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.

Najib has tried to ease the anger by reaching out to Christian groups by providing assurances on their right to practice their religion. But some in his United Malay National Organization or UMNO, the linchpin of the ruling coalition, have cast this approach aside in a bid to woo Malay Muslims, a key vote bank who make up 55 percent of the country’s population. Malaysia’s general election is not due until mid-2013 but many expect Najib to call one as early as next year to profit from continued economic growth in the country.

Preaching good sex, Muslim-inspired Obedient Wives Club spreads in Asia

(Newly-wed Ummu Honey Lokman Hakim, 19, a member of "The Obedient Wife Club", bows to her 23-year-old husband Mohd Syurahbil Amran, during a mass wedding ceremony in conjunction with the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said )

Indonesian Gina Puspita traded a career in aircraft engineering for a mission to preach Islam and help young women build happy marriages through good sex. The French-educated mother of three hosts religious programmes through the Obedient Wives Club which is based on the belief that a fulfilling sex life is the cure for “Western-style” social problems such as divorce and abuse.

“Wives must obey the husbands in all aspect of life, such as serving food and drinks, giving calm and support for the husband, as well as in sex relations,” Pusipita, who shares her spouse with three other women, told Reuters.

Islamic reality TV show in Malaysia seeks best women preachers

("Solehah" hopeful Nur Shamseeda preaches during an audition for the new Islamic reality television show "Solehah" in Kuala Lumpur June 18, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad)

A forthcoming Islamic reality television show in Malaysia aims to find the best women preachers and change conservative mindsets on the role of women in Muslim societies. The 13-episode prime time program titled “Solehah,” an Arabic word meaning “pious female,” is a talent contest that will feature charismatic young Muslim women judged by clerics on their religious knowledge as well as their oratory skills and personality.

Although Islam allows both men and women to preach the religion to society, the field remains dominated by males in most Muslim countries, something the show’s producers in this mainly Muslim but multi-religious Southeast Asian country hope to change.

Malaysia’s Obedient Wives Club angers women’s rights groups

(Ishak Md Nor, 40, (2nd L) and his two wives, Aishah Abdul Ghafar, 40, (C) and Afiratul Abidah Mohd Hanan 25 -- both members of the Obedient Wifes Club -- laugh with their children after the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said)

A Malaysian group urging wives to avoid marital problems by fulfilling their husbands’ sexual desires like prostitutes has angered politicians and women’s rights groups, the New Straits Times reported on Sunday. The Obedient Wives Club, which was set up by a group of Muslim women, said domestic violence, infidelity and prostitution stemmed from a lack of belief in God and a failure of women to satisfy their husbands.

The club’s president, Rohaya Mohamed, said it was open to women of all religions and would conduct seminars on how to be a good wife as well as offer marriage counseling. “A man married to a woman who is as good or better than a prostitute in bed has no reason to stray. Rather than allowing him to sin, a woman must do all she can to ensure his desires are met,” Rohaya told the newspaper.

Malaysia’s Young Imam reality TV show widens reach to Southeast Asia

(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011. The finalists are, from left; Najdi, Azlan, Mujahid, Amar, Fakhrul, Nazrul, Hassan, Fadli, Fatah and Ali. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad )

(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

A hit Malaysian Islamic reality TV show kicked off its second season this week after drawing more than 1,000 hopefuls from the region in a sign of the religion’s growing reach in Southeast Asia. Combining a reality TV format with Islamic teachings, the “Imam Muda” or “Young Imam” show is a talent contest for male Muslims aged between 18 and 27 who can speak Malay, with the winner crowned an Imam or religious leader.

The prime-time show features contestants in sharp-looking black suits who are judged on a variety of tasks including reciting Koranic verses, washing corpses, slaughtering sheep according to Muslim rules and counseling promiscuous young Muslim couples.

iPad 2 sold out in the afterlife as Chinese pray for the dead

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(Fake money -- "Hell Bank Notes" -- on sale for the Qingming festival, or Grave-Sweeping Day, at a shop in Kuala Lumpur March 31, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

Apple’s iPad 2 shortage has spread to the afterlife as Chinese families in Malaysia rush to buy paper replicas of the popular new gadget to burn for their dead as part of a centuries-old rite. During the Qingming festival, also known as the tomb sweeping festival, Chinese communities in Asia honour their ancestors by burning fake money or replicas of luxury items such as flashy cars and designer bags.

The festival, which stems from Confucian teachings of loyalty to family and tradition, is also celebrated widely among the Chinese in Malaysia, who make up a quarter of the 28 million people in the mostly Muslim but multicultural country.

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.

“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.

Islamic finance in Gulf needs regulation boost

karachi marketFrom Australia to South Africa, governments are scrambling to change the law to accommodate the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, whose avoidance of toxic debt has looked increasingly attractive since the global crisis. But in the Gulf Arab region, birthplace of Islam and cradle of Islamic finance, governments have taken a more passive approach, which experts say is slowing the industry’s growth. (Photo: A broker at the Karachi Stock Exchange July 5, 2010/Athar Hussain)

“Aside from Malaysia, Sudan and Iran, no government has really owned the Islamic finance project,” Humayon Dar, chief executive of London-based sharia advisory and structuring firm BMB Islamic, said.

In Malaysia, there is a national sharia council that sets rules for Islamic financial institutions. Rules are standardised under the central bank, which has made an active push towards supporting Islamic finance. In the first three quarters of 2010, the Malaysian government accounted for 62.5 percent of all Islamic bonds, or sukuk, issuances globally, valued at $18.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data. By comparison, not one sovereign sukuk came out of the Gulf Arab region during the same period.

Short of talent, Islamic finance taps women scholars

malaysia islamic finance (Photo: Islamic Financial Centre booth at Malaysia’s Central Bank – High Level Conference 2009 in Kuala Lumpur February 10, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

When Malaysian Aida Othman signed up for the new law programme at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, she did not expect to become one the few women with their hands on the levers of the world’s $1 trillion Islamic finance sector.

Rising global demand for scholars who can advise firms on compliance with Islamic legal principles called sharia is behind the quiet and almost accidental way in which women are growing into a small but powerful force in a male-dominated business.

“There are not many women involved my job,” Aida, who manages the sharia advisory practice at Malaysia’s biggest law firm, told Reuters. “I’m glad to be able to show to young graduates and young scholars in my field if you’re interested enough there is a way into sharia advisory,” the 41-year-old, who went on to study at Cambridge and Harvard, said.

Islamic finance relies on too few of its scholars

saudi traderThe Islamic finance industry is not short of qualified sharia scholars to meet growing demand, but it relies too heavily on a handful of them, limiting growth potential and raising regulatory concerns, experts say.

Islamic finance experts have previously said the nearly $1 trillion industry is struggling to find scholars with the business acumen, technology and language skills necessary to help the sector evolve. (Photo: A trader at the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh, March 18, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

But consultancy Funds@Work found that more than 300 scholars sit on the sharia boards of Islamic institutions. However, it said that just 20 of these scholars appear on 54 percent of such boards.