The Convent Bukit Nanas in Kuala Lumpur.

JOHOR BARU, MALAYSIA – A controversy over the Ministry of Education’s appointment of a Muslim principal to a Catholic school has been resolved after she was replaced with a Catholic one.

The dispute arose when Ms Zavirah Mohd Shaari was appointed to take over as principal of the Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) in Kuala Lumpur. The former principal, Ms Ann Khoo, retired in November.

Ms Zavirah’s arrival at the school on Dec 7 surprised the school’s owners – the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters Provincialate and the school’s board of governors.

According to the IJ Provincialate, Ms Zavirah’s name was not on the list of names submitted to the education ministry. Normally, the selection of principals of Catholic mission schools is based on consultation between the school’s owners, the board of governors and the education ministry, said IJ Provincial Sr Rosalind Tan.

The appointment drew criticism from Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur, past pupils and the IJ Sisters. In a press statement, Archbishop Pakiam expressed his disappointment over the matter which he said contradicts the government’s policy of maximum consultation.

He was quoted in the Malaysian Catholic weekly, Herald, as saying, “The appointment of the CBN principal ... has also given the impression that it is the government’s strategy to take over mission schools in total disregard for the status, ethos and special character of these schools, especially CBN.”

He had since appealed to the Director-General of Education to reconsider this decision and appoint a principal nominated by the school’s owners. The matter was resolved after the school board’s preferred candidate, Ms Mysterical Rose Fernandes, a Catholic and former convent pupil, was appointed the new principal.

Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong was quoted in the media as saying that what happened was “very unfortunate”. He added that the problem arose because there was no consultation with the school board.

Currently there are over 400 Christian mission schools in Malaysia of which 250 are founded by Catholics. Christians constitute a little over nine percent of Malaysia’s population of 27.5 million.

At 927,000, Catholics are the largest group in this minority.

Christians have been finding themselves increasingly beleaguered in the country amidst accusations, largely unsubstantiated, that they are proselytising among poor Muslims who receive aid from Christian charities.

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