Last-minute ban on international Muslim-Christian diagloue – big blow to Malaysia’s reputation as model multi-religious nation

When tabling the motion for the House to accept the interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service, the Select Committee Chairman and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Maximus Ongkili said the government encouraged inter-religious dialogue to promote inter-religious understanding and national integration.

The latest development in this field questions the seriousness of the government’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue.

I have here the London Times report today headlined “Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia” which reads:

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.

There have been critical comments on my blog in the past few hours since the posting of the London Times report, for instance:

1. 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?

2. 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?

The last-minute cancellation of the international Muslim-Christian dialogue in Malaysia is a big blow to our international image and reputation as a successful and model multi-religious nation.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi goes to international forums to preach the virtues of inter-religious dialogue but at home, the government is not prepared to allow an international inter-religious conference to be held.

In the country, we also do not encourage the holding of inter-religious dialogue involving Muslim and non-Muslim religions, limiting inter-religious dialogue more and more only among the non-Muslim faiths themselves.

This will not contribute to inter-religious understanding and national integration.

Malaysia is a multi-religious nation but religion had never been a flashpoint of division, disunity and discord in our society until the recent years.

The interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee has not squared up to this inter-religious problem and challenge, in particular the holding of inter-religious dialogues, and I hope that when its final report is presented to Parliament, the Select Committee will address this problem courageously and come out with bold recommendations on this important facet of national unity.

(Speech in the debate on the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service in the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday, 10th May 2007 at 9.15 pm)

  1. #1 by democrate on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:04 am

    A Chinese says, Mouth does not tele with the heart, where is our sincerity as a multi religion nation. Why so timid to meet other religion? Learn from Our neighbour, A muslim can visit a temple while a Chinese is allowed to vist a mosque same thing being applying to the Indians and other races. BN believes in multi religion in Malaysia, but due to pressure from the Pas, they have to act more Islamic than THEIR OPPONENTS.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:16 am

    As Jack Nicholson said “YOU WANT THE TRUTH? YOU CAN”T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!”.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:26 am

    In the line of this topic of the hypocrisy of religious tolerance in Malaysia, check out Malaysia-today’s latest revelation about Musa and the Goddess of Mercy project proposed by ex-Sabah Toursim Minister

    Who are we kidding? We don’t have religious tolerance, we have religious repression.

  4. #4 by madmix on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:38 am

    when you believe that your religion is the only true religion, then all others become unspeakable and only to be despised as false believes.
    It would be an insult to you to sit down with sinners and believers of false gods.

  5. #5 by setu on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:41 am

    with such kind of a last minute cancellation, well, what would you conclude the whole world will be thinking, suspicious, saying, talking and laughing about ?

    also the slow brain ticking, thinking and decision making process ?

    below is another world talk / joke / laughter.

    two parliamentarians were accused of using unparliamentary language :
    “Where is the leak, the member for Batu Gajah also leaks once a month.” ”

    aiyoyo, kepong highway retak/bocor,
    putrajaya paip bocor,
    jalan duta court pecah/bocor,
    atap bumbung bangunan parlimen pun bocor,
    ask the relevant authority, JKR , ” WHERE IS THE LEAK ? “.

  6. #6 by politikamalaysia on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:01 pm

    I completely agree with Bigjoe. There is no real freedom of religion in Malaysia. It’s all a whitewash to paint a wonderful picture – of old – basically saying that we are a multicultural, multireligious nation where everyone gets along, when in actuality, there are racist undertones driven by matters such as these. I believe that the people are getting tired and having the wool pulled over our eyes.

    As a non muslim, I have no issues with the spreading of the word of Islam. But why are we constantly being prevented from exercising our religious rights?

    Unless you have ever been involved or close to the establishment of a religious society, church premises or the equivalent of other religions, you will never see and understand what our government does to prevent it from happening.

