Friday, January 29, 2010

Inter-faith dialogue the only way forward

The controversy over the use of the name to address God has been largely magnified and politicized by many quarters for their own benefits. It resulted in the attacks on several churches all over the country and some mosques which was indeed a dangerous turn of events. Our country is going through a difficult time, and this is all the more reason for all peace loving Malaysians to draw closer together, rather than stand apart to thwart the attempts of the minority extremists who are bent on creating chaos and animosity among the different races.

The court may have decided but the dispute is far from over but we are encouraged by the tremendous inherent goodwill that ensued which gives us some hope for a more civil and dialoging society. There has been tremendous support for dialogues sessions between Muslims and Christians that were organized all over the country since the beginning of the dispute. These dialogues were unthinkable before which shows the great maturity of the people.

Disputes of race and religion are rather emotional and sensitive that can only be solved by dialogue in the spirit of goodwill and brotherhood, not in the court which is often insensitive to emotions. What is needed is compromise on the part of both parties which can only come about if we can create such an environment. It is unfortunate that even some religious leaders consider compromise as a sign of weakness when it should be one of strength and fortitude.

The biggest question is whether Malaysians are ready for such a dialogue on issues that are so close to their hearts. The fears and anxieties expressed may be genuine and must be addressed and not exploited for political mileage. What is encouraging is that more Malaysians including Muslims are beginning to accept the fact that dialogue, not confrontation, among the religious groups is the only way to find a lasting and amicable solution.

Many Muslims agree the word has been used by non-Muslims in other parts of the world. However they seem to be alarmed at the thought of it being used here. This anxiety and fear must be addressed by Muslim leaders and appreciated by non-Muslims. There is a need to re-look at the polarized education and political systems that may be contributing to these fears which are largely unfounded.

It is also timely for Muslims and Christians to get together among their own communities in dialogue and debate to find a common middle ground in dealing with each other on this and many other inter-religious disputes in the country. We have a God-given opportunity for us to unite despite the differences among us and we must not be foolish to let it pass.

Religious leaders and politicians involved in inter-faith dialogue must place the interests of the people they represent above all others in whatever course of action they resort to solve religious disputes that they are bound to arise from time to time. It is the people in the final outcome who are affected most by any decisions.

The solutions should not be based merely on legal, historic or theological aspects but on a humane one that takes into consideration the good human values of peaceful co-existence – a considerate and caring attitude that tries to understand and allay the fears and anxiety of one another, however unreasonable they may be, especially those from a different race and creed.

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