Genuine dialogue will lead to interfaith harmony

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The government must be congratulated for celebrating the inaugural UN World Interfaith Harmony Week which began on Monday. Even so it would have benefited far greater number of people in the country had it been organised on a bigger scale nationwide, given wider publicity and involve more religious leaders than the normal motley of interfaith promoters. Considering that it is important to racial harmony and national unity more thought and planning should have been put into the organisation of the event. Maybe next year’s celebrations would take care of the shortcomings of this year’s celebration.

Still the events organised as part of the week-long celebrations should help to contribute to interfaith among Malaysians. Any movement forward, no matter how small, in our effort to improve interfaith harmony among us should not be dismissed out of hand. Instead of being cynical about it let us help make the World Inferfaith Harmony Week achieve whatever success it seeks to achieve. Interfaith dialogue has been going on in Malaysia for about a decade now, mostly away from the glare of the media. Much work still needs to be done.

An important aspect of this work is to attract or win over more prominent ulama to be involved in the dialogue. The government should play its role in getting these ulama to see the benefit of dialogue instead of leaving them to languish in their long held conviction that Islam is a perfect religion and that nothing, not even interfaith dialogue, can improve it. These ulama need to be persuaded that other faiths hold similar convictions too which if taken to the extreme can fester into conflicts and clashes like what happened in Nigeria and other places. Dialogue can help to moderate these convictions as exemplified by the efforts of Imam Dr Mohammad Nurayn Ashafa and Pastor Dr James Mavel Wuye in Nigeria where hundreds died in bloody sectarian clashes. The various dialogue conducted by the two men helped to resolve the many non-faith issues that affect relations between the Muslims and the Christians.

There are many non-faith issues that properly organised interfaith dialogue can help solve, reduce points of conflicts and misunderstandings between Malaysians. The World Interfaith Harmony Week is a brainchild of the Jordanians led by their monarch King Abdullah II and accepted by the UN general assembly last year as an annual global celebration. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, representing Malaysia, gave a strong endorsement to the celebration which hopes to increase multiracial cooperation and harmony following the events of Sept 11, 2001 and the misunderstanding caused by the declaration of war on terrorism by the United States. Malaysia must succeed in encouraging its people of various faiths to be involved in genuine interfaith dialogue before it can champion the dialogue internationally.