Malaysia sets up academy for Hindu priests

via AFP published on April 6, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has set up an academy to train Hindu priests in a bid to reduce the number of foreigners working in temples in the Muslim-majority nation, a newspaper reported Monday.

Human resources minister S. Subramaniam’s announcement came after the government rescinded a 2008 immigration ban on Indian priests aimed at cutting the country’s foreign workforce.

“With the academy, the community is also assured of qualified and accredited priests to perform various Hindu ceremonies,” the minister was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.

“Prior to the setting up of this academy…there was no standardisation.

“Now, we are regularising every aspect of priest training and priesthood,” added Subramanian, who is also secretary-general of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), part of the ruling coalition.

He said the government-funded academy run by the Hindu Priests Association would help train, grade and certify priests for the 3,000 Hindu temples nationwide which presently use 350 priests from India.

Malaysia has launched plans to reduce its total of 1.9 million foreign workers. Indians form the third-largest workforce in Malaysia, with 140,000 workers, most hired by restaurants.

The conservative nation has been beset by religious disputes in recent months with a spate of firebombings against churches and mosques in January, triggered by a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” as a translation for “God” by non-Muslims.

The country also saw unprecedented protests in 2007 alleging ethnic Indians faced discrimination at the hands of Muslim Malays.

The rows have strained relations between Malays and minorities who fear the country is being “Islamised.”

About 60 percent of the nation’s 28 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims while the rest are mostly ethnic Indians and Chinese, who are largely Hindu, Buddhist or Christian.

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