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.

7 Responses to “”

  1. 1 amanshahkhalid
    February 2, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Interfaith Commission should be formed and discussions be ongoing. You must be proactive and not to wait for ‘diaster’ to strike before they sit down to talk. By the time they can sit down over a cup of coffee or two the problems are out of control and emotions running high. Never allow religious problems go to court as decisions made by the judges one way or another will hurt a religious group. With the formation of IFC the religious heads can channel their doubts and problems through this committee. Problems can be nibbed in the bud, as they say. The ‘denial syndrome’ is still deeply embedded in our government and the leaders hope to sweep the problems under the carpet or disappear by itself in thin air!

  2. 2 grkumar
    February 4, 2010 at 11:02 am

    In a truly secular environment (which I believe Malaysia is and has been for ages) the need for self correction under the auspicies of a legitimately installed government is the best mechanism we have to cure the occassional hiccups in race and community relations.

    We are not alien to each others existence nor are we ignorant of each others sensitivities. It is in fact because of this undislosed truth about our knowledge of each other and our knowledge of each others sensitivities that we select carefully and deliberately those issues that hurt most or has greatest potential to impact to make our points on issues such as the misuse of the word Allah.

    Interfatih Commissions cannot have more power than responsible government is imbued with under the cosntitution. If we do not believe in our government we have a problem. The old saying “we always get the government we deserve” has some truth to it.

    I for one do not wish any more Catholic influence anywhere having been molested by the priest under whose care I was as a child. I had no one to speak to about it then. It happened years ago and I thought I had forgotten it till the Archdiocese of Boston was forced to pay out hundreds of millions in compensation for similar abuse of children, Australia had a similar scandal and the water it appears began to break everywhere else. The monster it appears is still very much alive and lurking around parading as Santa Clause. I now have to speak up about it.

    I am not suggesting that these mistakes or abuses do not occur within other organizations. Human Behaviour in Organizations (Dennis Umstot) is a useful read on how people in organizations behave. It is universal.

    My interest (which I believe ought to be the collective interests of all) is never to allow the lives of people to be governed by unaccountable groups of people. Religous organizations.

    For Islam and Hinduism there are no Popes. That may or may not be a bad thing. But where the Catholic Church has raised it head on such an issue I only ask to be heard like many others.

    In Malaysia there is government and government accountability. There is a constitution and it says Islam is the official religion and allows others to coexist under certain conditions.

    Interfaith commissions and the like are a back door entry to undermining the Constitution. It is undesirable. If we have to have interfaith dialogue then let our children learn to love each other whilst respecting the differences that exist between us.

    Lets not exploit those differences to achieve purely political and social gains that destroy age old values and the foundations of the cultures of those who are most vulnerable. The poor amongst our majority.

    Let the existing measures within the constitution play out their roles. Just because a judge or a group of lawyers and clergy men are ignorant of the constitution does not mean the constitution is wrong or inadequate. It simply means these people are not well informed.

    Gopal Raj Kumar

  3. 3 amanshahkhalid
    February 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Interfaith Commission, obviously cannot have more power or override a responsible government but the question is whether we really have a “responsible” government today? The constitution is man made and written subject to the political environment existing then i.e who wields the power and thus today even the constitution is subject to interpretations by learned judges and lawyers. The IFC, being a neutral body, is never intended to undermine the constitution through the back door entry but to complement it with due consideration given to the existing scenario by those involved in the discussions, particularly the religious leaders. While I was a child and until today I learned to love and respect other races and religions but sadly to say our children today are not brought up the same way as we did but are ‘strictly guarded and divided’ by their races and religions. The ‘responsible’ government aided in instilling and inculcating these negative values and thats the reason why today we really need to have the IFC to diffuse any ’emotional’ situation that arises.

  4. 4 ninitalk
    February 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I’m with you amanshahkhalid in urging for the establishment of a an InterFaith Commission whose mechanisms and operations cannot in any way undermine the Federal Constitution.

    The IFC must comprise the most esteemed and responsible members of the nations’s religious denominations, NGOs and the public who can have dialogues and consultations with each other on a regular basis and report their findings formally to the government/ Cabinet.Each member must be thoroughly screened to ensure his/ her integrity is untainted by hidden agendas and political influences. They can be made to take an oath on their own holy books declaring complete honesty, transparency and truthfulness in fulfilling their duties.

    I don’t see why Malaysia cannot determine its own model of an InterFaith Commission or a Commission for that matter. As you say, amanshahkhalid, these entities including the country’s laws and regulations are man-made and can be modified/revised to suit changing times and needs. The Federal Constitution being the guardian of the land and its people belongs to a higher category of enactments and has to be rightly guarded and protected.

  5. 5 ninitalk
    February 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you GRK for your cautionary statements about the potential abuse and exploitation of an InterFaith Commission by religious appointees with political agendas! Opportunism will once again rear its ugly head you warn – this time with the Catholic Christian groups that are making incursions into the name of the Muslim God and whatever else!

