Malaysian Premier Najib Razak moved to defuse tensions between Christians and Muslims by meeting with Christian leaders on Thursday.
“We had a very good session and good exchange,” Council of Churches of Malaysia President Bishop Thomas Tsen told Agence France-Presse. “It was a good start.”
The meeting came after a government-linked newspaper ran a front-page story suggesting that Christians were plotting to make Christianity the official religion in the Muslim-majority country.
The accusation that Christians had floated the idea during a recent dinner with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was originally made on two blogs but it was then reported in a front page story in Utusan Malaysia, a Malaysian daily owned by the ruling party.
The dinner was organized by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, Global Day of Prayer, Marketplace Penang and the Penang Pastors Fellowship.
Lim denied the claims and his party, the Malaysian Democratic Action Party, has lodged a complaint against the newspaper with the police.
“We have never asked for Malaysia to become a Christian, Hindu or Buddhist state,” he said.
Christian leaders present at Thursday's meeting said they were “disturbed” by the accusations in the newspaper and insisted that the only issues discussed during the meeting had to do with corruption in the marketplace.
Tsen said Christians respect the constitution, which enshrines Islam as the country’s official religion.
“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. It’s not helpful at all toward a multi-religious relationship," he stated.
Tsen felt the meeting this week helped ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.
According to the official Bernama news agency, Najib was also pleased with the outcome of the meeting. He said church leaders had assured him that they respected the position of Islam and that it was their intention to work towards harmony.
“I am glad to inform that Christian leaders have given two very important and meaningful undertakings,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
According to daily newspaper, The Star, a letter of caution has been issued to the Utusan for publishing news that is “alarming to the public.”