Let’s engage with each other via interfaith dialogue for peace

Whenever I bring up the topic of interfaith dialogue, many people assume that they must be held in a formal setting with expert speakers and working papers.

Oct 12, 2018

By Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri
Whenever I bring up the topic of interfaith dialogue, many people assume that they must be held in a formal setting with expert speakers and working papers.

In reality, interfaith dialogue can informally take place among ordinary Malaysians. As for myself, I always enjoy having simple but meaningful conversations with my Chinese neighbour, especially during weekends.

Pursuant to the interfaith dialogue, we get to know each other better. Sometimes I give him keropok lekor to cook for his family. During the Chinese New Year celebration, I would give him cakes or fruits.

Reciprocating the adab (courtesy), he would give me kampung chicken. It is the most meaningful present that I get from him. But the chickens are not to be eaten, as I keep them for my therapeutic exercise. And yes, chickens make great pets too!

Malaysia is indeed a beautiful and blessed country. With an estimated population of 32 million people of different races, religions, cultures and languages, Malaysia has, time and time again, proven to be a truly peaceful country.

Of course, when there exist such differences, there would also be gaps in understanding those differences. This may result in some tension and conflict.

Interestingly, although religion can be the reason for such interfaith tension and conflict, religion itself is the key to ending it.

In fact, interfaith dialogue has been in existence since time immemorial. It has been practised even before the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It is mentioned in the Quran that interfaith dialogue took place during the time of the previous prophets with their people such as Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), Prophet Musa (Moses), Prophet Nuh (Noah), Prophet Hud (Eber), Prophet Shu’ayb (Jethro) and Prophet Saleh (peace and blessings be upon them all).

The Quran insists that the world’s beauty lies in its racial and religious plurality, otherwise God would not have created such diversity.

God states in the Quran: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).” (Chapter 49, Al-Hujerat: verse 13)

The existence of multi-religious communities is also recognised in the Quran: “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues.” (Chapter 5, Al-Maidah: verse 48)

I am of the view that the key to controlling it is through tolerance and understanding in the form of interfaith dialogues, the purpose of which is to engage between parties and collaborate on common issues.

With such a platform, parties can peacefully exchange information and share experiences to bridge the gap between differences and understand the philosophy of each religion and its rituals. This can, in turn, increase trust and respect between parties.

I truly believe that interfaith dialogues are necessary today. They are never about defeating the other party in a debate. There is no need to discuss polemical arguments which ignore our country’s peaceful history.

We must also abstain from arguing, attacking or disproving the beliefs of other religions. We must strive to increase mutual understanding and trust, and at the same time be full of adab.

I normally adopt these simple adab when conversing with people of other faiths:

--Forced conversions are not condoned;
-- Followers of all religions are free to lead lives in accordance with their own beliefs; and
-- Respecting the values inherent in all religions, especially patience and tolerance.

Believe me, life is too short to be spent quarrelling among ourselves over petty matters. 

(Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri, the Mufti of the Federal Territories)

Source: The Star

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