted a protest letter to Loh but declined to comment on the contents.
Asked for the reasons behind the division’s discontent, he replied: “There are two or three grounds but I cannot tell you over the phone now.”
On whether the division had gone to the MP’s office to teach him a lesson, he refused to comment, saying that it was a “sensitive” matter.
Meanwhile, Loh when met at Parliament, said he is willing to meet with anyone.
“I don’t deny that there are people who have visited me. I am willing to explain to anyone the context of my speech,” said the first-term MP and former aide to ex-MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik.
It is learnt that a dialogue will be held this week between the Umno Youth Kelana Jaya division and Loh.
Selangor Umno deputy chief Muhammad Muhd Taib is said to have been informed of the matter, but could not be reached for comment.
A Barisan Nasional (BN) parliamentarian today raised the temperature in the Dewan Rakyat by touching on history and religion. This prompted another BN MP to issue a caution.
In a no-holds-barred speech, Loh Seng Kok (BN-Kelana Jaya) complained about ‘imbalanced’ history textbooks, new prayer recital guidelines and the problems faced by non-Muslims with regards to places of worship.
Loh said the syllabus of history textbooks ignored the contribution of non-bumiputeras and only emphasised on the Islamic civilisation.
Terming it as “incomplete and imbalanced”, he said the syllabus does not encourage critical thinking among the students.
“For instance, the fight against the Japanese Occupation during World War II is portrayed as only the effort of the Malays but ignored the role of Chinese and Indian Malaysians,” he added.
Furthermore, he said the syllabus from Form One to Form Five does not provide a deeper understanding of other civilisations.
“Five out of the 10 chapters in the Form Four history textbook only focused on the Islamic civilisation,” he added.
Earlier, Loh also complained about the prayer recital guidelines which were being drafted by the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim).
According to him, the new guidelines would be imposed on “everyone and every government and private agency” during official or semi-official functions.
“The guidelines are being drafted without consultation, reference or discussion with representatives of other religions,” he said while seconding the motion to thank the royal address.
“This is against the principle of respect, understanding, discussion and transparency promoted by the government and its leaders,” he added.
Loh also urged the government not to ignore providing allocation and basic facilities for non-Muslim places of worship.
He claimed that one of the problems faced was the Registrar of Societies (ROS) revoking the registration of these places of worship without strong reasons.
For example, he said a church was recently de-registered by the ROS due to confusion regarding its membership, failing to publicly display meeting notices and accepting university students as church members without prior consent from the university’s vice-chancellor.
In view of this, Loh said the time was ripe for the establishment of a religions development department.
He said the department would be seen as a step towards recognising other religions and upholding the spirit of religious freedom enshrined in the federal constitution.
“If Jakim is needed, the religions development department must be established as well,” he added.
At the end of his speech, Mohamed Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) issued a caution to Loh, saying his words could be interpreted in a ‘dangerous’ way.
“The country’s harmony is based on the nation’s history, where there was a consensus reached by the different ethnic groups... we shouldn’t just look at superficial issues.
“The nation has also never denied freedom of religion,” he added.
Also irked was Salahuddin Ayub (PAS-Kubang Kerian), who told Loh not to question the prayer recital guidelines.
He warned that the BN MP’s speech could lead to a rift between the different races.
In another development, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in a written reply to Chow Kon Yeow (DAP-Tanjong) today reiterated his rejection to the formation of an interfaith commission.
He said the proposal had caused controversies and widened the division among different religions.
However, the premier added that dialogues will be held between the various faiths from time to time.