Thousands gather to oppose ‘conversion’ in Malaysia

.- More than 1,000 angry Muslim protesters gathered outside Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Silibin on Sunday after a rumor rapidly spread through cell phone text messages and e-mails that a group of Muslims had chosen to be baptized and convert to Christianity there.

Police also received the text message and had sent officers to the scene to prevent violence.

After four hours and repeated warnings by police the crowd eventually dispersed, having learned that it was actually 98 ethnic Indian children who were readying to receive First Communion, reported The Malaysia Star. The protesters included members of opposition parties and non-governmental organizations

Muslims are not legally permitted to convert to other faiths in Malaysia. According to a report by The Associated Press, those who have previously tried were sentenced to prison terms and religious rehabilitation programs. Proselytizing of Muslims is also illegal.

The country’s 26 million-member population is about 60 percent Muslim, 25 percent Chinese Buddhists and Christians, and 10 percent Indians, who are mainly Hindus and Christians.

The government has been largely successful in nurturing harmony since the deadly ethnic riots in 1969, and the country is often hailed as a model of coexistence for other multicultural nations.

State police said it would investigate how the text message began. Perak Religious Department also intends to investigate.

Fr. Fabian Dicom, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Penang, said the Church was extremely concerned that a group of people had been sowing ill-will through rumors. He said the incident had also infringed on the church members' right to worship.

“The Catholic Church has always believed that dialogue is the best platform to resolve issues and as such is extremely disappointed that there was no attempt whatsoever for dialogue,” he told The Malaysia Star.

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