Thursday, December 16, 2010


Click on image to enlarge.

Came across the above while clearing my backlog of papers this morning. It's a picture we will never see in Malaysia - a Rabbi, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim cleric chatting and smiling at an interfaith dinner. Indeed, every attempt to set up an interfaith council to foster religious harmony has been shot down by the BN government for 101 reasons mostly to do with FEAR - from fear of causing confusion to fear of conversion, plus all the 99 other reasons in between.

What we have instead is the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. How can this council be effective when the majority faith is not represented? How can we ever have a platform to discuss interfaith issues affecting the citizens, especially the minority groups?

The Inter-Religious Organization of Singapore (IRO) was launched in 1949 as the Inter-Religious Organisation of Singapore and Johor Bahru. In 1961 it was renamed the IRO. Members come from the 10 major religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and the Bahai Faith.

This year's recipient of the annual IRO award went to 72-year old Mufti Syed Isa Mohamed Semait, possibly the world's longest serving mufti. He will be retiring after 38 years of service. The award is a recognition of his role in linking the Muslim community to other faiths. He also received the Public Administration Medal (Gold) at the 2009 National Day awards, for the advice and guidance he provided to the Muslim community and the Government on matters pertaining to Islam.

Bearing in mind that Muslims form only 15% of the population, both awards speak volumes about interfaith harmony in the island nation.

Now imagine a similar award being given to a leader of a minority religious group in Malaysia. Oh dear, even in my wildest of imagination I have difficulty visualizing such a picture!

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