Prime Minister Najib Razak called for multi-racial and sectarian harmony as Malaysia opened Chinese New Year festivities.
"While we rejoice in welcoming the Year of the Horse, we must uphold our unity and racial harmony that we have enjoyed so far," Najib said in a January 30th message in the Malay Mail Online.
"We owe it to the nation to reject any form of threat, violence or any other act of extremism that would strain the harmonious relationship shared and enjoyed by the various races in Malaysia," he said. "In Malaysia's cultural melting pot, we must respect the rule of law and proceed with sensitivity toward other people's beliefs."
Najib's comments came amid recent and escalating tensions between Muslims and Malaysia's Christian minority.
In October, a Malaysian court ruled a Malaysian Catholic newspaper could not use the word "Allah" in reference to God. Last month, Islamic authorities in Selangor seized Malay-language Bibles that used "Allah". Then on January 27th, someone hurled two Molotov cocktails at a Catholic church in Penang displaying a banner bearing the word. No one was hurt, according to media reports.
Najib's remarks came a few days after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urged Malaysians to protect their hard-won social harmony.
Anwar even evoked the May 1969 race riots during his January 26th speech in Petaling Jaya.
"The voices of hate and animosity, the voices of prejudice and suspicion, and the voices of wreck and ruin are attempting to drown out the harmony, co-operation and understanding that we have managed to build on the ruins of this tragedy," the Astro Awani news site quoted him as saying.
Resisting 'extremist and racist elements'
Najib joined leaders of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) January 31st in celebrating the first day of the New Year at the group's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
In his own New Year's address, MCA President Liow Tiong Lai echoed the prime minister's words.
"Our political environment has undergone changes which is affecting Malaysia's multi-cultural and multi-ethnic relations. Our national spirit is being eroded and these racial, cultural and religious differences are now testing our time-honoured harmonious ethnic relations," Liow said January 28th.
"Malaysians want and deserve stability. Hence, we must all resolutely work together and stand against extremist and racist elements in our society …. Now, more than ever, must we go beyond tolerance and embrace acceptance and understanding," he added.