    Some examples:
    1. The catholic church in Shah Alam, property was given to the church by the Sultan of Selangor for the parish to gather their funds to build the Church. Just after the ground breaking, and construction begins, the state government comes in and revokes the right to build the church.

    2. Monks and Priests always seem to have problems gaining entry into the country. Their Visa’s are never more than 1 month and usually they are not allowed to extend their stay.

    3. The Catholic Church has a shortage of priests, so much so that we have old and aged priests, one who is a stroke patient, having to perform Mass.

    In other cases, even if you had the money, you can’t build your Church or Temple as it wouldn’t be approved by the state government. However, mosques are everywhere. Just look at the Wangsa Maju and Ulu Kelang area, why need there be so many? Also, mosques are built using state funds and state funds are gained from taxes not only paid by Muslims, but by those of other faiths.

    Sure, I don’t mind if you want to build mosques that cost tenths of millions of ringgit, a real waste if you ask me. Just see the Jalan Duta mosque that is built on prime property that was sponsored by the Ministry of Finance. But what I won’t accept is the inequality and the misuse of public funds to build these mosques whilst you denying other faiths their right to churches and temples. The best part, we aren’t even challenging the fact that the government doesn’t subsidise the building of our places of worship.

    So in the meantime, while you build another enourmous mosque in Wangsa Maju (near Jusco), the money spent by the project sponsors – DBKL, fails to address the poor road conditions that are used by thousands of residents and the public every day.

    In the case of the Goddess of Mercy project, what does it matter what distance it is from a mosque? Is it because it stands taller than a mosque and therefore some small minded individuals feel that it represents a greater faith than Islam? Well, if this is so, then it is the government’s duty to educate these people because it isn’t the case.

    Isn’t it unfair that everyone, accept the state government’s “bulldozing” decision to build cemetrys in prime areas like Kota Damansara and Desa Kiara (Along the NKVE), even infringing the law by demolishing forest reserve land and by doing so, destroying property values. While the same people impose upon us that we cannot build our places of worship here and there. Consider this, the non muslim cemetrys now have to be built far out in the “boonies”. Such as the Nilai Memorial Park that is a great distance from the city. If some people can have the convenience, I would like that too.

    It’s time for these issues to come into the open, there is only so much and so long people can tolerate this.

  7. #7 by sotong on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:08 pm

    Decades of misinformation and misguidance of religion had done enormous damage to the country.

    If you can’t have a discussion on religions in a multi religious country, what future is there for the country?

  8. #8 by optimuz on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:10 pm

    the leak is indeed in their head…no more brain fluid…but then, that would imply that they had a brain in the 1st place!

    I digress…the govt has just proven that it is all talk and no walk. Form over substance yet again…gaya mesti ada mah!

  9. #9 by lakshy on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 12:21 pm

    From Zig Ziglar’s “See You at the Top”, 25th anniversary edition.

    Easily the most tragic cause of poor self-image is the influence and impact of some well-intentioned preachers, churches, and good people who only preach hell, fire, and brimstone. People who preach only God’s judgement with little or no mention of God’s love stress the negative and very seldom mention the positive. They dwell on punishment and forget about rewards. Personally, if I thought God was “against” me and was out to “get” me, it would definitely give me a poor self-image.

    The second reason many people have poor self-images out of proportion to their talent and ability is simple. Their ability, appearance, or intelligence has been ridiculed or questioned repeatedly by parents, teachers, friends, and others in authority (government?). In many cases, these hurts come in the form of insinuations and innuendoes, but they are just as real and devastating as if they were true. Many times, even a chance or unintentional remark starts the negative slide which is then fed by hurts that are real or just imagined. The net result is, we see ourselves through the negative eyes of others. If your friends, family, and associates find fault like there is a reward for it, you get a distorted picture of the real you.

    In other cases, an unthinking or exaggerated series of statements has a negative effect on the self image of a youngster.

    The destructiveness of this approach should be obvious, but unfortunately, it is often anything but obvious.