    The corruption of institutions with noble objectives by individuals and groups with sinister intentions is a failing of human society and runs the whole gamut of establishments including the government’s Cabinet, Ministries, agencies, the law courts, the private sector and business corporations etc etc etc. In fact I’m inclined to say that it is a by-product of democracy, free will, freedom of speech, human rights, free market, capitalism and all that JAZZ!

    It looks like it is not within our mortal power or the powers of a legitimately installed government to eradicate it completely. It seems to elude the grip of even a responsible government – a transparent government and all these modern cliches!

    Les I sound more cynical than you, I’d like to argue that rather than wait for the wrongs to be righted or for the law courts to uphold their God-ordained responsibility of upholding justice and integrity when they are manned by lawyers and judges who do not have these God-given virtues, we should forge ahead and put in place an InterFaith Commission that is strictly bound and regulated by special laws defined within the Federal Constitution.

    A formal mechanism is necessary to coordinate/consolidate informal deliberations about and insights into religion and morality. The world has become so big with numerous variables that influence family values and children’s upbringing, it doesn’t hurt to have formal reminders now and then from a body of religious leaders that we trust and look up to for guidance.

  6. 6 Gopal Raj Kumar
    February 6, 2010 at 4:13 am

    In response to Amanshahkalid’s posting I say this. Interfaith commissions are a manifestation of the absence of faith in a community comprising those who profess a faith.

    If we can believe so strongly in something for which there is no proof (God) then surely we can continue to co exist with each other we see and feel in the full knowledge and faith, that absent any outside interference or provocation in our daily lives, the constitution will continue to work for us as it always has. Disasters are part and parcel of the human make up and nature. An interfaith commission cannot stop a disaster happening.

    The US, UK, Australia all have the equivalent of and even ministerial delegations to look after the needs of their multi cultural and religiously diverse constituents. It has not helped one bit mainly because people often mix religion with politics as has been the case with the Vatican interfering in the constitutional prerogatives of another sovereign state (Malaysia) to advance its own causes againt Islam (The most evil religion according to Pope Benedict).

    The constitution consists of written provisions and conventions. In many western nations the so called right to free speech and freedom off assembly does not exist in its written form in the constitution. It simply exists because of it is convention and to take it away will create untold problems for a society in which such practices have long become the norm. They have not had constitutional conventions to redress the situation.

    The push to create interfaith dialogues and commissions is a sinister exercise. A Trojan horse. We have never had to have any commission to go to a church or a mosque or to the temples of prayer or schools of religion for centuries. Why now? Simply because there is now another approach being taken to disenfranchise the Malays who form the majority in a democracy. If as a Malay you do not see the danger let me assure you as a non Malay that it does exist and always has.

    The south Indians are a very smart group of people like the Chinese. That is not meant to translate into the Malays are less smart. In India the problems with language extends to the south and the south alone where they will not below the Kavery river (Tamil Nadu and Kerela especially) speak, read or write in the Hindi language although they learn it at school. They refuse the national language at any cost. The disparity in economic development as a consequence is stark with the north. There is no place for that chauvanism in Malaysia. None at all.

    The Chinese on the other hand driven by the success of their counterparts in the south once part of Malaysia see it as their ascriptive right to rule those who are not like them.

    Mao’s mainland China laid claim to all territories in the south pacific in their Nanyang is China policy. In negotiating diplomatic relations with them the issue was raised then dropped.

    The local Chinese have a voracious appetite for domination using their economic clout. The Indians no different if one looks at East and West Africa, the middle east and Fiji (not forgetting the UK and now the US to a lesser extent). It is natural in these groups to want to dominate.

    Now getting back to religion, why an interfaith commission? On what basis would it be set up? Proportional representation? I do not think you will get consensus there. It will not be democratic. The reason being simply this. The Malays and Islam will dominate because they constitute the majority.

    The others (non Malays and Non Muslims) will want a less democratic make up. It is exactly what they want because they want domination of a people they consider lesser than them but cannot find the constitutional means to depose them. So the constitution suddenly becomes a burden to them. A bit like what Singapore did to achieve its own aims.

    Constitutions too can be changed. For that you need a majority. Not a simple majority. And if Anwar and Kit Siang and the Indians get that with the simple amongst the Malays who believe they are doing the rest a favour, you will become ‘Burung Kuku’s” in a gilded cage as Malay’s are in Singapore.

    Gopal Raj Kumar

  7. 7 amanshahkhalid
    February 6, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Thank you for your comments GRK. I am not about to discuss about the Malays, Chinese, Indians or other ethnic groups…..we are all Malaysians here! Its all about the various religions practised in Malaysia. An IFC I strongly believe will help to play down any ill feelings between the various religions in our everyday lives. Nini Talk has laid down some basic ground rules for the formation of the IFC and I agree with her suggestions.

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