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The Federal government is setting up the long awaited guidelines for the construction and demolition of places of worship. It has taken BN government 50 odd years to realize the importance of such a guideline in a multi religious country like ours. The incidence in Rimba Jaya in Klang whereby a temple was demolished on the eve of Deepavali was said to be a factor in the downfall of Selangor BN government headed by Dr Khir Toyo. This incidence highlighted the importance of common sense in running the state or our life for that matter.

Clearer rules on places of worship in the works
By : Marc Lourdes

KUALA LUMPUR: The government is planning a streamlined set of guidelines to govern the construction and demolition of places of worship.

Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal said though such policies existed now, there was a need to polish them and ensure they were acceptable to all religious groups.

Speaking after chairing a meeting with the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism at the ministry in Jalan Sultan Ismail yesterday, he declined to reveal when the guidelines would be completed, but said it would not be too long.

"It doesn't make any sense to build a mosque where there aren't many Muslims, or a house of worship in the middle of nowhere," he said.

Reaching an understanding between all religions, said Shafie, was vital, as was making sure laws and regulations have been clearly set down by local authorities.
He also did not rule out amending laws and enactments should the need arise. "If there is a need in the interests of the nation for them to be amended, why not?"

However, he stopped short of giving an assurance that there would be no recurrence of the temple demolition incident in Kampung Jawa, Selangor, on the eve of Deepavali last year, which raised the ire of Hindus around the country.

"I won't say that because I am not in a position to do so. It is for each respective state authority.

"But I do hope we will be sensitive towards issues like that and apply some common sense in doing things because respecting religions and racial groups in the country is most important."

He said he would be meeting menteris besar, both from Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, regarding the issue because they were the people in charge of issues like land approval, as well as consult other government departments.

Council president Datuk A. Vaithilingam said other issues discussed included conversions, bringing in of foreign priests and family laws.

"We had a good meeting. We look forward to many things being looked into by the authorities concerned."

Vaithilingam said the council had written to Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Syed Albar requesting a meeting to discuss the issue of foreign priests.

"He announced that the cabinet allows foreign priests in, but the Immigration Department told us that they did not receive any directive. We want to meet him to iron out the issue," he said.

Shafie, in his capacity as minister in charge of fostering unity, has been going all out to meet religious groups.

Last week, he met nine Muslim non-governmental organisations to seek their views on religious issues in the country, where many of the similar issues were discussed.

Shafie also responded to questions of whether his ministry's funding would be slashed in view of the increased government expenditure due to increase of global food and fuel prices.

"This is a very important ministry. Culture and heritage are important because we are leaving something for future generations."

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