Mufti’s call to act on illegal temples too simplistic, says historian

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GEORGE TOWN: A historian and expert on Indian temples says a mufti’s call for the authorities to act on illegal places of worship is too simplistic, warning that there is no “one size fits all” solution to the issue.

Historian and author V Nadarajan.

V Nadarajan agreed with Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin that there were too many illegally built places of worship, including Hindu temples. However, he said the mufti must understand the history behind such places, both pre- and post-independence.

Speaking to FMT, he said most Hindu temples were built 150 to 200 years ago when Indian labourers were brought by the British to work in estates and allowed to build temples there.

After Merdeka, he said, Hindus were rarely given land to build temples. Most old temples remained on private land and were demolished once the land was sold, without consideration of their historical value.

Nadarajan said a majority of Indians were also poor and could not afford to buy new tracts of land to build more temples.

While he agreed with Asri’s call for checks on illegal temples or places of worship, he said old temples should be spared as Hindus believed such structures were centres of energy, with “powers” developed over decades or centuries.

“Newer, mushrooming temples built illegally should be torn down, but temples beyond 50 years of age should not be torn down as they are classified as heritage sites under the National Heritage Act 2005.”

He said there were provisions and rituals in Hinduism for the relocation of shrines or temples.

“After the ritual is done, they can proceed to relocate the temple. But moving an old temple is rarely done for obvious reasons.”

Yesterday, Asri said illegal places of worship were an inconvenience to the public, giving the example of the shrine at the entrance of the Bukit Mertajam Hospital in Penang.

In what was seen as a reaction to the recent temple fracas in Subang Jaya, he urged the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to come down hard on illegal places of worship, saying Malaysia does not practise the law of the jungle.

However, Nadarajan reminded Asri that Malaysia was a multicultural country.

“In the case of the shrine at the Bukit Mertajam Hospital, the question that needs to be asked is this: was the temple built first or the general hospital?

“The mufti must think carefully that this is a multiracial country. You give them land and money, you can break this issue of illegal places of worship overnight.”

Meanwhile, Penang Hindu Endowments Board chairman P Ramasamy said the PH government was formulating a national policy on land use for non-Muslim places of worship.

The Penang deputy chief minister said the state had already put in place a policy to give tracts of land for non-Muslim places of worship, with plans to do so on a national scale in place as well.

To Asri’s concerns, he said the mufti should ask why non-Muslims had not been given land to build their places of worship for the past 61 years.

“Shrines or temples are built where there is predominantly Indian labour. Never mind the temple at the Bukit Mertajam Hospital, the entrance of Sungai Bakap Hospital also has a temple.

“This was because historically, most of the workers at the hospital were Indians,” he said, adding that Asri should not make sweeping statements.