12/14/2004, 00.00
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Christmas without Jesus in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Malaysian government has decided that the public celebration of Christmas on December 25 in the presence of King Syed Sirajuddin and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will be done without any reference to Jesus in order to "protect Muslim sensibilities": no biblical reference will be allowed, nor will any representation of the Nativity scene. For O.C. Lim, an outspoken Kuala Lumpur priest, it "is outrageous, scandalous and sacrilegious".

About 50,000 local residents and tourists are expected to attend the national Christmas celebration at Petaling Jaya, near the capital Kuala Lumpur, an event which the Malaysian government and the Christian Council of Malaysia are promoting as a mega 'Christmas party'. The Council, an umbrella organisation for the country's Christian Churches, said it would go along with the informal request made by officials not to sing hymns and carols that overtly mention or praise Jesus at the party on Christmas night.

Officials said that the request was made by 'moderate Muslims' concerned that "Muslim clerics might exploit the situation and raise the fundamentalist ire".

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, Islam is the official state religion. To avoid giving possible offence to Malaysia's king, who is also the constitutional head of Islam, carols will be sung and Jesus praised only before he arrives to take part in the celebrations.

Father Lim wrote a letter to the Council strongly criticising the church for going along with the government's request. In it, he said that "as the son of God, Jesus cannot be downgraded to the status of a cultural sage such as Confucius." Using Christmas for political purposes is, in his view, an 'abomination' and Malaysian Christians should "stand up in the name of Jesus".

Malaysia has a population of 25 million. Muslims are 53 per cent; Christians are 6.5 per cent.

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