Syabas to Penang’s interfaith panel

By Thomas Lee

Penang has become the first state in the country to establish a state executive council portfolio to handle religious matters relating to the non-Islamic religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism, Taoism and Hinduism.

The high-profile Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee is headed by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng himself, with Deputy Chief Minister (II) Prof Dr P. Ramasamy as the deputy chairman.

The proposal for the committee was tabled by Ramasamy at the recent weekly state executive council meeting and approved.

The establishment of the exco committee marks the high point in the state’s celebration of the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week this week.

According to Guan Eng, the exco portfolio seeks to promote diversity and positive human interaction on cultural, religious and social spheres, matters which are consistent with George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage city.

“Despite our differences, we are united by our common aspirations for good practices and universal moral values of peace, justice, moderation and harmony. Co-operation not confrontation, mutual respect not tolerance, and understanding not ignorance will be the governing creed of this new Penang exco portfolio,” Guan Eng said.

As a demonstration of his sincere and pragmatic approach to the matter of racial and religious harmony, Guan Eng has offered to co-operate and work with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to prevent any extremist or militant groups from threatening the unity and security of the country.

Najib had expressed similar hopes when he addressed the United Nations 65th general assembly last year.

Guan Eng said that the Penang state government is concerned at the existence of extremist groups which seek to racialise every event for their own selfish interests.

He pointed out that the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled Penang state government has been under siege with constant unwarranted attacks of being anti-Malay even if a simple and small matter involves merely 10% Malays or one Malay out of 10 affected parties.

Guan Eng urged the people to embrace the future by embracing every Malay, Indian, Chinese, Kadazan and Iban, as Malaysian brothers and sisters, Malaysian sons and daughters, so that “we grow together, learn together and enjoy the success together”.

Guan Eng must be given full support for dealing with the inter-faith issue sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than mere rhetorical and theoretical considerations.

The setting-up of the high-profile Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee in Penang is certainly a very positive practical first step in dealing with and managing the most highly sensitive inter-racial and inter-religious potency in our pluralistic multi-faceted society.

In every human society throughout the world and throughout history, the various religions and their theologies, ethics, and traditions influence everything else, shaping socio-economic and political ideas and ideals, attitudes and institutions. Religious teachings and traditions shape how people respond to each other in their daily social inter-course and interaction in the community at large.

Most of us jealously preserve and protect our own religious beliefs and traditions as generally they symbolize our essential identities, theologically, historically, culturally, socially, and even politically. Ultimately, our religious faiths symbolize for us as communities and individuals our dignity as persons and our very souls.

Hence, in our multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ideological society, the only way for us to live in peace and harmony is for us to live in peaceful co-existence, recognizing, understanding, accepting, respecting, and even enduring patiently and lovingly with each other.

Obviously, there are some of us who believe that we must “share our faith” with those whom we consider “lost”, and will go all out to convert people of the other faiths.

Of course, such motivation to bring about redemption for those whom we believe are doomed may not be bad or wrong, but the way we “share our faith” or propagate our religious beliefs must take into consideration the fundamental human and divine rights of others to believe and practise their particular faiths.

In the preocess of seeking to evangelise or seeking to win others to our own faith, we must not run down, denounce or condemn the religious systems of others. About the only legitimate way we can share our faith is just to tell and explain our faith to those who are willing to hear, period. It is certainly not at all right and proper to deprecate and desecrate the religious beliefs of others.

Hence, I believe the most vital tool in the promotion of religious harmony among people of various faiths and belief systems is dialogue.

Guan Eng’s Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee should perhaps consider holding regular roundtable dialogues for the leaders of the various religious groups in the state as a mean to promote understanding and fellowship.

The issues to be discussed should be those of common universal ethical values and matters of common interests in the socio-economic and political fields.

Such a roundtable dialogue could be held whenever some socio-religious issues that cause confusion and controversy among the people. For example, the recent controversy over the Valentine’s Day celebration could easily have been resolved following a declaration by a roundtable consensus.

Actually, the Valentine’s Day controversy was not a real issue but exploited by some silly brainless people to gain public attention and promote their narrow political-religious agenda. The storm in the Valentine tea cup stirred up by the not-so-intelligent and not-so-informed smart alexes could have simply be dismissed as a petty trivial matter.

