Malaysia goes to the polls on March 8 and the campaign “is turning into a battle for the religious high ground among majority Muslims,” as our correspondent Jalil Hamid writes. The latest twist is an offer by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s UMNO party to build or repair at least 500 mosques if it wins. Election promises like that show how tough its battle is against the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), led by clerics who promote “purer” Islamic values. “UMNO and PAS are engaged in a battle: ‘I’m more Islamic than you are’,” says political analyst Ooi Kee Beng.
Returning to news reporting after two weeks off feels like you’ve been away for two weeks. Returning to blogging after a holiday break feels like you’ve been away for an eternity. So much going on! My colleague Ed Stoddard in Dallas was minding the shop, but he was unexpectedly sent off to report the news from the campaign trail. That gave FaithWorld a very American accent, which was a timely twist given the role of religion in the Iowa vote. It’s back to the view from Paris now — here are some inital comments on recent events concerning religion around the world:
Malaysia has been getting some negative publicity for a while now because of the problems some citizens face when they want to convert from Islam. Malaysia is majority Muslim, with sizable religious minorities, and it leaves Muslim personal law issues to the sharia courts. They do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, meaning apostates end up in a legal limbo because they cannot register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Christian convert Lina Joy learned that to her chagrin in May when the the Federal Court — the country’s highest court — refused to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card.