(Penang, Monday): The Prime
Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should invite Pope
John Paul II when he meets
the Pontiff on June 7 to visit Malaysia to pave the way for the establishment of
normal diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Vatican.
The Holy See has
formal diplomatic relations with 172 nations, including many Islamic countries
like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Pakistan
and Kuwait. In Asia,
countries which have diplomatic relations with the Vatican include Japan, South
Korea, India, Indonesia,
Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.
The Vatican is also accorded international recognition
and participates in a wide range of United Nations activities since 1946,
such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Conference on Trade
and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), World Trade
Organisattion (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour
Organisation (ILO), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and a
long list of others.
In his 24 years as Pope, John Paul II had traveled to over
115 countries, including some 25 Muslim countries and has emerged as the single
greatest moral force for the promotion of inter-religious understanding and
dialogue as well as the rapprochement
between Christians and Muslims through numerous inter-religious conferences organized by the Vatican and the
three Assisi “Prayer for
Peace” world gathering of
religious leaders from all faiths convoked by the Pope, the latest on January 24
this year in the birthplace of St. Francis , the Saint most associated with
peace, in the aftermath of September 11 attacks.
Before and after September 11, no other non-Muslim leader,
whether religious, political or academic, has
done more than John Paul II in his consistent, constant and tireless efforts for
over two decades to reach out to
Islam and met more Muslim leaders to promote inter-faith relations and
to seek a just and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian conflict.
In Damascus last year, John Paul II became the first pope
to enter a mosque, the 8th century A.D. Umayyad Mosque, and took part
in another “first” where Muslims and Christians prayed together in an
organized way, with the pope leading Christian prayers while the Muslim part of
the ceremony was conducted by the
Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmed Kataro.
John Paul II has issued regular messages to mark the
Islamic holy month of Ramadan and other religion’s festivals. At the start of
the Ramadan fast last year on December 14, the Pope called on the world’s one
billion Catholics to fast for one day as a gesture of solidarity and peace.
In this connection, the article in Mingguan Malaysia
yesterday by Dr. Saodah Abd. Rahman, a lecturer at the Jabatan Usuludin dan
Perbandingan Agama, International
Islamic University, Malaysia, who attended the Third
Christian Muslim Colloquium at the Facolare Movement International Convention
Centre at Castlegandolfo, Rome in 1998 and the Inter-religious Assembly on the
Eve of the Third Millennium on the theme
Collaboration Among the Different Religions at Pontificium Consilium pro Dailogo
Inter-Religiones in 1999, bear
It would be wrong, however, to view Mahathir’s meeting
with the Pope purely as a Muslim-Christian meeting as Malaysia is the home
of all the great religions in the world.
While Mahathir’s meeting with the Pope is not an epochal
global event, the meeting of the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Pope
is undoubtedly an important and even momentous development
for multi-religious Malaysia.
Mahathir said in London in February this year that Malaysia
was not ready for an inter-faith organisation and dialogues.
This is one of the greatest
failures of the 44-year Malaysian nation-building process, as Malaysia should be
in the international forefront in pioneering and promoting inter-religious and
inter-civilisational dialogues because of the country’s unique position as the
confluence of the great religions and civilizations in the world.
In the meeting on Friday, Mahathir should explore with the Pope the possibility of co-operation between Malaysia and the Vatican to promote inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogues to a higher and more focused international level, making full use of Malaysia’s rich cultural and religious diversity and heritage – as a positive contribution to world peace and inter-religious and inter-civilizational understanding.