A new chapter in interfaith relations

Our target is to reform and mould progressive Malays who embrace multiculturalism so that in the end, we will have Malays who identify themselves as Malaysians first, rather than Malays first.”

Jul 06, 2018

By Anil Netto
So the final batch of cabinet ministers was sworn in on July 2. What I found most interesting is that many PAS leaders who were involved in interfaith dialogues with Christians — and who later joined Amanah — are now in the cabinet.
Khalid Samad is the Federal Territories Minister; Dzulkefly Ahmad is the new Health Minister; Mujahid Yusof Rawa is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for Islamic affairs; and Mohamad Hanipa Maidin is Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for legal affairs.

With this, we can be thankful there are enough progressive-minded Muslim leaders in government who are not only open to the path of dialogue but have themselves actively participated in such interreligious events. Hopefully, this will herald — if not a golden age in inter-religious relations — at least, a new chapter of openness in the promotion of such dialogue and goodwill.

Days earlier Mujahid was reported as saying that a new Islamic affairs portfolio in the government would see a change in the national policy on Islam. “We will win them (the Muslims) over in the next few years. It might be sooner, just like how we did in Penang.

“Our target is to reform and mould progressive Malays who embrace multiculturalism so that in the end, we will have Malays who identify themselves as Malaysians first, rather than Malays first.”

Fittingly, the latest batch of cabinet members to be sworn in came a day after about 20 Muslims, mainly affiliated to PAS, and 20 Christians led by Penang Bishop Sebastian Francis gathered in Bertam for a Raya interfaith solidarity gathering.

At the event in Bertam, mainly organised by Abdul Rahman Kasim and representatives of St Anne’s Church in Bukit
Mertajam, many spoke about how glad they were that such interreligious initiatives have continued. A couple of the speakers — one from the Christian side and another Muslim side — highlighted the importance of taking the dialogue a step further towards joint action and cooperation especially on environmental issues.

Fr Henry Rajoo spoke of the importance of people of all faiths working together to save the planet especially in the face of global threats like climate change. The Muslim representative suggested joint action on environmental issues such as cleaning up the beaches of Penang. What better way to take the dialogue one step further than focusing on ‘care for our common home,’ the planet. Surely, God would bless such interfaith action for the common good.

In fact, such joint action had already taken place soon after Penang was inundated with flood waters after a heavy downpour last November. PAS representatives helped to distribute five lorry-loads of food and other emergency supplies via the St Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam. The PAS representatives attending the interfaith gathering in Bertam were proud to say that the church fully trusted them to ensure that the supplies reached the victims without any pilferage.

Perhaps another possible area of future interreligious cooperation would be raising awareness of the moral hazards of corruption. The new Malaysia is in a financial mess as a result of the stupendous greed and avarice that drained the wealth of the nation. We still have no idea how much has been stolen from us, but the final figure will run into many, many billions of ringgit. It is a colossal figure that could have been used to improve the lives of so many struggling people in the country. What a loss. Together, we need to rebuild our country.

And as we rebuild the nation, we also have to strengthen our own moral fibre to resist corruption in any form and at all levels. So interreligious workshops and talks can help to raise awareness of the importance of protecting public funds, public assets and the common good so that they are not siphoned off or diverted to private hands.

Another possible area of cooperation would be in raising awareness in combating xenophobia — which is (the unwarranted) dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries. We need to work together to extend our solidarity to the foreigners in our midst — migrant workers (whether documented and undocumented), refugees and asylum seekers. This is especially important given that some 15-20 per cent of the over 30m people in Malaysia are foreigners who are often voiceless, exploited or treated with unwarranted suspicion.

So a new era beckons and it is now up to us to work together to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood in a new spirit of solidarity in our land.

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