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  • » 01/04/2008, 00.00

    MALAYSIA

    Taoist statue deemed “offensive” to Islam raises new controversy over religious freedom



    After local authorities approved Mazu statue two years ago, state government halts construction of the goddess of the sea. In July state mufti declared the statue was “offensive” because too close to a mosque. Political opposition and Chinese community protest. The incident is the latest in a string of cases that threaten inter-faith harmony.

    Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The construction of the world’s tallest Taoist Goddess of the Sea statue has set off the latest row over religious freedom in Malaysia. The 36-metre (108-foot) statue of Mazu, known as Tin Hau in Hong Kong, should be erected in the fishing village of Kudat on Borneo Island. So far only the platform has been set; the statue itself is waiting some 200 km away in the port town of Kota Kinabalu. Local authorities had approved construction in December 2005 but Sabah state authorities stopped construction saying that the statue was “offensive to Muslim sensitivities.”

    Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, who heads the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party, warned that if the row was not resolved it could hurt multiracial and inter-faith harmony in the hitherto tolerant Malaysia.

    “The insensitive controversy objecting to the building of the Mazu statue is created by a small group of Muslims with ulterior political objectives, which setS a dangerous precedent in undermining inter-religious goodwill in Malaysia,” he said.

    “All we want is for Mazu Goddess to protect us when we are at sea and our Muslim countrymen have nothing against,” said a local fisherman.

    After the state government halted construction Sabah’s mufti issued a fatwa saying the statue was “offensive to Islam” because it was too close to a mosque.

    Sabah’s deputy chief minister Chong Kah Kiat, an ethnic Chinese, resigned in protest and in early December took legal action challenging the order to stop construction.

    About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims; 25 per cent are Chinese and 10 per cent, Indians, mostly Hindu or Christian.

    Malaysian commentators and minority leaders have sounded the alarm over the growing ‘Islamisation’ of the country and the increasing polarisation of the three main ethnic communities, which mix much less than in the past.

    In recent weeks there have been other controversies, including a ban issued by the Ministry of Internal Security on the use of the word ‘Allah’ for God by the Herald, a Catholic weekly.

    Catholics and Protestants have also had their right to build places of worship severely restricted.

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    See also

    06/12/2005 MALAYSIA
    Malaysia's Islamic fundamentalist party faces ballot box test
    By-election in Penglakan could be the beginning of the end of Islamic party 15-year hold on power.

    14/09/2010 MALAYSIA
    In Kota Kinabalu, Mass in which the deaf can hear the Good News
    A group of volunteers provides the service. Songs, readings, the Gospel and homily are available in sign language. Launched 20 years ago, the initiative allows up to 80 hearing-impaired faithful, especially children, to follow the Sunday Mass.

    30/10/2013 MALAYSIA
    Distribution of Catholic weekly in Sabah stopped to see if it used banned word 'Allah'
    Held up at Kota Kinabalu Airport, the Herald's 2,000 copies are eventually released after the intervention of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and a Catholic politician. In doing this, the Home Ministry prevented the weekly from being distributed for Sunday Mass. Activists criticise the decision as a violation of religious freedom.

    09/01/2014 MALAYSIA
    The 'Allah' affair: Police interrogates Fr Lawrence, turns evidence over to prosecutor
    The Public Prosecutor gets transcript from the priest's police interrogation. As the editor of the Herald, the latter is under investigation for "sedition". He plans to avoid making any statement that might further fuel the controversy. However, the matter has already crossed national boundaries as a US-based imam appeals to the Malaysian government; for him, banning the use of the word 'Allah' by Christians is a "tragic mistake."

    04/01/2010 MALAYSIA
    Malaysian Supreme Court authorizes Christians to use the word Allah. Government appeals
    Minister for Religious Affairs: protecting the name of Allah from "insults and abuse." The website of the weekly Catholic Herald Malaysia attacked by hackers. The Director: guarantee the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and speech.



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