United, we stand as one

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Sep 01, 2023

The Bible contains various verses that emphasise the importance of unity, love, and equality among all people, regardless of their race or ethnicity and I would add, religious or political beliefs.

The recent state elections in Malaysia have revealed just how fragmented the country is, with people voting along racial or religious lines.

Racial and religious politics have played a significant role in the history and contemporary dynamics of Malaysia. Ethnic and religious identity have historically influenced political strategies during elections. Parties often play up issues related to particular communities to gain support, which can sometimes exacerbate existing tensions.

The interaction between these different ethnic and religious communities has shaped the political landscape in complex ways and the ethnic and religious diversity in Malaysia has, at times, led to tensions and conflicts. Issues related to language, education, and cultural practices have occasionally sparked disputes between different communities.

It certainly does not help that many of the political parties in Malaysia often have ethnic or religious affiliations. These party divisions have often been based on appeals to specific ethnic or religious groups.

Being a multiracial community can be a double-edged sword, depending on one’s perspective. Viewed from the point of “unity in diversity”, which has been seen as the ideal scenario for most Malaysians, we can boast that it is our diverse cultural backgrounds which makes Malaysia truly unique from our neighbours.

This concept has even been the tagline of Tourism Malaysia for years ? Malaysia Truly Asia. However, when viewed from a religious or racial fanatic’s eyes, this diversity leads to the decay of their culture, religious strength, and poses a big threat to their future generations.

Hence, the constant cry to preserve the dominance of one race or religion over all others and when these views are echoed by prominent personalities, even a lie becomes the absolute truth.

The Catholic Church in Malaysia has, for some time, advocated a neutrality of multi- culturalism and multi-religion concept through continuous engagement with other religious organisations in the country such as the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), which has strived continuously to be a bridge of harmony with Islamic councils and authorities to resolve sensitive matters related to religion and race.

It is hoped that these groups will continue to be beacons of unity and strength for all races and religions in Malaysia, amidst its political divide.

It is important for all of us to recognise that Malaysia’s experience with racial and religious politics is complex and different perspectives exist within and outside the country. These dynamics are shaped by historical, social, and economic factors, and they continue to evolve over time.

The Catholic Church, being a global institution, has had a diverse population since its inception. However, various forms of racial segregation, discrimination, and inequality have been present in different parts of the world at different times.

Historically, racial segregation and discrimination were prevalent in many societies, and the Church was not immune to these social dynamics. In some regions, racial segregation was institutionalised, leading to separate churches, schools, and other religious spaces for different racial or ethnic groups.

Many local churches have worked to dismantle racially segregated practices and institutions, but challenges and remnants of historical discrimination still persist in some places.

While progress has been made, addressing racial segregation and discrimination is an ongoing process that requires continuous commitment and effort. The divide and rule based on one’s ethnicity is still very much in practice today, as it has been all these years.

Though many would disagree with me, I believe that having segregated congregations, as is the practice today in Malaysia, does not really help with the integration and inclusivity efforts.

We have Masses in Tamil, Mandarin, English, Bahasa Malaysia and other dialects. We also have the Tamil, Chinese and English apostolates in every parish. I acknowledge that this is due to the language barrier and this might have been the ideal scenario 66 years ago when we gained independence as a nation, but not today.

Most, if not all of us, especially the younger generation, are well versed in Bahasa Malaysia and would not have any problems adapting to such a scenario. 60 years ago, the Catholic Church stopped Masses in Latin as part of efforts to modernise the Church and allowed priests to celebrate Masses in other languages. This was also to allow more participation and understanding of the Mass by the congregation.

Using the national language ensures that the majority of the congregation can understand the message being conveyed during religious services. It also promotes inclusivity by making religious services accessible to a broader range of people, regardless of their linguistic backgrounds.

When everyone can understand and participate in the same language, it fosters a sense of unity and togetherness among the congregation. People from diverse linguistic backgrounds can come together to worship, pray, and learn without feeling alienated.

Members of the congregation can actively participate in discussions, ask questions, and contribute to the church community when they understand the language being used. This empowerment can lead to a more engaged and enthusiastic congregation.

If the Church is a part of the national culture and heritage, using the national language helps preserve and transmit religious traditions, practices, and teachings in the language that is most familiar to the local population.

Well, just food for thought. Maybe not in the next few years, but it can be a work in progress towards integration and inclusivity for generations to come.

(Regina William is an ex journalist turned head of communications, now full-time grandmother to three, crisscrossing the globe to play the role. She can be reached at regina.william1223@gmail.com)

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