Malaysia plans interfaith committee as tension rises
Malaysia will set up an interfaith committee to promote religious harmony, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday, after a series of religious disputes have fueled tensions in the mainly Muslim country.
The interfaith committee will look into religious groups’ disputes with one another and promote understanding among them, Koh Tsu Koon, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, was quoted by the online version of the Star newspaper as saying.
The development came a week after the government dropped a caning sentence imposed on a woman for drinking beer, a case that raised concerns of intolerance in the country.
The woman, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine after she was caught drinking beer by Islamic enforcement officials two years ago at a hotel lounge in the central state of Pahang.
Malaysia practises a dual-track legal system, with Islamic criminal and family law applicable to Muslims. Non-Muslims, who make up about 45 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 28 million residents, are subject to civil law.
In January, churches were attacked as a row escalated over the use of the word Allah to refer to the Christian God.
The dispute was sparked by a 2009 court ruling allowing a Catholic newspaper to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language editions to describe the Christian God.
Analysts said growing religious disputes risk dividing the country, which has significant religious minorities, and complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s plan to win back support from non-Muslims before the next elections due by 2013.
Do you think this approach can be effective? Some doubts have already been expressed.