The Najib position on pluralism

By Thomas Lee

Another religious controversy is brewing over the Prime Minister’s warning to Muslims last week that religious pluralism is un-Islamic because it places Islam on an equal footing with other faiths.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak has also asked government Islamic agencies and religious teachers to explain the issue of pluralism to the Muslim community.

Najib’s statement is being challenged by various quarters alleging that his stand would cause confusion and religious disharmaony among the people.

However, the Rev Thomas Phillips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCST), has come out in defence of Najid, saying that all religions had their own theological stand and advised the people against taking Najib’s statement out of context.

“Najib’s statement should be taken as a theological stand. He was addressing a Muslim group so he has his own right as a Muslim,” Phillips was quoted by The Malaysian Insider as saying, adding that he did not see anything wrong with the PM’s speech. “If I were addressing a Christian group, I’d say the same thing. What’s a fact is that all religious groups are not equal,” said Phillips, who is also the head of the Mar Thoma Church in Malaysia.

Philips also does not foresee Najib’s statement holding up ongoing talks in the government’s year-old national interfaith panel because “we’re not talking about theology in there.”

The Committee to Promote Harmony and Understanding Among Religious Adherents was established by Najib in April last year following a spate of attacks against houses of worship nationwide earlier the same year, following the controversy over the use of the word Allah by Christians. The High Court had ruled on 31 December 2009 that Christians have the human and constitutional right to use the word.

I endorse and support what Philips says, and would want to be fair to Najib that as Islam claims to be an exclusive faith with its Declaration of Faith (Shahada) that “There is no God, but Allah” (La ilah illa Ilah) and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger (Wa Muhammad rasul u’llah)”, his stand is consistent with his faith. Najib would be consider a hypocrite if he has not make such a stand.

From the strictly theological perspective, Islam, like Christianity, is certainly an exclusive religious faith, and the Najib position is certainly consistent with the fundamental theology of Islam, and no one should dispute the fact (see my Comment published in December 2010, appended below).

The fundamental issue which many people fail to note is not so much about the exclusive theological position of each faith, but the matter of mutual recognition and acceptance of the right of all religions to co-exist without any legal restraint and political constraint in our multifaceted plural society.

The concept of pluralism in religion is generally viewed as a threat to the theological integrity of the monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity, whose hardcore adherent consider it an excruciating and harrowing compromise and dilution of their doctrinal beliefs.

Such a view is understandable, and should be respected by all people of all faiths and belief systems.

Having said that, there is another side of pluralism, which I think should be renamed multi-credo co-operation, which does not involve any theological, doctrinal, or spiritual compromise on the part of all participating religious groups.

This is the coming together on the basis of our common humanity and the universal moral values, to fellowship, share, dialogue, articulate, and work together to preserve, protect, promote and propagate our fundamental human, civil and constitution rights, and to strive together as one people to build and develop our nation for the greater good of all citizens.

Much misunderstandings, confusion, and conflicts could be resolved amicably if we are able to come together to dialogue, discuss and even debate on issues of common concern.

In our multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-idealogical society, it is very obvious that pluralism is the defining way of life and lifestyle now and in future.

Hence, there is an urgent need to ensure that the matter of interfaith relation would not be exploited as a racial-religious issue by the evil politicians who are out to deliberately damage and destroy the harmony and unity of the people to achieve their immoral political ambition.

Most of the time, these wicked politicians suceed in their perverted and perversed agenda, simply because of the ignorance and gullibility of the people who are being bombarded daily with distorted news reports, socio-political analysis and commentaries in the mainstream news media.

The urgent task needed now is for the honest political, community and religious leaders to articulate the need and relevance of a pragmatic approach to interfaith relationship, in terms that are meaningful, relevant and authoritatively among the people so that they could be led to explore, discover, recognise, and accept each other’s religion without any suspicion and phobia.

Hence, the Federal Committee to Promote Harmony and Understanding Among Religious Adherents initiated by Najib, and the Penang executive council portfolio to handle non-Muslim religious issues headed by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng are both relevant and deserved to be supported by all people of all faiths.

Religious misunderstanding is a ticking time-bomb ready to explore anytime if no effort is taken now to defuse it.

Here, the media have a very vital responsibility to accurately report the truth, and not to allow the immoral and irresponsible politicians and racial-religious bigots to use and exploit them to deactivate the sensitive time-bomb to damage and destroy our beloved nation.

This task of curbing the spread of religious fanaticism, bigotry, and zealotry takes place within the context of the historical time-space religious, traditional, cultural and socio-economic environment of our nation, and must therefore take into consideration all these factors when formulating strategies to achieve it.

Hence, the necessity for the formulation of an incarnational co-operative policy among all religious groups, and the development of grassroots programmes to bring together people of various faiths for fellowship and sharing in ideas and ideals.

Hence, the necessity for the introduction of comparative religious studies in our education system so as to promote understanding, recognition, acceotance, and respect for each other’s religion among our young people.

Hence, we must, in our various ways, unite in prayer and action to strive for a peaceful and harmonious co-existence of all people of all religious faiths in our nation.