One significant way for a plural society like Malaysia to cultivate, promote and develop interfaith harmony is through education. Much of the confusion and conflicts concerning religion is caused by the lack of understanding and appreciation of the real teachings and practices of each other’s religion.

Hence, I believe that have religious studies as a compulsory subject in school could help promote understanding, appreciation and acceptance of each other’s faith.

Currently, only the Muslim students have the privilege to attend lessons on their faith from primary to secondary school level. It is time to make the study of comparative religions a subject for all students, so that our young people will grow up with a balanced attitude towards people of other faith. And to ensure there is no accusations or charges of deceptive presentation of the various religions, the textbooks for the various faiths should be written and recommended by the religious authorities of the faiths concerned.

There are several things that Guan Eng’s Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee should initially do.

First, it should draft a code of interfaith relationship, listing out the various areas where religious leaders can jointly work together, and the sensitivities of each religious faiths.
Secondly, it should appoint a panel of religious experts to monitor the state of interfaith relationship in Penang.

Thirdly, it should hold an annual interfaith conference over one weekend, inviting respected world religious leaders to share and talk on issues of common universal religious-moral values and practices.

Finally, it should embark of an information cum education campaign among the people by publishing a weekly state government newspaper to let them know what the state government is doing. The mainstream media have not been fair to the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states, and have been ignoring important messages by the elected leaders of the state. For example, Guan Eng’s Chinese New Year was not given any coverage in the mainstream newspapers.

Guan Eng’s Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee deserves the support of all the people, especially the religious authorities of the various faiths. Our plural Malaysian society is currently in a frail state, with fragile grip on the racial-religious reality we are in. Hence, we must support Guan Eng’s very noble effort at seeking to bring together the people of all faiths to live and co-exist in peace and harmony.

  1. #1 by Not spoon fed on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 12:19 am

    More “first” are coming out of Penang state! We could expect more “first” which are righteous and good ones from new government, the Pakatan Rakyat!

    The best “first”:
    Never a state (forget about federal government!) in the history of Malaysia since 1957 has ever received a praise from a world body: Transparency International. Penang state government has received a praise from TI in 2009 in such a short period since the general election on 8/3/2008.

    ( attached page 272: download [page 247-304])

    What are you waitng for the people of Sabah and Sarawak? Govern your own resources and don’t let corrupted leaders shuck your resources!

    How does corruption affect people’s lives?
    Around the globe, corruption impacts people’s lives in a multitude of ways. In the worst cases, corruption costs lives. In countless other cases, it costs their freedom, health, or money. It has dire global consequences, trapping millions in poverty and misery, while breeding social, economic and political unrest. CORRUPTION is both a cause of POVERTY, and a barrier to overcoming it.

  2. #2 by tak tahan on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 1:28 am

    I will go out for you and LGE cause i have faith in you,period.Your every action bellied your every talk as far i know thru my senses.Fight all the way…and you will be the honoured legend we have in bolehland.Otherwise who else?But take care please. because we have too many nasty guys here with religion and race comparitive championship of the highest degree of ministy of darkness -undertaker my favourite WWF wrestling.What say you?

  3. #3 by pulau_sibu on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 5:13 am

    Christian banned the Chinese from worshiping the ancestors, such as burning ‘money’ and incense. Is this a kind of intrusion to the fundamental rights of the Chinese Christians? The same things happened to the Ibans that are killing their culture.

    • #4 by ChinNA on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 6:29 am

      Pulau Sibu,
      This is how I understand the Christian faith as a Chinese Christian. The burning of paper money and incense represents the act of worshiping another entity other then God (the entity Christians believed to be almighty and absolute). This practice is prohibited by a fundamental belief that a Christian can have no other God but the Lord.

      Therefore this practice of burning paper money and incense contravenes it.

      It is the right of everyone (in this case, Chinese) to exercise a religion of thier choice. Choose the Christian faith and practices or keep to the traditional practices. This personal choice is important and cannot be challenged.

      Once the choice is made, then it is only right that the person follows the tenets of faith of his choice. In the example that you mentioned, it is clearly written in the Bible that a Christian can only worship one God.

