PM luncheon with religious reps highlight of UN interfaith week

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By Debra Chong February 02, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 2 – For the second year running, Putrajaya is marking an international week-long celebration of religious harmony with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak hosting a luncheon for Malaysia’s multi-religious national leaders.

The luncheon, as announced today by National Unity and Integration (NUID) Minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon (picture), appears to have replaced a week-long series of school programmes aimed at fostering better religious understanding among students, which was to be the highlight of the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week that started yesterday.

“The highlight will be a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for major religious leaders on 15 February 2012,” Koh said in a statement today.

The school initiative, mooted by members of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHST) had won the approval from Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin last month.

Muhyiddin, who is also in charge of the Education Ministry, was reported to have agreed to launch the programme.

The Malaysian Insider understands that Muhyiddin is no longer launching it and that the range of extra-curricular activities that were to run through the Rukun Negara clubs set up in each national school have also been axed.

Instead the heads of each school will deliver a speech on behalf of the Education Minister during assembly, a source from the Cabinet’s Special Committee to Promote Understanding and Harmony Among Religious Adherents (JKMPKA) told The Malaysian Insider.

The source also said that the Federal Territory NUID will be holding several activities, such as a community clean-up, aerobics exercises and a religious forum in the city from tomorrow, while various events will be held at the national level in the Sultan Idris University of Education (UPSI) in Tanjung Malim, Perak and will see youth participants from abroad, including South Korea.

The Cabinet’s interfaith panel chief, Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, who is also director-general of the NUID, did not respond to The Malaysian Insider’s calls for confirmation.

Koh said that three religious and cultural festivals coincided with the world harmony week and remarked that it gave Malaysians “special reasons” to celebrate.

Muslims in Malaysia mark the birthday of Prophet Mohamad or Maulidur Rasul on February 5 while ethnic Chinese of Hokkien descent will celebrate Chap Goh Meh (the 15th day of the Lunar New Year and regarded as the end of the festival) on February 6 – Hindu Malaysians celebrate Thaipusam on the following day, February 7.

Koh said it was an opportunity for Malaysians to “condemn, combat and contain the extremists” within society “emphasise and reaffirm the principles of moderation and inclusiveness in line with 1 Malaysia” as PM Najib advocates.

The senator urged faith organisation to “organise talks, joint charitable programmes and other initiatives, phased out in the month of February.”

The UN World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the UN General Assembly in October 2010 as a way for member countries to show a united front in the fight against religious extremism and violence and promote a culture of peace.

Malaysia had first observed it last year with PM Najib hosting a lunch for leaders of the different faith groups in Putrajaya on February 14.

But Datuk Ilani Isahak, who was the Cabinet’s first interfaith panel chief but died after a year on the job, had grander plans to build up a group of “peace ambassadors”and involve talks with religious leaders from strife-torn countries towards that goal.