All-party Parliamentary Select Committee should be formed next month to study the proposed Interfaith Commission Bill drafted by the two-day National Interfaith Commission Conference - a most important and commendable initiative to promote national unity in multi-religious Malaysia
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Saturday): The two-day National Interfaith Conference in Bangi which ended yesterday is a most important and commendable initiative to promote national unity in multi-religious Malaysia and an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee should be formed when Parliament reconvenes next month to study the proposed Interfaith Commission Bill drafted by the conference.
It is regrettable and a most adverse reflection on the maturity of Malaysian nation-building and the success of national integration despite nearly half a century of nationhood that the National Interfaith Conference and the proposal of a Interfaith Commission should produce so much flak and negative reactions – which would be completely unthinkable in the first quarter-century of national independence from 1957 to 1982.
Malaysians should give deep thought as to why Malaysia has undergone such a tectonic shift in the approach, understanding and interpretation of the Merdeka “social contract” reached by the nation’s forefathers from the various communities as the fundamental basis of the nation founded on August 31, 1957.
The flak and the negative responses to the National Interfaith Conference and the proposed Interfaith Commission are completely at variance with the spirit and message of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi entitled “Dialogue the Key to Unity of Multi-religious, Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Societies” when opening the Conference of World Council of Churches in Kuala Lumpur in August last year. Abdullah had stressed:
“What we need more than ever today is a concerted effort to initiate inter-faith dialogue. We need to talk to one another openly about issues that impact on all our lives. Let us go beyond arguing over differences in theology and religious practice. A meaningful dialogue will not be possible if we do not respect each other’s freedom of worship. Islam enjoins pluralism and we are reminded of it in the Quranic Verse ‘To you your religion, to me my religion’.”
With the confluence of the world’s great religions in the country, Malaysia should be setting the example of inter-faith and inter-civilizational dialogue to the rest of the world, but we seem to be retreating instead of boldly going forward to take up this challenge.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s statement that Islam is a sensitive matter is pertinent though incomplete, for the religious rights of all Malaysians must equally be regarded as “sensitive” – and the country should not commit past errors of disregarding these sensitivities, such as the unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional distortion of the Merdeka “social contract” and Constitution in the “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic State.
“Sensitivities” in a plural society must always be given proper regard, but it should never be an excuse to impede or frustrate inter-faith dialogue, which is the only viable basis for building a durable national unity in a nation of diverse faiths like Malaysia.
The statement by the Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, that he was unable to support the proposal for an Interfaith Commission is not only premature but most improper. Is the rejection of the proposal of an Interfaith Commission, whether statutory or otherwise, a stand of Suhakam taken officially by a proper meeting of the Suhakam Commissioners or is it the personal view of Abu Talib – and if the former, when and why such a decision was taken.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman