Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia

From The Times, London
May 10, 2007
Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has suffered a serious setback in his attempts to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue after the Malaysian Government banned an interfaith conference he was due to be chairing this week.

Christian and Muslim scholars from around the world had bought air tickets, written papers and begun to pack their bags for the Building Bridges conference, the sixth in a series intended to foster dialogue between the two religions. It was cancelled with just two weeks notice.

The three-day conference was set up in the wake of September 11 and meant to be an annual get-together of Christian and Muslim academics in an attempt to find theological understandings that might help prevent future terrorist attacks.

At the first conference, at Lambeth Palace in London six years ago, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, fêted Tony Blair. In return, the Prime Minister invited the Muslim and Christian scholars to a high-profile reception at Downing Street.

Since then the scholars have met in New York, Qatar and Sarajevo. This year’s seminar in Malaysia was to signal a breakthrough in Muslim-Christian relations in a region where they are particularly delicate.

However, it is understood that some influential Muslims believe that Christianity is “not a heavenly religion” and therefore they frown on interreligious dialogue.

Although the Malaysian Government allowed Dr Williams into the country to preach at the consecration of a new Anglican bishop, it said that it would not permit the interfaith dialogue to take place.

Instead Dr Williams is taking part in a hastily convened visit to Sri Lanka. Preaching a sermon there yesterday, he outlined the “terrible consequences” of fear caused by division. He said: “We must keep our bridges in good repair, the bridges for listening and sympathy, hearing the truth from one another, learning what the other’s experience is like.”

Earlier this week it emerged that there are plans for Mr Blair to head a global interfaith initiative when he leaves office.

Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Archbishop’s secretary for interfaith relations, who has spent nine months organising the Malaysia conference, said that he hoped that it would still take place, albeit in another country.

“All the papers will be used in other ways,” he said. “The situation [in Malaysia] is delicate. A whole series of interreligious cases are in front of the constitutional court and awaiting judgment. The view was that it would be better not to have an international gathering of Muslims and Christians at the moment in that context.”

The cases include that of Lina Joy, whose birth name is Azlina Jailani, who has filed an appeal to have the word “Islam” removed from her identity card. She wants a declaration that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution gives her the right to convert to another religion. She is understood to have become a Christian.

Islam is the official state religion in Malaysia and Muslims are subject to sharia. Alongside this is a system of civil law that protects Christians and people of other faiths, and the constitution technically allows some freedom of religion. But there are internal tensions over conversions to other religions and over whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or a secular one. NonMuslims represent about 40 per cent of the 26-million strong population.

Angry protesters shut down one human rights event in May last year organised by Article 11, a coalition of 13 religious and human rights groups named after the constitutional article that guarantees the right of every Malaysian citizen to “profess and practise his religion”.

Professor Mona Siddiqui, director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Glasgow University, who had been due to attend, said the conference was formally cancelled with just two weeks notice.

“Many of us were rather distressed about it,” she said. “These conferences are important on many levels. Malaysia would have been a litmus test to see how the mix of different religions and different ethnicities worked. I do not know exactly what happened, except there was contention at the highest level in Malaysia.”

She said that past conferences had been “invaluable” in enabling Christian and Muslim scholars to explore their different understandings of texts in the Bible and the Koran.

Canon David Marshall, former chaplain to Dr Williams, said it was hoped that the conference would still take place, possibly at Canterbury. “It has a very specific contribution to make and it is important that it continues,” he said.

The British participants

Michael Ipgrave Archdeacon of Southwark and an interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edited a collection of papers from at least one previous Building Bridges seminar.

Hugh Goddard Professor of Christian-Muslim Relations at Nottingham University. Fluent in Arabic, he wrote his thesis on modern Egyptian Muslim perceptions of Christianity.

David Marshall Former chaplain to Dr Rowan Williams and his predecessor, he is an expert on Christian-Muslim dialogue. He organised the first four Building Bridges seminars and was due to attend this one as a consultant.

Michael Northcott Reader in theology and Christian ethics at the University of Edinburgh’s divinity school, he taught practical theology at the Seminari Theologi Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur before going to Scotland in 1989. He is also Associate Rector at St James, Leith, and Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral.

Mona Siddiqui, left Professor of Islamic studies and public understanding and director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Glasgow University. She attended the previous seminars and writes regularly for the specialist and national press, including The Times and is an expert on classical Islam

  1. #1 by kurakura on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 6:15 pm

    Cowards and hypocrites!

