Reuters blog archive
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.
"There has been a systematic and progressive pushing back of the public space to practise, to profess and to express our faith," Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), said in a statement on Wednesday.
Christians make up 9.1 percent of the country's 28 million population. Chinese and Indian non-Muslim ethnic minorities have abandoned the government, leading to record losses for Najib's ruling coalition in the last national polls in 2008 and growing complaints of marginalisation.
Bombs killed one security officer and wounded another in Thailand's restive deep South on Thursday during a visit by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, underlying the failure of successive governments to tackle a separatist insurgency in the Malay Muslim-dominated region which entered its sixth year on Monday with a death toll of nearly 4,000.
The current leaders of the insurgency are unknown. The authorities have long suspected prominent local politicians, religious leaders and Islamic teachers of involvement.
Malaysia's government has filed for a stay of execution pending its appeal of a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to describe the Christian God as "Allah", amid growing Islamic anger in the country. We reported on the dispute here yesterday, including how it has spilled over into Facebook.
What lies ahead in this row threatening to increase religious tensions in the mainly Muslim but multi-racial Southeast Asian country?
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.
Sitting 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?
Multicultural Malaysia, whose official religion is Islam but which has sizeable numbers of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, has been struggling of late to ensure religious freedoms for its minorities, without offending the sensibilities of majority Muslims.
In the latest case, a Malaysian court granted permission to a Christian to challenge the authorities for seizing religious materials that used the word "Allah". The government has banned the use of the Arabic word to describe God by all except for Muslims, saying it might confuse Muslims or offend their sensisibilities.
Reuters 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:
China says willing to meet Dalai Lama's envoys 13 Mar 2009
Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009
Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009
Pope says pained over "hate, hostility" against him 12 Mar 12 2009
Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009
Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009
"Big Love" network apologizes to Mormons 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 2009
Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009
Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009
US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009
(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)
Malaysian Catholics recite this prayer in Malay daily at Masses across the country such as a recent one in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Keningau, a sprawling timber town in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island that Niluksi Koswanage visited for this feature about tensions between Christians and the majority Muslims.
Muslims object to Christians using the word "Allah" in their services and publications, even though it is the normal word for God in Malay. The Muslims say it could undermine Islam and aims to convert Muslims. The row over the use of Allah to describe the Christian God feeds into a long-running feud over conversions between the government of a country where all Malays must be Muslims, and other faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism that are practised by ethnic Indians and Chinese.