      Is that right? Is that wrong? Let’s not debate it because the decision belongs to the individual and in the end, it all boils down the statement of faith and beliefs, which can be very subjective.

      Bottom line is: When someone choose to follow and embrace a faith, you must endeavor to live by its teachings or else what is the point.

      Therefore, it does not intrude in the fundamental rights of a Chinese Christian.

  4. #5 by pulau_sibu on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 6:53 am

    I think the Chinese burning is a culture or tradition, and they are not necessarily practicing Taoism. It is the same as Ibans. They don’t even have a God in mind, but respecting the one passing away.

  5. #6 by lkt-56 on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 9:44 am

    …the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled Penang state government has been under siege with constant unwarranted attacks of being anti-Malay even if a simple and small matter involves merely 10% Malays or one Malay out of 10 affected parties…

    The way to tackle this is to calmly explain the situation. if they persist to attack just ignore them.

    Change subject:
    The Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee
    I have mixed feelings about this as it does not include the Islamic faith. So how will this comittee deal with those of Islamic faith?

  6. #7 by tak tahan on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 10:09 am

    Change subject:
    The Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee
    I have mixed feelings about this as it does not include the Islamic faith. So how will this comittee deal with those of Islamic faith? by Ikt-56

    Leave them alone cause their are special breed.You can’t include them as they had already shown they and their god are supreme and above everybody.They claimed a special god created them so special like they can make special burger with cheese,you know?At this moment dont’ waste time on them if the government of the day still consider everything inclusive is an intrusion to their right and belief as well as the same for rambutan.

  7. #8 by boh-liao on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 10:22 am

    How 2 influence voters when 1 is no fren of Shah Rukh Khan? No take fotograf with him?
    U no see CM of Melaka smiling broadly next 2 Shah Rukh Khan? Or shaking hand with him?
    So nice 1, fotos like these will guarantee votes 4 UmnoB/BN fr Indian voters

  8. #9 by Ray on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 12:10 pm

    Kudos to CM Lim GE and his team,
    Indeed personally found this precious contribution message very humane and of sound civic mind together these blogger twitters comments.
    BTW no one in these world can claim as for his/her God or allah supremacy bullshits .
    God created ALL MEN EQUALS .s due to our human sins borned within our weak flesh,corrupted soul unecessary misunderstanding inflictions on others faith which is actually causing all these pains,war sufferings hatredness,self racist religious political gains, climate changes (al nino ) etc the list goes on… this beautiful creation…spring summer Autumn and winter seasons…
    Its high time to have 1st Malaysia Penang interfaith dailogue to promote religious harmony, unity and peace among our neighbour as well as a role model for all nations..

  9. #10 by boh-liao on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 12:26 pm

    Dis interfaith panel thingy is great but does not grab d attention of youths n rakyat
    Our youths n rakyat at dis moment r more interested in SEX education mah
    Sodomy, oral attempted, rectal attempted, penetration partial/full, duration of coitus
    Waooh, some many new sexciting English, Malay, Chinese terms in msm 2 learn
    In school, ask teachers 2 explain n demonstrate, teachers no explain n show 1
    At home, ask parents 2 explain n demonstrate, parents also no do 1
    How 2 expect youths 2 learn things n b global in outlook?

    Our forensic pathologists can pakai aaah? Can or not?
    They wrote oral attempted (NOT oral performed), rectal attempted (NOT rectal performed), ejaculation: Yes, penetration full, estimated duration of coitus: 30 minutes
    Waooh, highly imaginative! Ful of sai must really hv enjoyed attempted act 4 30 min

  10. #11 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 1:52 pm

    Umno goons where got faith? they only have faith in 30% free money, NEP, ketuanan. proyek-proyek kera-jaan. Surelah they need to hide all these hideous things behind religion and race. ask mamak, cintanegala and iblahim.
    after 54years, what comes from them. we got balik negara asal cikgu. Mata sepet and botoi minister. valentine siti and tampons woman.

    you see, what faith? bigots have la. we have apartheid plus Nazism type of democracy here.

