KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Many Malaysians are invoking the power of prayer to aid the massive multinational search operation for the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared without a trace early Saturday.

To aid the hunt and keep hope alive for the missing 239 passengers and crew, many Malaysians are taking to Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples and even shopping malls, where shoppers Tuesday (March 11) wrote and hung up prayers and well-wishes on special “message of hope” displays.

On Sunday, a former Malaysian prime minister joined multifaith groups for prayers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where Flight 370 took off for Beijing. Prayers have continued across Malaysia, where Muslims make up the majority of the population, and significant numbers of ethnic minorities, including Chinese and Indians, follow other religions.

In Penang, in Malaysia’s northwest, four special prayer sessions were held Tuesday by the Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Hindu communities, the New Straits Times newspaper reported. At the Penang state police headquarters, about 1,500 Muslim officers, some overcome by emotion, took part in a mass solat hajat prayer for the speedy recovery of the jet, it said.

At the upscale Pavilion Mall in Kuala Lumpur, accountant Jeffrey Sim wrote a prayer on a specially printed note for tying to a “message of hope” display wall. “I want to send them loving kindness, and the hope that they are in a safe place and happy, whether here or on the other side,” said Sim, 60, a Buddhist.

The display wall was one of several organized at malls in the capital by Malaysians for Malaysia, a civil society organization that promotes unity. One handwritten prayer read: “World unites because of you, may Allah be with us!” Another said, “The power of prayer can create miracle where hope is lost.”

In his prayer, Hidayat Kamalzaman, a business intern, hoped for the flight’s safe return and said Islamic belief could sustain Muslims during difficult times. “The Koran says that if God says it will happen, it will,” the 21-year-old said. Relatives of the missing “will keep faith and it will help them cope. We Muslims believe there’s a reason for everything that happens.”

Mainland Chinese relatives of missing passengers, who are less likely to be religious after decades of religious repression by China’s ruling Communist Party, arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday from Beijing, after a first batch Monday. They were processed through the airport without exposure to waiting reporters, in line with Malaysia Airlines’ commitment in Beijing to protect their privacy, and taken to a suburban hotel.

Criticism of the Malaysian response continued in China’s state-run media. “Do the security checks at this airport meet the standard of guaranteeing aviation safety?” asked a commentary in the Legal Daily newspaper.

Some Malaysian travelers accepted such criticism. “Sometimes security in Malaysia is a bit lacking. We know how they work,” said G.S. Koh, 57, a Kuala Lumpur architect. “In the U.S., we travel there and see the difference in terms of security, like taking off belts and shoes. We don’t have that here, there’s a difference in standards,” he said at the city’s airport.

If greater security means longer check-in times, “we could be here for four hours before departure, but we have no issue with that” to stop terrorism, said Koh. He said he hopes Malaysia will utilize Interpol’s passport checking system, currently mostly used by the U.S., United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates. “There are a lot of lost passports around,” he said.

Angeline Ng, a sales and marketing employee in Kuala Lumpur, disagreed. “Three hours is too long. I think the security measures are fine for now,” said Ng, 36. “The rate of plane accidents is much lower than for road accidents,” she said after tying up her prayer at the Pavilion Mall on Tuesday: “hoping for a miracle” for the missing passengers and crew.

One Malaysian thinks he can deliver a miracle. Prominent shaman Raja Bomah, or Ibrahim Mat Zim, prayed at the airport entrance Monday and then said he thought the plane was still in the air or had crashed into the sea, reported Bernama, a state news agency. Using a fish tap hook and bamboo binoculars to aid his search, the shaman, a victim-hunter for decades, said he had been invited by a national leader.

The government welcomes all help to trace the missing flight, including from “bomohs,” or shamans, as long as their methods conform to Islamic teachings, said government official Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, according to the news agency.

(Calum MacLeod writes for USA Today.)

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