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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Make interfaith dialogue about the common good, not heaven or hell, forum told

PAS Research Centre executive director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad says dialogues between people of different faiths is the way to debunk the paranoia and siege mentality held by some religions. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 25, 2014.

PAS Research Centre executive director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad says dialogues between people of different faiths is the way to debunk the paranoia and siege mentality held by some religions.

– The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 25, 2014.

Published: 25 September 2014

Muslims and followers of all religions must engage with each other, not to discuss who goes to heaven or hell, but on common issues that concern all citizens, a PAS leader said at an interfaith forum.

Dialogue between people of different faiths is the way to debunk the paranoia and siege mentality held by some religions, which are counter-productive to nation-building, said PAS Research Centre executive director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

"The discourse should be premised on the role of one's faith in matters of good governance, rule of law and in establishing justice and equality for all.

"That is the need of our time, that is what the role of interfaith dialogue and religion should be, and not about who will be sent to heaven or hell," he said at the Council of Churches of Malaysia's Interfaith Conference in Petaling Jaya yesterday.

His topic "Light at the End of the Tunnel? – The prospects of interfaith dialogue in Malaysia" touched on the parameters for interfaith discourse. These should not be about whose religion was superior or on theological debate, but on things that all citizens hoped for.

Another speaker at the forum, Sisters in Islam founder member Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri, said that despite the fact that all religions do not advocate violence, there are still groups that condemn others and are intent on destroying their existence.

"It is also sad when certain groups use religion to have control over a community, you see this happening with Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) in Iraq and Syria.

"Closer to home, we have the banning of the Shia sect by the government, but such extremist action should not be tolerated and goes against the teaching of Islam, where the Quran consistently talks about human dignity, justice and equality," she said.

She said in recent years, there have been attacks on churches and mosques and insensitive remarks made against Christians and Muslims.

"These acts of terror by certain groups display arrogance and disrespect towards people of different faiths and should be condemned by all Malaysians.

"One has to remember the golden rule that is prescribed by all religions – do unto others as you would have others do unto you," she said.

Sharifah Zuriah, however, expressed hope that Malaysians could come together and advised each person to connect with those who are different from them.

"Do things together so that we can appreciate and understand each other's culture and are able to transcend all differences and celebrate diversity.

Professor James Chin, another speaker at the forum, however, said that interfaith dialogue in Malaysia was a political issue and not a religious one.

"If there is political will for successful interfaith dialogue, it will happen, if not, it will not take place," he said.

During question time, Dzulkefly was asked whether PAS was still a "party for all" in light of recent developments within the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Disagreement between the component parties over the choice of a new Selangor menteri besar has strained ties.

The PAS central committee member explained that the party's friendship with DAP and PKR was reflected in its tagline  "PAS for all, and Islam for all".

"The justice of Islam is not only for Muslims, it is mercy unto all, that is why it is important for us to represent Islam.

"I'm not saying PAS is perfect, no way, but we are trying to advocate and really hope to bring justice for all," Dzulkefly said in response to the question posed by a Malay youth.

He was also asked on PAS's stand on the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims, to which Dzulkefly replied that PAS had not changed its stand that the word could be used by all.

"Let me say this, we have not shifted on this, it is enshrined in the Quran, there are too may verses that would not allow for the name of Allah to be only limited to the proprietary of Muslims," he said.
When asked about the solution to the case involving the seizure of 321 Malay and Iban Bibles by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) earlier this year, Dzulkefly hoped that the new Selangor menteri besar, Mohamed Azmin Ali, would get to the bottom of the issue.

"I hope the new MB will take the bull by the horns and address the issue once and for all, we hope to see a solution," he said.

Another question raised was on the possible role of interreligious dialogue in defraying religious ill-feeling, where Malays and Muslims were constantly being told they are under threat and that non-Muslims were questioning their privileges.

Sharifah Zuriah said that this was a big problem that could also be traced to the religious authorities, who labelled everything as "haram".

"In terms of interreligious groups, we supposedly cannot form one because we have authorities who tell us that we cannot sit together with people of other faiths because we are superior.
"They have rules and regulations out of nowhere, telling what we can and cannot do and who can and cannot be our friends.

"And yet, in the Quran, God had said that he made us nations and tribes so that we can get to know one another," she said.

She added that some groups also went about telling others that they were insulting Islam, when in fact, they were the ones giving Islam a bad name.

The three-day conference in Petaling Jaya is a platform where Christian and Muslim groups have come together to discuss ways to promote interfaith dialogue in the country.

Multi-ethnic Malaysia has in recent years seen a rise in religious intolerance expressed both by certain politicians as well as ordinary citizens.

Critics blamed the government for failing to act decisively against conservative groups and for perpetuating tension, such as its insistence on appealing a court judgement that gave the right to non-Muslims to use the word "Allah". – September 25, 2014.
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