Chinese religious groups meet over threat to remove shrines

The Na Tuk Kong shrine at Taman Restu Fasa 5 playground which was set up by residents two years ago.

ALOR SETAR: A group of Chinese associations are to meet tonight over a series of “clear out” notices sent by Alor Setar City Council to Chinese places of worship over the past month.

The Kedah Chinese Assembly Hall said notices were served on the managements of about 10 Chinese shrines and temples for illegally building places of worship or having gone against building use rules.

“Tonight’s meeting would be in the form of a dialogue, to find an amicable resolution to the problem of illegally-built places of worship,” said assembly president Cheng Lai Hock.

He told FMT that illegally-built places of worship were a long-standing problem: many such places had been built on government land or reserve land.

Cheng said the assembly hoped to discuss with the Kedah government on what can be done to resolve the issue through state government policy.

After a two-day clear-out notice by the Alor Setar City Council, the organisers removed the shrine and a cement structure.

The assembly hall is an umbrella body for 250 Kedah Chinese associations, and has some 3,000 members.

Kota Darul Aman assemblyman Teh Swee Leong said the Kedah government should stop all action on places of worship, pending further talks.

“Let’s have a conversation about it. They must respect other religions for the harmony of all Kedahans.”

“Two days’ notice to clear out, where can we go?”

One of the first Chinese places of worship ordered to be cleared out was a Na Tuk Kong or Datuk Hijau shrine at the playground of Taman Restu Fasa 5 here, which was ordered to be dismantled three weeks ago.

A before and after picture showing the altar of Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Yit Feng Cai Boa Xing Jun. After Alor Setar City Council served a notice, the committee removed the idols fearing action from the council.

The shrine sits on a metal cabinet measuring about 1m by 1.75m. It was built two years ago by a group of Chinese residents nearby, says one of the founders, who wanted to be known as Lim.

He told FMT that he received two city council notices on June 17 to dismantle the shrine and also remove a tent opposite the shrine.

The shrine and tent were put up under the auspices of the Persatuan Kebajikan Kaum Cina Taman Restu for handing out aid to the needy and provide shelter for Rela workers who patrolled the area.

“We were okay to move elsewhere, but to give us two-day notices, where are we to find another place to move to? We set up the tokong so as to respect the land we are on, it is a common Chinese practice,” Lim said.

“We did not take up much space and don’t think we offended anyone. Our neighbourhood is mixed. Our Malay neighbours had no issues of it being there.”

At Taman Saga, two Chinese associations with Taoist shrines set up at shoplots were also served notices to clear out.

Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Yit Feng Cai Boa Xing Jun, a religious charitable organisation, had moved out from Jalan Putra after 20 years to its present location at Taman Saga two years ago.

Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Yit Feng Cai Boa Xing Jun has decided to close after notices served by the city council.

The association’s secretary, Ng Song Por, 41, said the group used rented premises in the past 20 years. “Now, we have our own shoplot, bought two years ago. Last week, we got a notice from MBAS saying we have turned a shoplot into a shrine, and ordered us to clear out.

“Fearing action, we have complied and removed all our idols and placed them elsewhere.”

Next door is the Sam Si Han shrine, set up by Pertubuhan Kemakmuran Gigong Malaysia, whose offices are on the first floor.

Committee member Low Chee Boon said the shrine was initially planned for the first floor, “but we thought the ground floor would be better as it was larger. Then we got a notice from the council.”

He said the committee did not know that it was illegal to put up a shrine there. “I did not think it would be a problem as it was only visited by our members,” he said.

FMT is seeking comment from Sidam assemblyman Robert Ling Kui Ee, who is the state executive councillor for Kedah Chinese and Siamese affairs.

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