Malaysia's royals call for religious tolerance in rare public intervention

Devotees pray at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's royals made a rare intervention into public affairs on Tuesday (Oct 10), calling for unity and religious harmony after what they described as "excessive actions" in the name of Islam.

Members of minorities have expressed concern in recent months about what they see as intolerance in Malaysia, which is 60 per cent Muslim with sizable Buddhist, Christian and Hindu communities.

In a statement issued on Tuesday and reported by state news agency Bernama, the nine sultans who serve as hereditary titular heads of individual Malaysian states said people must respect the constitutional principle that Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country.

"It is feared that the excessive actions of certain individuals of late can undermine the harmonious relations among the people of various races and religions," said the statement signed by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, according to the Bernama report.

"The Rulers feel that the issue of harmony has deep implication if any action is associated with and undertaken in the name of Islam."

The comments, which come ahead of a gathering of the Conference of Rulers starting on Wednesday, are unusual as the sultans largely assume a ceremonial role and rarely speak on the functioning of the state or society.

The statement referred to the opening of Muslim-only launderettes reported to have appeared in southern Johor state and northern Perlis state.

Other instances which have made headlines in Malaysia in recent months, although they were not referred to directly in the royals' statement, include bans on beer festivals and censorship of films and music.

"Unity among Malaysia's multi-ethnic and multi-religious people is key to ensuring the country's ongoing stability," the statement said.

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