Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak met with religious leaders at the World Interfaith Harmony Week on Wednesday, with a straightforward message for Malaysians of all races, religions, and practises: Tolerance and understanding are the keys to a better future.
In the wake of the furore over his attendance at the Thaipusam celebration in Batu Caves recently, Najib was clearly extolling his 1Malaysia message, using the opportunity of numerous faiths gathered together for peaceful dialogue as his backdrop.
It was a clever move, as it gave him the opportunity to remind both his audience and the nation that merely dressing in culturally traditional garb is not taking on another faith (wearing the ‘kurta’, a traditional Indian attire for men, is not a sign of Hinduism; as Najib said, “millions of Indians who are Muslims wear the kurta daily. Are they then not Muslims?”), and that the key to advancing as a people is to understand each other and our traditions.
Noting that Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration and the Chap Goh Mei and Thaipusam celebrations all occur during this week, Najib made the broader point that almost all of the country’s faiths teach harmony and moderation. It is incumbent on us, he suggested, to grow with each other, by honouring our religious traditions.
Najib’s message will doubtless have a greater effect as Perak mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria recently clarified that Najib did nothing wrong in wearing the kurta, echoing the Prime Minister’s words about cultural and religious differences.
Ultimately, Najin’s message remains the same: In a world of rapid-fire information sharing, miscommunication can blossom into conflict all too easily. As a nation, our best chance of growing with the world — and eventually reaching a leadership role — is in moderation, tolerance, and harmony. In turn, these things will foster economic growth and national integration, paying for themselves.
A mark of the extent to which the Prime Minister has successfully put this matter to bed is the speed with which Opposition web portals have quietly dropped the topic.
While it might be tempting to take a victory lap here, the better approach is Najib’s: To quietly rejoice in the disappearance of another obstacle to racial and religious harmony, as we move forward as a country.