Christmas cheer is in plentiful supply in Muslim-majority Kelantan with churches welcoming people from every race and religion to learn more about the Christian faith.
While Kelantan has been under PAS rule for the past 30 years, Francis Andrew, the priest at a Catholic church in Kota Bharu, said ties between Christians and Muslims in the state dubbed “the verandah of Mecca” are in fact very good.
“This might come as a surprise to some people,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“There are also those who think that Christians in states like this, under PAS rule, do not live in peace. But none of that is true. We all live in harmony here.”
Describing Kelantan as an ideal state, he said his own ties with Muslim leaders were very good.
He said he is often invited to attend events organised by Islamic leaders while his own church is open to all, including Muslims, who wish to learn more about Christianity.
Built in 1950, Andrew’s church, Our Lady of Fatima in Kota Bharu, is one of the oldest in Kelantan.
There are 11 other churches in the area but Our Lady of Fatima is the only Catholic church.
“We have never been disturbed by anyone,” Andrew said.
“We have held processions in the streets before and received very good cooperation from the state police.”
Lim Khet Keang, who pastors the Presbyterian church in Kota Bharu, said Christmas celebrations in the city are still merry in their own way as the church frequently organises activities for the local community.
Of course, things are not the same as they were before the onset of Covid-19. Now, the church must keep in mind the SOPs and enforce a limit on the number of people attending its gatherings.
“We used to have parties for the children, presentations, singing and dancing,” Lim said.
“This would be followed by a big meal which everyone would enjoy together. We used to invite nearly 400 people.”
Carolling was also a staple activity, with church members going from house to house among the Christian community in Kota Bharu.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lim recalled.
On Christmas morning, meanwhile, they would attend church for worship service.
“But because of Covid-19, we have had to cancel all of our programmes, last year as well as this year,” he said.
“We are only holding a Christmas service in church on Dec 25.”
The church expects to welcome about 80 congregants at its on-site service, with the rest attending through Zoom.
Lim, who has pastored the church in Kota Bharu for nearly 30 years now, said the Christians there had never been disturbed since the community was formed in 1938.
“No one has ever troubled us even though we are the minority here,” he said.
“Our church is located just 500m from a mosque, and this has never been an issue.”