THE DIALOGUE FOR HARMONY
About 60 people from 29 organisations of different faiths participated, together with representatives of foreign missions in Kuala Lumpur. The Dialogue was co-moderated by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO, GMM) and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary General, PROHAM).
The dialogue lauded the government’s initiative led by the Minister of Unity and National Integration Tan Sri Joseph Kurup in observing the harmony week at the national level.
The dialogue highlighted and appreciated the good work of many individuals and organisations who have, for a long time, steadfastly fostered better inter-faith understanding.They have organised discussions, field visits to places of worship, community service projects at the grassroots level, etc.
Their activities transcend ethnicity and religion for the good of the community and the nation.
Their activities are shining examples of harmony in diversity, of working together for the common good of humanity.
However these activities and their positive images are not the dominant national discourse.
Participants lamented the deteriorating situation in Malaysia with respect to harmony and religious tolerance. Many shared positive recollections of their past experiences. They said Malaysia previously enjoyed greater levels of religious tolerance, appreciation and understanding.
Participants spoke openly, frankly and with frustration about some incidents which they perceive have contributed to the current state of affairs. 5 key concerns emerged:
First, the failure of political leadership to-date to recognize the urgency of the situation and intervene in consultation with all parties to urgently resolve issues and conflicts. Political leadership is seen as unwilling or unable to put aside political and religious differences for the common good of the nation.
Second, the absence of elder statesmen and women from all communities who work for the best interest of the nation, to foster greater collaboration and resolve conflicts.
Third, contradictions in public policies and weak implementation of efforts to address inter faith concerns especially from the point of view of fairness to all. One example highlighted was the promotion of identity-based behaviours in schools instead of the promotion of appreciation for diversity.
Fourth, unwillingness of Federal and State religious officials to participate in interfaith dialogue and discussions.
Fifth, the restricted formal space for discussion of sensitive issues between civil society and formal institutions of the state both at the federal and state levels.
It is important to affirm that most participants spoke (and this discourse took most of the time allocated for the dialogue) of the pressing need for all stakeholders to work together to strengthen mutual understanding, tolerance, harmony and cooperation among people of different faiths.
The meeting urged the Federal and State governments and all related religious groups and parties to adopt immediate measures and seek urgent solutions to prevent the escalation of racial and religious tensions as these can lead rapidly to social unrest.
Resolutions and Way Forward
Many ideas and suggestions were presented. The following ten points are a distillation of what was said:
First, show the political will to take firm and appropriate action at all levels of government. Leaders must urgently consult all stakeholders and take the lead in fostering harmony in the nation.
Second, provide space to promote new conversations among peoples of different faiths, for example, through engagement and dialogue. Introduce the proposed Harmony Act in Parliament after wide and thorough consultation of all parties as way of fostering greater dialogue and understanding.
Third, promote and strengthen working together in community activities such as voluntary service, social work, community service, medical camp, sports & cultural events.
Fourth, foster better inter-religious understanding among the people, especially the youth.
Fifth, foster greater networking and collaboration between different faith organisations and the formal religious institutions of both the Federal and State governments. The Interfaith Council must be revived urgently as part of a concerted effort to reduce religious tensions
Sixth, enhance positive public opinion through advocacy work and better media coverage of not just contested issues but also good examples of harmony in community.
Seventh, review policies and legislation to assure that they promote harmony. Formulate new policies and legislation as appropriate. A suitable platform for this review is the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) and the recently announced National Reconciliation process.
Eighth, establish and announce an effective mechanism to urgently and transparently resolve and/or mediate conflicts through community mediation and resolution with moral courage and wisdom.
Ninth, promote tolerance and moderation more actively (versus passivity and reactionary responses) in the international arena, for example, with the UN, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Tenth, the call to submit the outcome of this dialogue to the second meeting of the NUCC on 15 February 2014 together with a request from the participants that a high level dialogue be organised and co-moderated by Tan Sri Joseph Kurup and Minister in-charge of Islamic matters Datuk Seri Mohd Jamil Khir. We hope this will take place in or earlier than the first week of March 2014.
-------------------Issued by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO, GMM) & Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary General, PROHAM)
Kuala Lumpur 6 February 2014