  10. #10 by a-malaysian on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 3:10 pm

    Tolerant and religious freedom in this country, preached by the hadwhateverdari bodohwi, my foot.

    bodohwi hadwhateverdari is not even accepted by his own muslim people like Tun M. What moderate islam is bodohwi trying to preach. Poor and bad thinking.

    50 years is ENOUGH
    Vote For A Change
    Vote For Any Opposition
    Give Them A Chance To Change For A Better Malaysia
    Remember bn Is A Useless Grouping Of Self Serving, Corrupt, Dictator, Power Crazy, Racist, Kris waving, etc, etc type of parties.

  11. #11 by Jimm on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 3:17 pm

    In the coming GE, make sure that we all vote for opposition in all state level seats. All these can be addressed.

  12. #12 by Jimm on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 3:18 pm

    It’s those advisors to the ruler that worries about the outcome of each GE that why we keep having the same government ever since.

  13. #13 by ihavesomethingtosay on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 4:27 pm

    “Datuk Dr. Maximus Ongkili said the government encouraged inter-religious dialogue to promote inter-religious understanding and national integration.”


  14. #14 by awesome on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 4:58 pm

    Many times we do not really understand why some inte-religious dialogues are not permitted. Perhaps there is the apprehension that it would spark off some problems or tensions. This is understandable.

    However after giving the permission and to cancel last minute with out considering the fact that our foreign delegates have bought their tickets and paid for their hotel etc expenses, it is bad. It is really bad to do that. It spoils the name of our country…don’t you think?

    We have to walk the talk. If we say that we exercise religious freedom, then allow people of all beliefs to air their programs on tv or radio! If there is nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of why not? Why prevent churches from acquiring lands to build or temples too? You know in United Arab Emirates within the vicinity of a huge mosque lays a premise for Christians to worship. Pretty big too and within walking distance and so close to the mosque.

    So clearly to have people of other faiths worshipping near a mosque should be no issue. Is it not fear? Really I am saying this based on the previous comment on the issue of building the goddess of mercy by politikamalaysia. Hope the information is correct.

    If Muslims are not threatened then relax and don’t be so defensive. If one is a Islam, and not threaten that someone is going to convert him/her, why be so paranoid? You know by not giving people the opportunity to know about other faith, one becomes so narrow and shallow in thinking. By preventing and laying restriction and trying to protect, one can’t help the curiosity to arise. The more restriction, the more rebellion, you know. So relax.

    If what we believe is true and we are so convinced by it why are we afraid? Why is the government afraid? Why are Muslims seen as cowards who are afraid that there would be conversions if other faiths are aired in TV? Why the restriction?
    Too much control only leads to rebellion.

    My 2 cent advice to Mr. Prime Minister and UMNO is relax lah don’t be so tensed up and protective. Give some breathing ground to everyone. Prove that you really mean it that you believe in religious freedom.

    Relax on Christians, Buddist, Hindus and other religions. Let them hold their conferences, invite their guest speakers or delegates. It is good for foreigners to see how moderate we are..right? Don’t send everything to Shariah court. You are just annoying everyone and frustrating them.

    Besides it is ‘Visit Malaysia Year’ it not? Do not be paraniod and fearful and control so tightly. If children can rebel under such control what do you think of the adults? So much of control and restriction only goes to show one thing, FEAR! Why are we so fearful and paranoid? – That is my question!

  15. #15 by FuturePolitician on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 5:09 pm

    I keep my comments out of this area….

  16. #16 by MISHUGINA on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:09 pm

    “However, mosques are everywhere. Just look at the Wangsa Maju and Ulu Kelang area, why need there be so many? Also, mosques are built using state funds and state funds are gained from taxes not only paid by Muslims, but by those of other faiths.”