    Talking about fostering ties between different religions and races in schools textbook and doing another thing altogether.
    But yet…this is nothing new.

  2. #2 by Taikotai on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 6:22 pm

    The article did mention the latest few “high tension” cases in the courts. Although, this conference would be great for the different religions community to integrate. I guess it’s a double edged sword.

  3. #3 by wsblurtn on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 6:29 pm

    What a shame! too flabbergasted for words! It does show our third world mentality doesn’t it! One would think they would have the courtesy to give longer notice…don’t they have brains? oops! I forgot
    Malaysia Boleh!

  4. #4 by ahkok1982 on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 6:49 pm

    who says tt bodoh-land is not a tolerant country… we r more tolerant than every single country in e world!! lets examine how tolerant our gov is…

    our gov is tolerent of:
    1) corruption (everyone knows this)
    2) incompetancy (juz look at how gov works)
    3) lack of respect, moral values, etc (insults n taunts in parliment)
    4) laziness (look at gov servants)
    5) discrimination (NEP)
    6) shoddy work (building collapsing, SMART tunnel might b next)
    7) delinquency (mat rempit = mat cemerlang)
    8) vigilants (getting mat rempits to catchsnatch thieves)
    9) theft (free land transfer without owner knowing)
    10) mounting toll rates (baldie’s fault)
    11) increasing poverty (higher bills, lower income)
    12) trash (both rubbish n unemployable graduates)
    13) gansterism (observe election time)

    so many more…. e list cannot b exhausted…
    this religion thing is juz a small thing to them. maybe e next day, u might read in our local gov newspaper stating tt e gov is being so tolerant with people who r against religious unity.

  5. #5 by goldenscreen on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:11 pm

    At least we can hope that this issue will throw the international community’s spotlight on the growing Islamization of Malaysia under the cloak of Islam Hadhari. I think the international community has given Malaysia too much of a leeway and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

    And the fact in can be held in Qatar (a model Muslim nation if I may say so) and Sarajevo (of all places!) but not in Malaysia just paints a sad face on the state of our country.

  6. #6 by Tom Peters on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:21 pm

    Before the silent, gentle and peace-loving ‘sufi’ majority feel embarrassed and betrayed, it must be made aware that the Malaysian government, by canceling this programme, has preempted a potential violent Islamist’ mob. This mob is aware of the injunctions against parrying with the infidel and that such a dialogue fits the bill.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:25 pm

    “…no school will accept her. The cause is her birth certificate which does not carry the name of her father, R. Kanagasundram, 30.”


  8. #8 by malaysia born on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:40 pm

    Malaysia has lost her authority to speak for other religions. Do i still hear other countries saying that they are eager to learn from Malaysia religious tolerance?

    …or perhaps, is it because of so many falling ceilings and broken water pipes, those people in bolih-land has no confidence in hosting such meetings?

  9. #9 by toyolbuster on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:55 pm

    Now the whole world knows what Islam Hadhari is all about, and who is the creator? None other than the sleeping PM.

  10. #10 by HJ Angus on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 7:57 pm

    The government is afraid that such a conference will highlight the many cases we have had recently.

    But better to prevent such a conference than have it disrupted by religious fanatics as what happened during the Article 11 Forum in JB where the authorities showed that law enforcement is highly selective.

    What better way to pronounce to the world that we are indeed not a nation that practices religious freedom than to ban such a peaceful gathering?

  11. #11 by toyolbuster on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 8:00 pm

    If all the Malaysian cares so much for the country, it is time we should seriously consider sacking the incompetent PM and don’t just wait for the next GE or the rot will get worse.

  12. #12 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 8:30 pm

    Who is the person or the authority that ordered the last minute ban on this international interfaith dailogue that had been planned well in advance? Was it a cabinet decision?

    Why is a particular group always fearful of dialogues? Do they instead prefer authoritarianism and their high handed ways? Or were they feeling pretty insecure.

    This ban must surely go down very badly for Bolehland’s government in the eyes of international community. I feel ashamed that the country has not matured after 50 years of independence.

    All our talk about our country’s unity, harmony, dialogue, understanding, etc are all merely hot air. When it comes to ante up, we ban.

