Tue, Apr 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Prayers for more religious freedom held in Malaysia

AFP AND AP , KUALA LUMPUR

Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists will hold special prayers for greater religious freedom amid fears their rights in this Muslim-majority nation are increasingly under threat, an official said yesterday.

The prayers will be held in temples and shrines throughout Malaysia this week as part of a campaign by non-Muslim groups to press their plight.

Malaysia is seen as a moderate Muslim-majority nation. But race relations have been strained by a series of controversial court cases involving the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims.

A letter, released to the media yesterday, will also be readout in houses of worship to outline the concerns, a council of major religious groups said.

"We issued one letter simply to get our people to pray for fairness and wisdom ... and hoping the federal constitution is respected and given due weight," council vice president V. Harcharan Singh said.

Sikhs and Christians held prayer sessions on the weekend, said the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindusim and Sikhism.

The council's move comes after a Malaysian court told a Hindu woman last month to go to a Shariah or Islamic court to dissolve her marriage with her Muslim convert husband, and work out custody of their children.

The case has raised fears over the rights of non-Muslims, who argue that Malaysia's Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and states that sharia courts only apply to Muslims.

Malaysia's civil courts operate parallel to Shariah courts for Muslims in areas of personal law.

"Shariah courts are constituted only for people professing the religion of Islam ... Non-Muslims should not be required to go to Shariah courts," Singh said.

Meanwhile, Gerakan, a party in the ruling coalition, called yesterday for a constitutional court to deal with inter-religious issues.

"The government must be brave enough to tackle this problem before things get worse," a Gerakan party chief, Tan Kee Kwong, was quoted as saying in the Star daily.

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