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from FaithWorld:

Malaysia sets up Vatican ties in gesture to Christian minority

(Pope Benedict receives a gift by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) during a meeting at the Pope's summer residence in Castelgandolfo July 18, 2011/Osservatore Romano)

Malaysia and the Vatican agreed on Monday to establish diplomatic ties, a move seen by analysts as a bid by the Malaysian government to appease minority Christians in the mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country. Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to mend the government's relations with Christians who make up about 9 percent of the country's 28 million after a rise in religious tensions ahead of general elections widely expected next year.

Religious tensions have risen in Malaysia following general elections in 2008 when the government recorded its worst performance after mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim minorities abandoned Najib's ruling coalition, complaining of marginalization.

Unhappiness among the Christian minority has since been deepened by an ongoing row over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians to describe God, which led to attacks on houses of worship including several churches last year. "This will be seen as an effort towards reconciliation with Malaysia's Christian community but will only work to ease the unhappiness of some... because some of the issues have yet to be resolved," said James Chin, political analyst at Monash University campus in Kuala Lumpur.

from FaithWorld:

Bangladesh Islamists stage strike against dropping Allah from constitution

(Members of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, a radical Islamist group set tires on fire as they barricade a highway during a daylong strike in Kachpur near Dhaka July 10, 2011/Andrew Biraj)

Police in Bangladesh Sunday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Islamist activists trying to enforce a nationwide strike over the removal of a Muslim phrase in the constitution, and witnesses said around 50 people were injured. The clashes erupted when thousands of bludgeon-carrying Islamists cut off a stretch of highway leading to the capital's eastern suburbs with barricades. The protesters also damaged several cargo trucks before the police crackdown, and some 100 people were detained.

from FaithWorld:

Rising Christian anger in Malaysia over Bible seizures

malay bible

(A Bible in the Malay language at a church in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

Rising Christian anger in mainly Muslim Malaysia over the government's handling of a case involving seized Bibles could complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak's bid to win back the support of minorities ahead of an early general election. The row over 35,100 imported Malay language Bibles and Christian texts impounded by Customs authorities comes amid a legal battle on the right of non-Muslims to use the Arabic word "Allah" and could raise ethno-religious tensions in the country. The Bibles were seized in 2009 but the case was only made public in January.

from FaithWorld:

Race and religion pose risks in Malaysian politics

malaypm

Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) leaves Friday prayers at Putra Mosque in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur July 10, 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

Rising political tension in Malaysia over ethnic and religious rivalries and the trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are key challenges facing the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

from FaithWorld:

Malaysia’s “Allah” row spills over into Facebook

allah herald

The word "Allah" in a Malay-language Catholic newspaper, 29 Dec 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

More than 43,000 Malaysians have protested online over a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to use the word "Allah" for "God," signaling growing Islamic anger in this mostly Muslim Southeast Asian country.

from Global News Journal:

Allah, Antarctica and Ancient Inca-The best reads of 2009

When I have time to lavish on reading something other than news, I want to spend it on stories that leave me saying, "Wow!" A great read should tell readers something they don't already know, enlighten them about the world and its people, inform them about the human condition. Readers should be moved to laughter, tears, anger, action through superb writing and extraordinary reporting.  Here are my picks for the best reads of 2009.

As Spain's jobless lose homes, tensions mount

madrid

A packet of cigarettes is enough to cause a fight among the Spaniards and immigrants shivering in the dark outside an emergency homeless shelter in Madrid, set up for a bitter winter and depression-era unemployment. Police push past jobless Romanian and Hungarian construction workers.  "One day this place is going to explode," says unemployed waiter Miguel Roa, a Spaniard.

from FaithWorld:

“Miracle” baby gives hope, draws pilgrims in Russia’s Muslim south

baby-legA "miracle" baby has brought a kind of mystical hope to people in Russia's mostly Muslim southern fringe who are increasingly desperate in the face of Islamist violence. From hunchbacked grandmas to schoolboys, hundreds of pilgrims lined up this week in blazing sunshine to get a glimpse of 9-month-old baby Ali Yakubov, on whose body they say verses from the Koran appear and fade every few days. (Photo: Baby Ali Yakubov in Kizlyar, Russia, 19 Oct 2009/Amir Amirov)

Pinkish in color and several centimeters high, the Koranic verse "Be thankful or grateful to Allah" was printed on the infant's right leg in clearly legible Arabic script this week, religious leaders said. Visiting foreign journalists later saw a single letter after the rest had vanished.

from FaithWorld:

Funeral may show if Michael Jackson converted to Islam

jackson-niqab

One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The "King of Pop" does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman's abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact. (Photo: Veiled Jackson greets security guard as he enters shopping mall in Manama, Bahrain with veiled child, 25 Jan 2006/Hamad Mohammed)

The Jacksons are Jehovah's Witnesses and could be expected to bury Michael in the tradition of that faith. When he announced the death, his brother Jermaine -- a Muslim -- ended with the words: “May Allah be with you, Michael, always.” Jermaine said in 2007 he was trying to convince Michael to convert.

from FaithWorld:

Pope Benedict on “haj” in Jordan

haj-1Sitting through a media briefing in Amman on Pope Benedict's visit to Jordan starting on Friday, I whiled away the news-free parts trying to decipher the Arabic writing on the official logo (photo at right). I never fully mastered the Arabic alphabet or the Urdu language (which uses it) during my time in Pakistan over 20 years ago. But some hard-won bits of linguistic trivia remain stuck in the brain and come in handy at the most unexpected moments.

With some effort on my part, that arc of Arabic calligraphy up top revealed itself as saying al-haj al-babawi. The haj of baba ... hmmm... Arabic has no "p," so that could be the haj of papa. The Italians call him papa, so it must be talking about the pope and saying the pope's haj. Huh? The pope's haj?

from FaithWorld:

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here's a sample of some of the stories we've published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama's envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over "hate, hostility" against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

"Big Love" network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God's pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet "suffering" 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope's visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

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