Speakers at an interfaith dialogue here today stressed the need for greater action from the authorities to address pressing race and religion matters.
"Some things must be done by the government. (It) has to be very clear in certain things it has to do,” said Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) chairperson Tan Sri Razali Ismail.
“(But at the same time) we can't put off the mainstream as they are still the majority. We need to continue engaging them," he said in his opening remarks at the dialogue organised by GMM and the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
Other speakers echoed similar sentiments. Noting that the current situation is more tense than the past, they said the authorities must act firmly to prevent things from getting even worse.
Participated by 65 people from 40 organisations, the "Dialogue for Harmony" held in conjunction with World Interfaith Harmony Week saw a vibrant discussion about the state of racial and religious ties in the country.
Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Ratna Osman said Muslims in Malaysia should not be viewed as a single block and hence there should not be a single voice to represent them, especially if that body feels threatened.
"On the authority of Islam, who gave one body of Muslims the authority to speak for us?”
Ratna said SIS has constantly been asking to engage with the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) to discuss various issues but have always been turned down over the years.
She added that the voice of the "extreme and conservative" was currently used to paint the picture of Islam in Malaysia..
"We are not asking for drastic change. We want (the Malaysia) we used to have," she said.
As with many other participants, Ratna emphasised the need for more engagement with groups who felt threatened, and not people who already one the same page on interfaith issues.
Building up on this point, Sathya Sai Central Council of Malaysia (SSCCM) leader Datuk J. Jegathesan called for engagement with the group that will most be impacted should racial and religious issues get out of hand - the poor.
"The problem is the guys outside. The majority of Malaysians are moderate but a minority is the one that triggers the hate," he said,
He added that groups should take their own initiative to go to the ground and conduct different activities such as medical camps for the poor in order to show them that interfaith efforts were truly a palpable and substantial option.
"We are all going to burn in the same hell at the end. God can't have different compartments for the different religion," he said in jest drawing laughter from the audience.
Also present was ABIM representative Jufitri Joha who said that there needs to be more opportunities for cultural exchange beyond the schools.
"(for instance) some don't even know that Punjabis here celebrate Vasaki," said Jufitri who added that the greater interaction could possible create a more open mindset.
Moderating the session was Proham's Datuk Denison Jayasooria and GMM CEO Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah.
Speaking to the press after the session concluded, Saifuddin said that among the points prevalent in the dialogue was that interfaith engagements should continue.
They participants also called for out-reach programmes through medical camps and other efforts, he said.
In addition, they also stressed the need for greater transparency when handling sensitive issues, said Saifuddin.
Denison added: "There is a sense of frustration and desperation in what people have voiced. (But) people still have great hope for Malaysia and don't want one or two individuals to hold it to ransom".
Also present was Vincent Wong, the political secretary to the minister in charge of Department of National Unity and Integration Tan Sri Joseph Kurup.
Wong said the government was trying its level best to engage with all parties and is coming up with numerous inter-racial and religious programmes to make the engagement more substantial.