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Groups back call for non-Muslim office

Opinion divided over plan to establish office for non-Islamic affairs

Groups back call for non-Muslim office
A Muslim group in Penang protests against the establishment of a new office for non-Muslim affairs reporter, Penang

February 23, 2011

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Religious and citizens groups in Malaysia have lauded the Penang state government for recently establishing a new executive office to handle non-Muslim religious matters, but some Muslims have protested the move. Anglican Bishop Andrew Phang said his Church supports the northern state in establishing a state executive office portfolio for non-Islamic affairs. The move is “a wonderful thing,” he told an Anglican Southeast Asia provincial gathering yesterday in Penang. “Muslims have long been well taken care of. However, [Christian] people need help finding burial grounds and approval for proper places of worship. Right now, we do not have proper [church] buildings and  have to use shophouses as places of worship,” he explained Earlier, an inter-religious consultative body issued a press statement praising Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng for setting up the new office. The statement, signed by its president Reverend Thomas Philips of the Mar Thoma Church, also urged Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to support Penang's move, reminding  him that he had called on world leaders at the UN last September “to embark on building a global movement of moderates from all faiths who are committed to working together to combat and marginalize extremists who have held the world hostage with their bigotry and bias.” Announcing the new office last week, Lim said, “This portfolio is timely as it promotes diversity and positive human interaction in cultural, religious and social spheres.” Lim, the only non-Muslim state chief minister in Malaysia, will head the new office. According to media reports, Mujahid Yusuf Rawa , unity bureau chief of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), also supported Penang's move, reportedly saying the new non-Islamic office is acceptable since there  already is an office for Islamic affairs. However, a group of Muslim NGOs in Penang held a protest on February 18 opposing the new office. Group leader Arshad Kassim  condemned the use of the word "Islamic" in the office's official title. The word “Islamic” should not be used by non-Muslims as it may confuse people, he said. He also claimed the state is currently allowing too many haram (forbidden) buildings, referring to temples and other houses of worship. ML13397.1642
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