There’s no need for an IFC – InterFaith Commission – that’s what the Deputy Prime Minister said today (NST pg 15 and The Star pg N4). The reason given is that there are no major religious issues that warrant a formalised commission. The DPM, however, reiterates the need for ongoing engagement and closed-door dialogues among religious leaders and groups.
The “Allah issue” which has evoked sporadic inter-religious unrest and much media debate is being handled by the government away from public scrutiny because of its sensitive nature, and negotiations are being held behind closed doors. An amenable solution is in store that will presumably appease the feuding parties. In the legal arena, the High Court judgement allowing the use of Allah by the Catholic weekly Herald on a broad interpretation of the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and of speech is pending an appeal.
Meanwhile, there have emerged various arguments and counter-arguments by individuals and groups sitting on either side of the divide or precariously in-between. If there is any good that has emerged from the “bad blood” flowing through some religious veins it must surely lie in the education and exposure that Malaysians of all denominations have gone through in the weeks following the volatile eruption of emotions which saw some churches and mosques being vandalised. Most people are thinking and cognizing at a more intellectual level about God and other spiritual matters! They are taking the trouble to be better informed about their own religious beliefs. And this indeed is the hikmat (good) as it provides a firm foundation for the nation’s inter-religious relations and the mutual understanding and respect it should generate.
HOWEVER, I do not agree with the DPM that there has to be major religious issues before the InterFaith Commission is established! An enlightened government should not wait for disaster to strike before setting up an institution whose main role is to coordinate inter-religious matters and preempt untoward happenings! A progressive government must heed the early signs of inter-religious tension and establish the organisation and structure, mechanisms, procedures, processes and guidelines by which the IFC can operate effectively and efficiently. By mobilising teams of religious experts, NGOs and the public it can identify the KRAs in the interreligious/ interfaith area and build up the resources to allay any future threat, direct or indirect , to the nation’s moral fabric.
Although they profess to be adherents of a certain religion or faith, many people don’t really know much about it apart from the rites and rituals of attending church on Sunday, the mosque on Friday, burning joss sticks or carrying a kavadi or two. What they don’t realise is the deeper moral obligations entrusted upon them by their faiths. What they fail to ponder are the numerous questions about what is right and wrong about how they lead their everyday lives and the values they uphold.
What we must realise as a nation is that religion is the basis of morality and it is the breakdown of morality that is causing the problems in two of the six identified KRAs viz crime and corruption. To consolidate its great transformation programmes the government has to be proactive and take the morality bull by the horns! It must work systematically with the religious heads as well as with their congregations in tracing the roadmap to interreligious harmony.
The government can call it engagement or dialogue or consultation which can be held behind closed doors and within controlled spaces! And there is no better time than now to establish an InterFaith Commission. There must be a formal mechanism by which the issues pertaining to the religious identities and needs of Malaysians can be looked into with greater compassion, understanding and forbearance underpinned by knowledge and wisdom.