Malaysian Prime Minister's visit to the Pope launches diplomatic relations
by Bernardo Cervellera
Together with Prime Minister Razak, his wife, Muslim representatives and the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. Importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue stressed. In Muslim majority Malaysia, there are injustices against the Indian and Chinese ethnic groups and toward Christians and Hindus. The controversy on the use of the word Allah. The issue of human rights and "clean" elections after the demonstration on Bersih 2, in which the government arrested 1600 people.
Castel Gandolfo (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI today met Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia, in visit to Italy (see photo). At the end, the decision was communicated "to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See."
In addition to the Prime Minister Razak and his wife, Agriculture Minister Bernard Giluk Dompok, a Catholic, two Muslim religious leaders, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and Mgr. Murphy Pakiam were present. The Prime Minister had a 25-minute personal meeting with the pontiff, in the presence of an interpreter.
The statement from the Vatican press office, speaks of "cordial talks" in which "positive developments in bilateral relations were discussed, and an agreement was reached to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See. In addition, the political and social situation in the world and on the Asian Continent was reviewed, with particular reference t the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue for the promotion of peace, justice and greater understanding between peoples"
In fact the relations between Muslims and Christians and the issues related to justice are among the problems that characterize Malaysia today, a multiethnic country with a population of over 28 million, where Muslims are the vast majority (60%), while Christians make up 9% and Catholics 3.17%.
In the past, the apostolic delegate to Malaysia, Mgr. Luigi Bressan, now archbishop of Trent, had worked hard for the establishment of diplomatic relations, but without success. Today it was the Premier Najib pushing to launch them.
The visit comes just as the government itself is engaged in confrontation with the Christian communities of the country over use of the word "Allah" in religious books and newspapers. While the Supreme Court has given approval for its use, the government has appealed against the Diocese of Kuala Lumpur, and it can be used only in specific in books and newspapers that clearly state they are only "for Christians" .
More than out of fear of proselytizing, the move seems to be dictated by concerns of not wanting to upset the Muslim population, a supporter of the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional. After the hardening of the government on the question "Allah", last year some churches were attacked and burned (08/01/2010 Malaysia: Four Christian churches attacked over controversy on the use of "Allah").
Other problems suffered by Christians are due to a double legislation. On the one hand, there are some general laws and the Constitution, which guarantee freedom of religion and belief, on the other in the various provinces of the federation, Islamic Courts are in place that discriminate against Christians, Hindus and animists, focusing always on the Islamic side in issues related to inheritance, the education of children and in cases of changing religion (see 22/09/2005 Malaysia bishops worried: the shadow of the Sharia extends over non-Muslims too).
There are also problems related to the privileges enjoyed by the Malay ethnic group (53%), Muslim, at the expense of Chinese (26%) and Indians (7.7%), usually Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, so that many of them, in the last elections in 2008, abandoned the coalition government, weakening the majority, which passed from two thirds to 63.1%.
To date, the government is facing heavy criticism of corruption and manipulation of elections and its electoral majority is likely to shrink even more. On July 9 different NGOs, gathered more than 70,000 in the group Bersih 2 protest in the capital and other parts of the country (07/12/2011 Edmund Bon: Bersih 2 is no Arab spring, but we do want clean and fair elections ).
According to AsiaNews sources in the country, "the government now seeks to improve the relationship with the Vatican, its image" both abroad and within the country, "now that this image is at its lowest level over human rights violations."
On 9 July, to stop the Bersih 2 demonstration, police arrested 1,600 people.