  11. #12 by k1980 on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 2:06 pm

    Oh the horrors if umno wins!…-captain-iskandar-dzulkarnain/

  12. #13 by hiro on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 10:16 pm

    Uncle Lim, I haven’t been on your site for a while, but feel that the need arises today. Just one look at Malaysiakini and I can’t help but wonder, is there a mass conspiracy working on overdrive to discredit the federal opposition ahead of the GE by the end of the year? I see an onslaught of criticism, to the extent of calling Wan Azizah a lawyer, semen found on Saiful’s pants, strong language from Penang UMNO and Gerakan saying LGE has failed to bring the state forward, and at the same time painting glorious pictures of 6% GDP growth this year. I know BN’s job is to discredit the opposition, but my heart sinks to think that they can get away with murder because there is no accountability in the press. Friends of mine who are no less than professionals in their field seem to have been bought into this “Pakatan is no better” fallacy. I only have these questions for you, Uncle Lim -is Pakatan losing this propaganda warfare? Does Pakatan have a plan to counter this? And what does Pakatan want its supporters to do to counter this?

  13. #14 by monsterball on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 11:31 pm

    Taoism is totally widely practiced by Buddhists.
    Many cannot differentiate Tarivadians and Mahayanians Buddhists.
    It is like Methodists and Catholics in the Christiandom….totally different.
    Burning of paper money…offerings of food stuffs and burning off all sorts of paper made stuffs are signs of great love and respect for the dead…..nothing more…nothing less.
    Buddhism is not a religion. It is a Way of Life….and we do not believe in one God but thousands died as godly holy people are gods to Buddhists…starting from Prince Siddhartha Gautama…who purified and perfected his life..yet he is not the only God to Buddhists.
    If interfaith is to succeed…all must have good general knowledge of all religions,,,to start talking.
    All must have comparative religion knowledge.
    The late great Muslim scholar. Ahmed Deedat of South Africa..can quote the whole Bible….that not one Christians Pastors or Preachers…in the world can do it….and that is why Jesus is now known as mighty Messiah..not the begotten son of God.


  14. #15 by monsterball on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 11:42 pm

    I am glad Lim Guan Eng is heading the Interfaith Penang.
    As for Najib…he proposes and disposes what he proposed umpteen times have been seen all along.
    With crime rates rising…Najib dare not impose the Rukun Tetanga concept again…as he fears that will make him loose more votes…and so profiteers are cashing in as Guard N Gate group..out to help reduce crimes. These are no more no having gangsters housing estates…and Najib dare not stop it.
    Concerning religious affairs….it is a joke to me..having a corrupted PM to promote righteousness and truthfulness..for unity and harmony.

  15. #16 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 17 February 2011 - 11:43 pm

    The reality of the human race is indeed complex and i am still wondering as to why we all have different tongues? Is this a test by the Creator Himself to try out the human’s intelligence on how to ‘co-exist’ peacefully? Or indeed a way to confuse the human race who could not crawl out of their basic animal instinct because of fear, greed and ego? in spite of the preaching of all religions especially those founded recently, i.e. based on the human race supposedly history of some 5,000 to 6,000 years, the human race still could not figure out so many issues confronting us , except killing in the name of the Creator! If that is the end result of all these years of being “civilized” then the human race deserves the nuclear bombs for all its civilization!. History like all writings are written by people with a motive but the worst kind of history is the type written by you know who!! And they did it all in HIS Name!

  16. #17 by monsterball on Friday, 18 February 2011 - 4:08 am

    The clear ONE weakness of Malaysians Chinese is selfishness.
    The Malays are made weak and meek by the system created by Mahathir….in schools..and government offices by encouraging corruptions to the Malays and keep on wanting that…with the race twisting dirty politics…interpretations..using the power in office to shut mouths and arrest those that dare to go against him.
    There is nothing to do with human race history in Malaysia.
    It is simply pure corrupted evil minded leaders..drumming up race and religion issues to make sure all love corruptions and to protect their race..and these terrible sinful crooks have steal billions with no fear….that their own race will protest or object to that…for all are programmed the money are stolen from enemies….
    It is history dictators got rich and stayed in power in European countries…that Mahathir read so much and copy.
    Yes…Mahathir brought Malaysia backward..never forward….and to this day..he is still trying to fool Malaysians.

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