Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Malaysia magazine sorry for communion-spitting offence

Police inspect black paint thrown at a church in Malacca state.
Churches have come under attack in Malaysia amid rising tensions

A Malaysian Muslim magazine has apologised after two of its journalists pretended to be Roman Catholics and took Holy Communion in a church.

Al-Islam said it had not intended to insult Christians with an article describing how the journalists received and later spat out communion wafers.

They were allegedly investigating reports that Muslims were illegally converting to Christianity.

Christians complained after charges against the reporters were dropped.

The Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Murphy Pakiam, said the two men had desecrated the Church, and the lack of charges appeared to legitimise their behaviour.

"The journalists have displayed utmost disrespect for the Catholic community when they admit receiving and spitting out the Holy Communion," he told a press conference.

He said the incident "does not augur well on inter-religious harmony and peace" in Malaysia.

It is the latest in a series of incidents raising religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country.


The monthly Malay-language al-Islam magazine indicated the men spat out the communion wafers because it took a photograph of them partially bitten.

"Al-Islam magazine apologises... because the article had unintentionally hurt the feelings of Christians, especially Catholics," it said on its website Utusan Karya.


"It is also not the intention of al-Islam to insult the Christian religion nor to desecrate their house of worship."

The government's top lawyer, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, said the pair had not understood the significance of the wafer.

"The actions of the two reporters may have hurt the feelings of the people but I was satisfied that they did not intend to offend anyone. It was an act of sheer ignorance," he said in a statement.

"Therefore in view of the circumstances at that particular time and in the interest of justice, peace and harmony, I decided not to press any charges against them."

The journalists said they had found no evidence of the illegal conversion of Muslims.

Catholics believe the communion wafer is transformed into the body of Christ during the celebration of Mass.

While non-Catholics can attend Mass, the Church does not allow those who are not baptised to receive the communion wafer.

The BBC's Jennifer Pak in Malaysia says that non-Muslims feel their right to practise religion freely has come under threat in a country dominated by Muslims.

Protests against a court ruling in December that non-Muslims could use the word "Allah" led the government to appeal against the judgement.

Arson attacks then followed, mainly targeting churches, and wild boar's heads were placed at mosques. Pigs are considered unclean by Muslims and their presence would be taken as an insult.

Malays, who are required to be Muslim in Malaysia, make up a majority of the country's population alongside substantial Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Malaysian constitution gives primacy to Islam but allows the free practice of other faiths.

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