    Pak Lah, as internal affairs minister and head of the government owes everyone an explanation. Perhaps it was because he was not invited to open the conference and speak about his Islam hadhari.

    The government should acknowledge this mistake and invite the speakers back here to hold their conference. Its not too late. Its the right thing to do. It will show maturity.

  13. #13 by raven77 on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 8:39 pm

    This blog is tirng..tiring because I dont see a shadow cabinet in the opposition that wil show their seriousness and intent in ridding this uneducated morons off the face of this earth…..the opposition should be serious in ascertaining that Badawi will be the Last King of Scotland

  14. #14 by kurangajah on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 9:27 pm

    Well done “stupid zzzzzzz” Ministers on your “successful” Visit Malaysia Year!

  15. #15 by izrafeil on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 10:09 pm

    Pak Lah bukan main, internationally support interfaith dailog, kat Mesia, takut pulak dengan bayang2

  16. #16 by kelangman88 on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 10:48 pm

    come on guyz. of course they ban. if some people are force (without human rights) to become muslim, of course need to ban this to prevent more people become apostate

  17. #17 by ihavesomethingtosay on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 11:15 pm

    Can someone please write a memo to AAB, telling him that not to malu Malaysia further when he is out of bolehland, telling the world that Malaysia is a multi racial, multi cultural and multi religious country that diffent races respect one another………..

    It might show better result if in future he should just learn to keep his mouth shut.

  18. #18 by kelangman88 on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 11:35 pm

    “Malaysia is a multi racial, multi cultural and multi religious country that diffent races respect one another………..” ihavesomethingtosay

    fren, even same race also dun respect own race because no human right….

  19. #19 by WFH on Thursday, 10 May 2007 - 11:52 pm

    Despite trumpeting Malaysia as a model Islamic, yet multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic nation, with this abrupt, short notice sudden cancellation of an International interfaith conference, Malaysia’s aurat has now been totally exposed. Shame, shame, shame. And MORE shame on Malaysia’s top honcho, cult leader of Hadhari!

    A reason I can offer is that the mobs who were so “brave” at disrupting Article 11 in JB against local NGOs and activists, are not up to the mark in courage to try a similar stunt on an internatinal meeting. Hence to save their embarassment, they and their leaders in govt acting in the background simply manoevered the outcome – cancellation of the conference. At least, no conferenc to disrupt, they will not have to show the world their small minds. Truly, truly Jaguh Kampung!!!

  20. #20 by fighter on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:03 am

    This cancellation of the conference had, at last opened the eyes of the international community as to the state of affairs of Malaysia’s inter-faith relation with its large minority non-Muslims citizens.Earlier, many were shocked when the PM were invited by the Head of EU to address in the meeting of EU-Asean on the subject of how Malaysia managed its inter-faith relation so well.It was shocking on two counts: 1st EU was so ignorant of Malaysia’s record in its inter-faith relation and 2nd the PM could masquerade as Malaysia’s champion in its fair treatment of its non-Muslims.

    How can a PM dared and be allowed to address on inter-faith relations when he:
    1. Stopped Art.11 members to hold meeting on freedom of religion just because the Muslim mobs objected to it.
    2.Did nothing when judges of High Court and Court of Appeal required non-Muslims to seek justice at Shariah Court.
    3. Did nothing when Islamic officers kidnapped the wives and children of non-Muslim parents.
    4.Did nothing when the non-Muslim families objected to their loved ones’s bodies being seized and buried in Muslim graves.

  21. #21 by akarmalaysian on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:05 am

    for all i knw malaysia is the only country thats lacking its own faith in others while trying so hard to protect islam no matter wat even if it means breaking up her own people’s families.the government doesnt even take into account of how tormenting it is for a mother to go thru all these hassles which they think they can proudly claim they are doing the ‘right’ thing.islam?…these people fr JAIS dont even knw the basic fundamental of islamic for the government…these people are really a useless bunch.people hv the freedom of embracing their own faith in this country right?the problem is…u are forced to convert to being a muslim if u wanna marry a muslim in this country.i hv nvr despise any muslims for i believe thr are many good muslims in this country and i hv learned and make it a point to being my duty to respect my fellow malaysians regardless of their backgrounds.
    things are so simple…in the case of the mother of 7…just imagine and go for a plain and simple trial…aks wat the mother wud do and act on her own decision…do u think she wud put forth priority on religion instead of her own children.if people fr JAIS think she wud…then thrs something really wrong wif these people.for all i knw…the only thing dats really wrong is taking away a mothers love fr her own children and ‘hoping’ for the husband to convert into a muslim.its a cruel act and the government shud knw religion in this world is great if u dun even knw the difference between humanity and insanity.

