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Last-minute cancellation of international Muslim-Christian dialogue in Malaysia a big blow to our international image and reputation as a successful  and model multi-religious nation

Speech in the debate on the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service (part 1)        
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday) : When tabling the motion for the House to accept the interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service, the Select Committee Chairman and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Maximus Ongkili said the government encouraged inter-religious dialogue to promote inter-religious understanding and national integration.

The latest development in this field questions the seriousness of the government’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue. 

I have here the London Times report today headlined Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia” which reads:

“The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has suffered a serious setback in his attempts to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue after the Malaysian Government banned an interfaith conference he was due to be chairing this week.

“Christian and Muslim scholars from around the world had bought air tickets, written papers and begun to pack their bags for the Building Bridges conference, the sixth in a series intended to foster dialogue between the two religions. It was cancelled with just two weeks notice.

“The three-day conference was set up in the wake of September 11 and meant to be an annual get-together of Christian and Muslim academics in an attempt to find theological understandings that might help prevent future terrorist attacks.

“At the first conference, at Lambeth Palace in London six years ago, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, fêted Tony Blair. In return, the Prime Minister invited the Muslim and Christian scholars to a high-profile reception at Downing Street.

“Since then the scholars have met in New York, Qatar and Sarajevo. This year’s seminar in Malaysia was to signal a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations in a region where they are particularly delicate.

“However, it is understood that some influential Muslims believe that Christianity is ‘not a heavenly religion’ and therefore they frown on interreligious dialogue.”

There have been critical comments on my blog in the past few hours since the posting of the London Times report, for instance: 

1. Malaysia has lost her authority to speak for other religions. Do i still hear other countries saying that they are eager to learn from Malaysia religious tolerance? 

2. What better way to pronounce to the world that we are indeed not a nation that practices religious freedom than to ban such a peaceful gathering? 

The last-minute cancellation of international Muslim-Christian dialogue in Malaysia is a big blow to our international image and reputation as a successful and model  multi-religious nation. 

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi goes to international forums to preach the virtues of inter-religious dialogue but at home,  the government is not prepared to allow an international inter-religious conference to be held.  

In the country, we also do not encourage the holding of inter-religious dialogue involving Muslim and non-Muslim religions, limiting inter-religious dialogue more and more only among the non-Muslim faiths themselves.   

This will not contribute to inter-religious understanding and national integration. 

Malaysia is a multi-religious nation but religion had never been a flashpoint of division, disunity and discord in our society until the recent years. 

The interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee has not squared up to this inter-religious  problem and challenge, in particular the holding of  inter-religious dialogues, and I hope that when its final report is presented to Parliament, the Select Committee will address this problem courageously and come out with bold recommendations on this important facet of national unity.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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