    Let me add along your comments politkamalaysia that most of these mosques are white elephants. The congregation of worshippers is so sparse it’s only enough to fill a surau. Is it me or the new Islamofascists of UMNO policy is that suraus are bunk and only construction of huge mega-mosques are acceptable? Waste of space and waste of taxpayers money.

    I don’t mind even supporting the BN if they’re blunt and honest for once. They talk of religious tolerance and behind our backs they do all sorts of **** like banning interfaith dialogues, demolishing hindu temples and allow Xtians to only congregate in shophouses. They sweet talk the Chinese in Ijok to fish votes and yet not long ago they were waving keris and accusing them of trying to take advantage of Malays. Cakap lain serupa bikin. To hell with the king of hypocrites.

  17. #17 by HJ Angus on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 6:24 pm

    First MU football tour is cancelled.
    Now Inter-Faith Conference is banned.

    Quite good advertising for VMY2007 don’t you think?

  18. #18 by raven77 on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 10:16 pm

    Rather then crying about this…move it quickly to Singapore with some arrangements withe their governmet there and carry on. Just ignore these guys…bunch of little napoleans…follow Gandhi.dont react just ignore till they go bankrupt….if they are not already….LKS creatively organise alternatives…words alone may make our voices hoarse..

  19. #19 by sheriff singh on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:07 pm

    Pak Lah said today he wants the Manchester United v Malaysia football match to go on.

    Will he do the same for the Inter Faith Conference which his government banned but no-one wants to take responsibility?

    Is a football match more important than inter-faith dialogue? What is the PM’s priority?

  20. #20 by Tom Peters on Friday, 11 May 2007 - 11:23 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 pre-empted a potentially violent Islamist’ mob. A mob which is aware of the injunctions against parrying with the infidel (pardon my french) and that such a dialogue would fit the bill.

  21. #21 by japankiller on Saturday, 12 May 2007 - 4:01 am

    seems like Malaysia are the real extremist, not Osama. No wonder those terrorist leader in Indonesia are actually from Malaysia. Where did our money go?funding for those terrorist attack?

  22. #22 by HJ Angus on Saturday, 12 May 2007 - 11:00 am

    Surprising that he was concerned about the MU match cancellation but not even a whimper about the InterFaith Conference.

    Guess he is only playing to the gallery.
    This incident of banning the conference has damaged our reputation as a nation that promotes religious harmony – maybe that was just a mirage only.

  23. #23 by undergrad2 on Saturday, 12 May 2007 - 9:39 pm

    “This incident of banning the conference has damaged our reputation as a nation that promotes religious harmony..”

    Don’t make me laugh!

    Malaysia cannot lose what it does not have. Nor can anything be damaged if it does not have anything that could be damaged.

  24. #24 by HJ Angus on Sunday, 13 May 2007 - 7:25 am

    “Don’t make me laugh!”

    If you quote people out of context you are a strange person to laugh at your own conjecture!

  25. #25 by Loh on Sunday, 13 May 2007 - 11:45 am

    AAB has clarified that it was because of his schedule, he would not be around at the time set for the conference, that the meeting has been rescheduled. It was not a ban on the meeting. It is strange that AAB only clarifies matters when the issue became history!

  26. #26 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Monday, 14 May 2007 - 9:53 pm

    Honest religious discussion and genuine religious practices and the freedom to practise one’s faith are shoved aside under all kinds of pseudo reasons whilst pesudo religious discourse and ceremonies of all kinds of hypocrisy proliferate in Malaysia where politicians take the phot-opp to wear their religions on their sleeves.

    This is so sad for Malaysia. Should we wonder why morality and religion are going to the dogs in this country?

  27. #27 by accountability on Thursday, 17 May 2007 - 12:00 am

    this is good!

    the world now knows the truth – malaysia is run by corrupt islamist extremists

  28. #28 by oceanpet on Sunday, 8 July 2007 - 5:11 pm

    The best job they ever done is swept them under the skirt where no one can see?? Believe me, there is someone watching up there.

You must be logged in to post a comment.