  22. #22 by sean on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:09 am

    Umno led govt have again bow down to extremist……….
    very soon……….an “international conference on eridication of corruption” will also be shot down by corrupt extremist …..
    sad day for our beloved country that preach so much on multi religion…

  23. #23 by pharisee on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:16 am

    Give them the face first. Meaning here is the Malays or is it Muslims or is it Malay Muslims or is it Muslim Malays just love to be given the chance to make the headway first. Don’t announce the meeting. Just whisper the suggestion ever so quietly, wait very patiently and let them prepare, organize and tell people about it. You will sure have a meeting to go to. It is not that they disagree with the meeting. The real reason is you did not give any regards to them. If I have learned anything in my life so far, I have learned about what ego can really do.

  24. #24 by zioburosky13 on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:34 am

    It is unfortunate we have ignorant and narrow mind person incharging most of our daily life.
    Such incident will only double the misunderstanding of both religion.

  25. #25 by firstMalaysian on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:23 am

    The meeting of academics and theologians on interfaith dialogue being disallowed in Malaysia? This is unimaginable. The current issues affecting the rights of Malaysians on freedom of religion are the reasons for the cancellation of such interfaith dialogue in Malaysia?
    There are good reasons for Malaysia to be chosen especially when we are regarded as a moderate country where religious tolerance is practised. Such last minute cancellation is an indication of our weakness, our fears on the current unjust religious intolerance being put into the international spotlight, our inability to defend our stand on religious freedom and our inability to face questions with regard religious conversions. Simply, the BN leadership cannot make a stand on the various cases of families being separated because of religious intolerance being practised in the country.

    In Indonesia, a population of vast muslims can allow co-existence of family members of different religious beliefs within the family unit and likewise, in some of the Middle Eastern countries.

    Let us not create an environment of further division of our people, even families on religious issues.

    Malaysia will not achieve unity in diversity as long as we are not tolerant and have unfounded prejudice against different religious doctrines and practices, and fear of our political power being eroded, using religion as a tool to separate the people. Religion promotes understanding, tolerance, loving people as ourselves, fighting against injustice, fighting against vices such as corruption,
    and doing acts of kindness to all people.

    This last minute cancellation is irresponsible.

  26. #26 by sotong on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 7:37 am

    Decades of politics of religion had caused enormous damage with permanent, long term and far reaching consequences to the country.

    Majority of Muslims in the country, even with better education, are too narrow minded and insecure to be a example for modern and progressive Muslims in the world.

    Great Muslims in the future will come from Europe and Australia – you could write off Middle East as they are too engross in violence and hatred.

  27. #27 by good coolie on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 8:56 am

    The government will not give the reason for the cancellation of this conference but we have an idea why this has happened. Isn’t the elections around the corner? If violent reaction to the conference is suppressed by the police, this will be a god sent opportunity for people like Mahatir to oust Badawi in the name of Islam. The conference has been overtaken by political expediency.

  28. #28 by good coolie on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 9:09 am

    I once asked a Muslim friend whether he was interested in knowing something about certain Christian beliefs which were brought up in a conversation, since Muslims generally were ignorant of why Christians believe the way they do. He answered that there was no reason why he should know about any other religion than his own (Islam).
    Christians, too, can be similarly dismissive of the need to understand Islam deeply.
    A conference/dialogue of religions can help to dispel ignorance of each other’s religions. Other great religions (Hinduism, Buddhism,…) could also be understood and appreciated.
    I do not think that merely knowing about another’s religion is tantamount to disparaging or jeopardising the Islamic religion. It is not the same as being proselytised by members of another faith.

  29. #29 by k1980 on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 9:19 am

    The reason for the cancellation of this conference is simply due to the refusal of the mullahs to allow the coexistence of islam alongside the other religions. Above all, the merits of their great and mighty religion should not be discussed and compared side by side with the inferior beliefs of the accursed dhimmis

  30. #30 by Jimm on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 9:30 am

    BN – UMNO need to use religion as their main tools to keep the Malays loyal to their party. Do you think that Government allow this kind of conference to take place? They are now planning for the next GE and how to distribute funds to gain back control of the Parliment. It’s not the religion or faith concern. it’s their ATMs will be ‘pulled away’ , should the Malays no longer stand by them.

