PM says race relations not at troubling stage; IHT Asked To Correct Report
The Associated Press, November 16, 2006
Malaysia: Malaysia’s leader denied Thursday that race relations in the multiethnic country have become worrisome, as ruling party officials urged ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities to respect Islam’s status.
Delegates attending the annual congress of the United Malays National Organization or UMNO party, which guards the interests of the Malay Muslim majority, warned there should be no concessions on issues such as ensuring that secular courts have no jurisdiction over Islamic courts.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the situation was “not (at) a worrying level, but it is time to remind people and lay down the ground rules.”
“Don’t let it reach the stage where we start fighting,” Abdullah told reporters. “Sometimes it’s only a simple argument. Then (it) becomes a shouting match, then after that, throwing fists at each other.”
Ethnic Malays, who are almost all Muslim, settle family disputes and matters involving morals and religion in Malaysia’s Islamic courts, while secular civil and criminal courts preside over all other issues and the country’s minority races. Malaysia is careful to accommodate its substantial non-Muslim minorities, mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians whose faiths include Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.
Earlier Thursday, Hasnoor Sidang Hussein, an UMNO delegate, said Malays cannot watch passively while religious rights activists call for Malaysia’s civil courts to have power to overturn Islamic courts’ judgments.
“The Malays’ attitude of compromise toward those who challenge the rights of Malays and the sanctity of Islam has caused those people (who oppose the religion’s status) to become increasingly bold,” Hasnoor said in a speech to about 2,500 delegates at UMNO’s five-day assembly, which ends Friday.
Malaysian non-Muslims have grown concerned about their rights following a case last year in which a Hindu widow’s husband was buried as a Muslim because Islamic authorities claimed he had converted before his death.
The man’s wife, who said he had not converted, failed to persuade a civil court to hear the case or to give her custody of the body, because the Islamic court had already ruled against her.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the combative comments by some UMNO delegates don’t necessarily reflect the government’s stance, noting that some delegates “get excited and emotional” during debates.
“Let us not rekindle very sensitive issues that can create dissension among Malaysians of different communities here. We cannot afford that,” Syed Hamid told reporters.
Religion is among the most sensitive issues in Malaysia, where nearly 60 percent of its 26 million people are Malay Muslims.
Open friction between Muslims and minority faiths is rare, and Malaysia prides itself on racial tolerance.
International Herald Tribune Asked To Correct Report
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 (Bernama) — A delegate to Umno General Assembly here, Thursday took the International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper to task for publishing a misleading report that portrayed Malaysia as on the brink of racial riots.
Melaka Umno representative Datuk Idris Haron demanded the newspaper to correct its take on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s policy address at the assembly when the Umno President spoke on the attitudes of some parties in Malaysia who preferred to engage in racial and religious polemics in the local media.
He said that IHT chose to intrepret the remark as saying that the racial relationships in Malaysia had reached worrying levels, when in fact the Prime Minister’s address only touched on the open polemics created by these relationships.
Idris then asked the delegates present to agree with his proposal to demand the newspaper to correct its article. The floor responded: “Setuju (Agreed).”
Idris, who was debating the motion on economy and education, also spoke on the RM1.5 billion allocation announced recently for new projects meant for Class F Bumiputera contractors.
He said that although the allocation would provide jobs for these contractors, some 60 per cent of the amount would trickle to non-Bumiputera construction material suppliers.
“This is because construction material supplying business is monopolised by non-Malays in the country,” he said.
As such, he suggested that the government establish a network of construction materials warehouses in all the states so that Malay contractors could source their business needs from them.
“We can find these items from all over the world. This way we can control their prices and prevent price manipulation,” he added.
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