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Friday, 7 February 2014

Renewed calls for revival of interfaith council



By Malaysiakini Feb 8, 2014
In light of escalating racial and religious tension in the country, a call has been made for the interfaith council proposal to be revived.

This was among the issues raised during the ‘Dialogue for Harmony’ on Wednesday organised by the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).

Among others, participants called for 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,” read a joint statement issued by GMM chief executive officer Saifuddin Abdullah (left) and Proham secretary-general Denison Jayasooria.

The interfaith council was mooted during the tenure of former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Following objections from PAS and other Islamic organisations, Abdullah put the proposed council on hold and its proponents were advised to focus on interfaith dialogue instead.

The Muslim groups which objected to the council, among others, disagreed with the issue of apostasy being discussed openly.

Five key concerns

Some 60 people from 29 organisations of different faiths, together with representatives of foreign missions, attended the GMM-Proham dialogue in Kuala Lumpur.

According to the press statement, participants noted that Malaysia previously enjoyed greater levels of religious tolerance, appreciation and understanding.

The participants also noted five key concerns, which were:

1. Failure of the political leadership to-date to recognise the urgency of the situation and intervene in consultation with all parties to urgently 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.

2. 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.

3. Contradictions in public policies and weak implementation of efforts to address interfaith 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 appreciation for diversity.

4. Unwillingness of federal and state religious officials to participate in interfaith dialogues and discussions.

5. 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.

Show political will

Apart from the interfaith council, the other suggestions made were:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Promote and strengthen working together in community activities such as voluntary service, social work, community service, medical camp, sports and cultural events.

4. Foster better inter-religious understanding among the people, especially the youth.

5. Enhance positive public opinion through advocacy work and better media coverage of not just contested issues but also good examples of harmony in community.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8.Promote tolerance and moderation more actively (versus passivity and reactionary responses) in the international arena, for example, with the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).


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