  31. #31 by Boneka on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 10:44 am

    The government’s banning of this conference indictaes the real situation of Inter-Religious status in Malaysia. It is all a somkescreen. The Minister of National Unity is a non-malay. His ministry can “cry its heart out”but will never be able enforce anything. INSAF, MCCBCHST and other organisations that try to foster Inter-Faith goodwill are wasting their time and efforts. Please face reality. The mob team will never let any intellectual discourse on this matter to take place – even legally!

  32. #32 by dawsheng on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 10:55 am

    This is an arrogant attitude by certain muslims in Malaysia. The cancellation of the summit sent a clear message to non-muslims in Malaysia that this is an Islamic country after all. We are now also can be offically label as infidels, well, you know the fate of being one.

  33. #33 by ihavesomethingtosay on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 4:24 pm

    “fren, even same race also dun respect own race because no human right….” – kelangman88

    True, take semi valued for instance


    so in short, AAB should cease claiming Malaysia is a multi faceted tolerence society with immediate effect!

  34. #34 by DarkHorse on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:09 pm

    Look guys there is another way of looking at it if you wanna find fault. The reason that we hear about who is at fault with the forced cancellation of the meeting is the unruly mob best described as jihadists from among the UMNO Youth members and led by its leaders.

    That they could not have done it without the tacit approval of those in positions of responsibility is obvious. What is not obvious is the fact that the organizers chickened out at the slightest show of force by the police.

    We had the opportunity to change things through peaceful resistance and we failed to take advantage of it. History is also a study in missed opportunities. So whose fault is it??

  35. #35 by DarkHorse on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:21 pm

    Who among the moderate Muslims strong in their belief in the free speech rights could be experted to make their voices heard? Although Malaysia has never been a country with a strong tradition of free speech if change is going to occur at all, it can only occur with their approval. They failed to take the lead. The failure is theirs and the blame lies on their shoulders.

    Leaders like lawyers Imtiaz and Harris should have stepped up to the plate – and prove their worth. No point in paying lip service which is what lawyers are good at. Time to stand for the principles they believe in. Gift of the garb works well in court rooms but we need leaders i.e. real leaders to lead the movement.

  36. #36 by DarkHorse on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:29 pm

    It is a constant reminder to the UMNO top senior if moderate leadership that they cannot ignore their Youth Wing. Is it a coincidence that Prime Ministers and DPMs have tended to come from past leaders of the party’s Youth wing?

    The Youth wing is the training ground for future Prime Ministers. What does that tell us??

  37. #37 by 9to5 on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 10:53 pm

    I think the cancellation has more to do with politics than religion.

    With the GE just around the corner, it is feared that by having the dialogue may anger some muslim supporters and cause them to switch over to PAS.

    The same thing with Maybank’s 50% bumi retraction – just a temporary pullback for the sake of GE! Isn’t it funny? Of all person, it’s Najib who now says that GLC should benefit both bumi and non-bumi contractor!

    Discounting the undercurrent, on the surface everything is smooth and hunky dory until the GE!

  38. #38 by Not spoon fed on Saturday, 12 May 2007 - 10:33 pm

    Just boycott Maybank and AmBank.

    See here about a scholar comment:

    By DR SYED ALI TAWFIK AL-ATTAS, Director-General,
    and MD ASHAM AHMAD, Fellow of the Centre for
    Syariah, Law and Political Science, Ikim

    Using the mechanism of the judiciary to ‘Islamise’ people, or to prevent them from leaving the religion is unreasonable.

  39. #39 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Monday, 14 May 2007 - 9:27 pm

    AAB is palinly sleeping again. He doesn’r know the difference between a dialogue, a discourse and a debate!

    Neither does he understand what is democracy – the principles of freedom of worship, the freedom of thought, speech or conscience!

  40. #40 by accountability on Wednesday, 16 May 2007 - 11:54 pm

    it’s ok,…

    …this time there is no way the BN spindoctors can puke an excuse on this blatant intolerance of religious harmony

    let the world know the real hypocrisy that is malaysia!

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