Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dhimmi: Non-muslim priests not welcome in Islamist Malaysia

Dhimmi: Non-muslim priests not welcome in Islamist Malaysia

Tuesday January 8, 4:06 PM
Malaysian religious leaders protest over priest visa cuts

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Non-Muslim religious groups said Tuesday that Malaysia is refusing to issue new visas for foreign priests, in the latest eruption of ethnic discord in the multicultural nation.

Foreign priests already in the country have only been given six-month renewals and told they must leave after expiry, said the head of the Malaysian Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

The council's president A. Vaithilingam said the restrictions mostly affected ethnic Indian Hindus, who have been at the centre of a discrimination row, and that there would now not be enough priests to conduct prayers.

"We want an explanation from the prime minister and the government on this," Vaithilingam told AFP.

"Why are they carrying out the sudden action to restrict foreign priests from practicing in the country when there are millions of foreign workers who are allowed to work here," he said.

Vaithilingam, who is also president of the leading Hindu organisation the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, said that about 200 Hindu priests were the majority of foreign clergy

He said visas for temple musicians have also been reduced from one year to six months while temple sculptors have had their permits reduced from six months to one week.

"I am shocked because normally Immigration has a talk with us before changing any policy and this has happened without any discussion," he said.

Immigration department officials confirmed that the visas issued to priests were being restricted but refused to give details.

Vaithilingam said that major temples like the one at Batu Caves, on the fringes of the capital Kuala Lumpur and a major tourist attraction, would be hard hit.
"These priests are important as they carry out special prayers and rituals and so it will be difficult at places like Batu Caves to have big prayers and people will not be able to pray the way they need to," he said.

A row over race and religion has gripped Malaysia in recent months. It was triggered by unprecedented protests last November that alleged ethnic Indians faced discrimination at the hands of majority Muslim Malays.

The row flared again last week when the government told a Catholic paper not to use the word "Allah" to refer to a non-Muslim God, and threatened to revoke its licence.
Taoist Malaysians are also upset over a government ban on the construction of the world's tallest Taoist Goddess of the Sea statue on Borneo island.

About 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims while the rest are mostly ethnic Indians and Chinese who are largely Hindu, Buddhist or Christian.


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