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.

The National Front ruling coalition’s dominance through 52 years in power was dented by historic losses in 2008 polls, shifting the political landscape and increasing political friction. Many voters, especially the country’s Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities, abandoned the National Front in favour of Anwar’s three-party opposition and show little signs of returning to the coalition.

Race and religion have always been explosive issues in Malaysian politics. Najib took power pledging a more inclusive approach to ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, but his United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party that is the linchpin of the ruling coalition is beginning to cast this approach aside in a bid to woo conservative Malays.

The caning of three women under strict Islamic laws last month for having illicit sex signalled the government’s increasing adoption of a stronger Islamic agenda, which has worried some investors. A heated row over the use of the word “Allah” by Christians, which sparked attacks on religious establishments, is also threatening to prolong minority unhappiness with the government.

New WCC head aims at global issues, skirting some hot buttons

tveit

WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 22 Feb 2010/WCC-Peter Williams

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options.  It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.

Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.

“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.

Germany’s top Protestant bishop quits after drunk driving

kaessmann

Bishop Margot Kässmann at her news conference in Hanover 24 Feb 2010/Stringer

The head of Germany’s 25 million Protestants resigned on Wednesday after police stopped her for driving while under the influence of alcohol just four months after becoming the third woman to head a major Christian church.

Known as the “pop bishop,” 51-year-old Margot Kässmann is a regular on television talk shows and had been a controversial choice as head of Germany’s Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the main association of Protestant churches, because she is a divorced mother of four.

Betraying no emotion, she told reporters she had made a grave mistake which she deeply regretted: “But I cannot ignore the fact that my office and my authority … have been damaged.” With immediate effect, she would give up her role as leader of the EKD, an umbrella group of 22 Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches, and as Lutheran bishop of Hanover, she said.

Singapore raps evangelical pastor for ridiculing Buddhists, Taoists

lighthouse evangelism

Lighthouse Evangelism church in Singapore, 11 Sept 2005/Slivester

Singapore has warned an evangelical Christian pastor that his online videos are offensive to Buddhists and Taoists, underlining the city-state’s concerns that religion is a potential faultline for its multicultural society.

Pastor Rony Tan, of the Lighthouse Evangelism megachurch, apologized and pulled the video clips off the internet after being visited by the government’s Internal Security Department (ISD) on Monday, the pastor and the government said on their websites. “I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again,” Tan said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that “Pastor Tan’s comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists. They can also give rise to tension and conflict between the Buddhist/Taoist and Christian communities. ISD told Pastor Tan that in preaching or proselytising his faith, he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.”

North Africa Qaeda group offers to help Nigerian Muslims

nigeria violence

Farm truck attacked in Nigeria's central city of Jos as Muslim and Christian gangs clashed last month, 20 Jan 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

An al Qaeda group in North Africa has offered to give Nigerian Muslims training and weapons to fight Christians in the West African country, where more than 460 people were killed in sectarian clashes last month.

“We are ready to train your people in weapons, and give you whatever support we can in men, arms and munitions to enable you to defend our people in Nigeria,” the statement by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said.

TIMELINE-Ethnic and religious unrest in Nigeria

jos 1

A man and his daughter outside a burned house in Jos,20 Jan 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

Four days of clashes this week between Christian and Muslim mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes killed hundreds of people in Jos and surrounding communities before the military was deployed to contain the violence. At least 460 people have been reported killed

The unrest around the capital of Plateau state, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, underscores the fragility of Africa’s most populous nation as it approaches the campaign period for 2011 elections with uncertainty over who is in charge.  President Umaru Yar’Adua has been receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for two months.

Shooting at Coptic Christmas highlights Egypt’s sectarian tensions

Nagaa Hamady

Ramadan decorations and a Coptic Orthodox church cross in Nagaa Hamady, 9 Jan 2010/Asmaa Waguih

Church towers standing in the shadow of mosques symbolise how Christians in the southern town of Nagaa Hamady feel about their relationship with Egypt’s Muslim majority that turned violent this month.

The government said the shooting of six Christians on the eve of Coptic Christmas on Jan. 7 was an isolated case, using its stock phrase for the latest act of sectarian violence. Such killings are rare, but many Christians who make up some 10 percent of Egypt’s 78 million people feel they do not get equal treatment and complain the government is not doing more to quash sectarianism for fear of Islamist reprisals.

U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson says Haiti cursed by devil pact

haiti palace

Haiti's Presidential Palace after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, 12 Jan 2010/Reuters TV video grab

Controversial U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson said on Wednesday that earth-quake devastated Haiti was cursed because of a past pact that the island’s inhabitants had made with the devil.  The comments, which have spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and eslewhere on the Internet, were made during a broadcast of his Christian Broadcasting Network.

“They were under the heel of the French … and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story,” Robertson said in a matter-of-fact tone on the broadcast.
“And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal. .. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another,” he said.

Q+A – What’s next in Malaysia’s “Allah” row?

allah facebook

Facebook group protesting Allah ruling, 5 Jan 2010/Bazuki Muhammad

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?

Our Q+A asks why this is arousing so much anger, what happens next, whether there will be political fallout from the dispute and whether religious tensions present an important threat to religious, political and economic interests in Malaysia.

Muslims, Catholics rap Senegal prez over Stalinist-style tribute to Africa

dakar1

African Renaissance monument under construction, 19 August 2009/Finbarr O'Reilly

Senegal has a reputation for harmony between its Muslim majority (about 90%) and Christian minority (about 6%). President Abdoulaye Wade ranks as a Muslim champion of dialogue with Christians and even with Jews. So it came as a surprise over the holiday period that the 83-year-old leader provoked separate protests by imams and Catholics, including the country’s cardinal. Even stranger, the dispute was sparked by a huge Stalinist-style statue that North Korean workers are constructing on a hill overlooking the capital Dakar. dakar wade

President Wade, 1 July 2009/Ismail Zetouny

Wade stirred up protests in recent months from imams who say the project smacks of idolatry and its celebration of a near-naked man and woman offends Muslim modesty. He compounded the problem by announcing that he, as the memorial’s designer, would personally take 35% of its expected tourism receipts. When the imams’ campaign spread with anti-memorial speeches in the mosques, Wade rejected their suggestion the statue was somehow pagan. “There are worse things that happen in churches,” he told a meeting of teachers on Dec. 28.  “They pray to Jesus in churches and he’s not a god. Everybody knows this, but nobody has ever said we have to knock down the churches. Nobody has ever objected or cared what the people do there.”