Malaysians are not just religious people living in a spiritual vacuum; our spirituality must be demonstrated visibly and vocally by how we live together in peace, harmony and love in the midst of our plural society.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 12:07 pm

    I believe the term “religious pluralism” means when a believer of a certain faith worships the God of his faith and at the same time also worships gods of other faiths, then he has committed religious pluralism. For example, when a Christian worships Jesus and also worships Buddha, then that is religious pluralism.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 12:14 pm

    Najib should not twist the term “religious pluralism” to garner political support.

  3. #3 by Godfather on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 12:20 pm

    This Reverend Thomas Phillips sounds like a typical non-Malay apologist for UMNO, just like the spineless dudes at MCA and MIC.

    ““If I were addressing a Christian group, I’d say the same thing.”

    Oh yeah, so why don’t you go ahead and say that Christianity is superior to other religions to your flock ? I will bet you that there will be Perkasa-led demos once this matter is publicised, and there will be attacks on churches.

    The right thing to do is to seek an explanation from Najib. Is he saying that this country places Islam on a superior pedestal to other religions ? Ask him what “superiority” means in terms of faiths.

    My suspicion is that all these are heading back towards the “ketuanan” thingy, and if we keep apologising on behalf of UMNO, then we might as well accept that we have this master-servant relationship.

  4. #4 by k1980 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 1:06 pm

    //What’s a fact is that all religious groups are not equal,” said Phillips//

    To paraphrase Animal Farm,

    “All religions are equal, but some are more equal than the others”.
    Meaning to say, the religion of the fella with the bigger gun will be ‘more equal’ than the religions of those with smaller guns.

  5. #5 by k1980 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 1:09 pm

    As cintanegara would say, “My rambutan tree is bigger than your rambutan tree. So my religion is more equal than yours”

  6. #6 by undertaker888 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 1:26 pm

    //However, the Rev Thomas Phillips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCST), has come out in defence of Najid, saying that all religions had their own theological stand and advised the people against taking Najib’s statement out of context.///

    you know, during hitler’s rule, the religious hypocrite also kowtowing to him. but what happened to them later on? guess they never learnt from history.

    they are the scarlet whores riding on the beasts. they are drunk with blood of the innocents.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 1:31 pm

    My religion is greater than your religion, get it?, says the big cat to the small one

  8. #8 by lkt-56 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 1:49 pm

    Rev Philips, Najib is the prime minister of Malaysia and not a theologian.

    Thinking Malaysians will be able to make up their own mind about Najib’s speech.

  9. #9 by tak tahan on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 3:05 pm

    Every religion varied in a different way or belief for certain group of people to worship god.Just adhere to what you believe or if you choose not to.What is so big big deal about this whole thing.We don’t have the right to decide which religion or god is more superior.Are we above god?If we don’t believe god,would god punish us and make us suffer more?Each individual integrity and dignity are more important than his/her faith to god!To be superior,we have to earn it through our good example and deed.Other than that,talk is cheap,real dirt cheap!

  10. #10 by undertaker888 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 6:20 pm

    remember the disciples arguing who amongst them is the greatest. well christ replied those who shown mercy, humble, God fearing and a slave to others will be considered the greatest amongst all. In that sense, the religion that practice this is also great.

    does this C4 guy shown any of the above? if not how can his religion be superior?

  11. #11 by good coolie on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 9:28 pm

    This belief in the superiority of one’s own religion is characteristic of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). I am a Christian, and would wish everyone to know Christ (I belong to a proselytizing religion). Let me believe that my religion is the best guide for human kind! Let me believe this while, at the same time, recognizing that you may believe the very same of your own religion. As a Christian of the Roman Catholic denomination, I believe in the worth of all religions in their ability to lead people to God. Even if the Church had not taught me this, I would have sensed this with the gift of intuition given by God’s Spirit.

  12. #12 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 1:33 am

    Dis Najip guy qualified 2 talk abt Islamic thingy aah?

  13. #13 by Loh on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 1:28 pm

    ///What’s a fact is that all religious groups are not equal,” said Phillips, who is also the head of the Mar Thoma Church in Malaysia.///

    By that we can conclude that religion is like political party the strength of which depends on the number of supporters. Thus the teachings of the religion does not matter, and by number Islam is superior to others in Malaysia. But in India, Hinduism is superior to Islam. In USA Christian is superior to Islam, and some might want to equate religion with wealth. Why can’t religious leaders learn the purpose of religion and stop comparing and competing with others on the claim for superiority of the religious belief one holds? By saying that it is OK for one to believe that his religious is superior to others means that it is OK to be superstitious. It might be acceptable to believe in the teachings of the religion in good or blind faith, but it is not acceptable to believe and take a position that one is superior to others without making comprehensive studies. May be Phillip is advocating that when one is religious, he should stop thinking!

  14. #14 by Loh on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 1:32 pm

    UMNO controls this world in Malaysia now. But it is extending its control over the next world with Najib declaring that his God is superior to the God others believe in.

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