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Jan 8, 2008

Govt of fomenting Islamic 'puritanism' for political gain

Malaysian opposition leader accuses govt of fomenting Islamic 'puritanism' for political gain

SINGAPORE -- Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim accused the government Tuesday of fanning the fires of Islamic puritanism to gain votes in general elections widely expected to be held this year.

Anwar, speaking at a regional forum in Singapore, predicted that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government would call an election before April, when a ban preventing Anwar from holding political office will be lifted.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, criticized recent government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, Malaysia's official religion, saying the moves undermined the rights of ethnic minorities of other faiths.

"The real issue is what I would describe as state-sponsored Muslim puritanism borne more by racist sentiments than religious principles," he said. "It is this kind of theology that leads to the rejection of constitutional freedom of other faiths."

Ethnic Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, while most of the rest are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians from ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

Decades-long multiracial harmony has come into question in recent years amid concerns among minorities that their religions are getting second-class treatment by the Muslim majority, especially in court cases involving non-Muslim religious rights.

National debates have erupted over issues such as a government ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah" - an Arabic word used as a synonym for "God" in the national language, Malay. Anwar called the ban "ridiculous nonsense." |more...|


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