Malaysian churches cheer government move allowing shoplot locations

Many see it as a gesture of religious tolerance from the government.

By Grace Chen for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur

September 05, 2014
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Malaysian Christians welcome as a sign of religious tolerance , a move by the Muslim-dominated government to change the property status of storefront churches.

  •  The Tamil Methodist Church (centre) occupies space in a shopping complex in Perak. [Grace Chen/Khabar]

    The Tamil Methodist Church (centre) occupies space in a shopping complex in Perak. [Grace Chen/Khabar]

Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor announced in July that the government was converting from commercial to religious properties, title deeds for churches operating out of so-called shoplots.

He also announced a council would be elected to regulate the process, according to Bernama. In Kuala Lumpur, a scarcity of undeveloped land resulted in many churches confining themselves to shoplots. The government change has yet to be implemented and regulations are yet to be formulated.

"Should the religious land title be implemented for shoplot churches, the implication will be great because it will act to safeguard the church for our next generation," Steven Shee, a Malaysian Christian and church co-founder told Khabar Southeast Asia.

A decade ago, Shee's family and five others started the Wangsa Maju Church of Christ, which operates out of a second-floor shop at Platinum Walk in Kuala Lumpur.

The news about the change in property status shows the government is respecting the religious needs of non-Muslim communities , Charles Yong, pastor of Foursquare Gospel Church of Malaysia, told Khabar.

Yong, whose church is housed in a Kuala Lumpur business park, believes developers should set aside land parcels for places of worship in future plans.

"Just like they should designate land for the building of schools, parks and playgrounds, areas for churches, mosques and temples must also be considered," Yong said.

Some Christians however are concerned about the ministry's decision. Reverend Ezekiel Eswaran worries should a church move to another location, its previous property's religious status cannot be reverted to commercial.

Once a building is recognised as a house of worship, it cannot be sold or used for commercial purposes. With soaring real estate prices, this could make building owners hesitate, he told Khabar.

Ezekiel leads Victory Churches International in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Cheras, a congregation of 200 Christians who attend Tamil and English-language services.

His non-denominational church occupies a second-floor space in a busy commercial area where property prices for a 5,700-square-foot retail space now can reach RM. 3m ($950,000). Ezekiel's church pays RM. 1,500 ($475) in monthly rent.

"It would be good if the authorities can consider a temporary status for churches running from rented premises," Ezekiel said, "as it would encourage building owners to declare their property as places of worship, freeing them from the assessment rates and allowing the church to enjoy lower tariff rates."

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