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3:02pm 26/09/2023
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An exciting and insightful interfaith forum on Malaysia Day
By:Ravindran Raman Kutty

Saturday, September 16, 2023, was very different from the rest of my Saturdays.

After a breakfast of coffee and yogurt granola, I headed to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Cheras for an interfaith forum called “Malaysia Madani: A Determined Quest for Wholesome National Unity.”

I guessed that the date of this forum was apt, as it coincided with that day being Malaysia Day.

At the entrance of the church, a very pleasant gentleman greeted me and ushered me to a reserved parking space. Upon alighting from my car, I was received by Fr. Xavier Andrew, the Parish Priest of the Church of Visitation Seremban. I was duly introduced to the forum panelists who were representatives from various faiths–Mr. Prematilaka KD Serisana (Buddhist), Ms. Ranee Sreedharan (Baha’i), Dr. Muhammad Fairuz Azmi (Muslim), Dr. Poey Tiang Peow (Taoist), Dr. Muralitharan Paramasua (Malaysia Hindu Sangam), Mr. Prabhdial Singh Daler (Guru Granth Sahib), and Reverend Fr. Edwin Peter (Parish of Risen Christ Church).

This collaborative effort was led by Fr. Xavier Andrew and His Grace Most Reverend Julian Leow, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, who had joined forces with religious leaders and organizations to orchestrate this event, and with over 200 individuals representing diverse races and faiths being attendees.

The forum commenced with captivating cultural dances, followed by a rendition of “Negaraku” and the recitation of the Rukunegara pledge by all participants.

Throughout the discussion, the religious leaders emphasized a common goal: religions aim to contribute to a more civilized society, keeping aligned with the concept of Masyarakat Madani. It was emphasized that no religion advocates malevolence, maleficence or cruelty.

The conversation revolved around the virtues, values, and principles of Masyarakat Madani and how each religion can play an inclusive role in the development of a greater Malaysia.

Healthy discussions like this interfaith forum will contribute to the betterment of society and Malaysia.

These are the main points of what each of them had to share:

The first speaker, Mr. Prematilaka, espoused the true teachings of Buddha–“If there is no peace inside, then there is no peace outside.” —a simple philosophy which stipulates the importance of the fact that what comes from within you becomes you and spreads across to others.

Ms. Ranee Sreetharan outlined all of the prime minister’s slogans and singled out Madani which means civilization. She reiterated Bahaullah’s teachings that “narrow minds don’t bring peace” and a good family is the impetus of our great nation. Love all and share with all; love unites, hate divides.

Dr. Fairuz Azmi stated that Madani cannot be associated with Medina. He highlighted the Prophet’s teaching of “do not defend your tribe even if you are wrong.” Everyone was allowed to agree to disagree. Islam always believed and still believes in unity and not to divide.

Dr. Poey Tian Peow highlighted the three tenets of Taoism professed by Lao Tze, they being Compassion, Frugality, and Humility, and that with these combined as one is the best way of life to live in peace. He also emphasized that this combination was critical especially for leaders.

Dr. Muralitharan spoke about the 5th-century Hindu scholar Thirunavukkarasu, who taught the importance of Good Governance, Sustainable Development and Racial Harmony. He also added to accept and understand differences, rather than just tolerate them. He ended with the Rigveda which states “truth is one, paths are many.”

Mr. Prabhdial Singh spoke about the importance of gratitude. Oxygen is free as compared to water and electricity which is metered and we must pay. Every Malaysian must be grateful for the abundance that we are blessed with in our nation. He reiterated that Sikhism is about three things–meditation in the name of the creator, doing charity to any in the name of humanity, and never expecting anything to fall on your lap, but to work hard for it.

Reverend Father Edwin Peter, being the final speaker, spoke about citizenry and a sense of belonging. Malaysians are connected through food, our style of speaking and the way we played football those days together. Malaysia’s best team was Arumugam on goal, Santokh on defense, Soh Chin Aun the captain and Mokhtar Dahari our forward. We had everyone winning our medals. Words such as pendatang are not in line with the Madani concept and our leaders must embrace unity in all that we do.

During the Q&A session, an important question was raised about whether atheists, who currently numbered around 300,000 in our country, posed a threat to the nation. The moderator responded by stating that as long as atheists did not engage in harmful actions, broke any laws, respected the monarchy, the nation, and its people, and did not cause harm, they could coexist harmoniously in our country.

The forum also addressed the issue of polarization in schools and universities, with examples of teachers exhibiting excessive control aligning to a particular race or religion. The panel asserted that it was the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children received basic religious teachings to foster awareness of their religion alongside educational excellence.

Another query revolved around the declining attendance of young people in churches, temples, and mosques. The panel’s response stressed the importance of instilling religious teachings from a young age, starting even before birth. This solid foundation would help the youth appreciate and practice their respective religions by visiting holy places.

A participant asked whether it was more appropriate to speak of religious tolerance or religious awareness, and the panel unanimously agreed that religious awareness surpassed mere tolerance.

The event was a significant and enriching opportunity for over 200 participants to come together and discuss the role of religion in shaping a better, more enlightened, and more civilized Malaysia.

As the moderator, I was deeply excited and genuinely exhausted after 3½ hours of invigorating conversation and exchange between the panelists and the attendees.

The panel unanimously concurred that healthy discussions like this would contribute to the betterment of society and Malaysia.

Fr. Xavier Andrew in his closing remarks expressed the need for more forums like this within the Malaysia Madani framework, and Dr. Poey Tiang Peow emphasized how such forums go beyond social media discussions and promote unity among Malaysians.

(Ravindran Raman Kutty is an active social worker.)

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Ravindran Raman Kutty
Malaysia Day

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