By Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
In this article, I wish to outline my personal approach and strategy with respect to creating a harmonious co-existence between all faiths in Malaysia.
I have decided to frame my strategies, ideas and suggestions in the form of a hypothetical scenario of 'If I were……'.
This exercise of imagining what one can do if one were someone one was actually not, has been used in countless essay examinations to test the creative thinking of a candidate. It is not really the 'desire' to be that person or in that office but a form of critical construct of thought that follows a different line of perspective.
My first act as a Minister of Religious Affairs is to visit some of the houses of worship from all the faiths in Malaysia. As my salary is paid by all Malaysians of all faiths, I thought I could do no less but pay respects to all the faiths.
I would attend some of the services and be a respectful observer in order to enrich my knowledge of each religion and make as many personal contacts with each member of the faiths as possible. I believe in according dignity and respect to all Malaysians regardless of race, religion and lifestyle.
In nation-building, we can only make our country grow positively if we accord basic respect and dignity to all. In spirituality, one must not think one is more important or morally better or 'cleaner' then others, as it is a pure sign of arrogance in the eyes of God.
Secondly, I would make sure that all religious places of worship are registered and be in its proper context. I would never allow the incident of destroying a Hindu place of worship or threaten to remove Chinese shrines in Kedah. I would visit each site and make sure the local government handles these cases of relocation or rebuilding with full sensitivities and respect. I would personally mitigate between difficult issues of relocation and ensure justice and dignity for all faiths.
I would also avail myself for talks at all universities and schools in order to educate the young minds that all faiths teach kindness and compassion for others as a key element of self-growth as well as building the nation and the world.
Trust and love for each other are two of the most difficult commodities in the present world despite the 5G internet speed. I would sternly advise the young never to make any derogatory comments on anyone on the internet as all of us will be answerable to God on the Day of Judgment.
I would make a point of my office to personally visit each and every member of the cabinet at their offices or their houses in order to have close rapport with them and give words of comfort and encouragement for their services to the country for all the people of Malaysia.
I would also quietly remind each of them not to engage in corrupt activities or have any intention to do so, as corruption is one of the biggest sins in the eyes of God. Why? Because when you take the money intended for someone else, your forgiveness from God depends entirely on your ability to give back every cent that you take and that you must apologize to all that you have done wrong.
Now, that is a most difficult thing to do. So, my advice to cabinet members…'Don't commit corrupt practices'. It is most difficult to remedy.
As a Minister of Religious Affairs, I would propose that all the planning and design of houses of worship have at least 10% dedicated spaces for the homeless, regardless of their faiths, and another 20% of built-up areas open to all community members of the locality. This is to ensure that every Malaysian must have visited all houses of worship in their lifetime.
Nowadays, stop any Malaysian and ask whether he or she has ever visited any of the houses of worship outside of his or her own faith, I can guarantee you the answer would be 99% negative.
I would also ask the Prime Minister for a budget for community activities organized by all the houses of worship in Malaysia such as the religious celebrations for Christmas, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and others. All houses of worship would be allotted at least RM2,000 for these activities.
I would also talk to the Minister of Education to ensure every single child who goes to the public school must have stepped foot in a few houses of worship so that it does not become an alien thing to do.
Finally, as Minister of Religious Affairs, I would ask for a special sermon time for me to speak in the Houses of Worship of all faiths to remind the message of spirituality being above religious and political identity. All men are equal in the eyes of God and only those who have done good to others, have good thoughts, possess a compassion for all life, are distinguished by God above others.
Lastly, I wish to say that if the office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs were to be within the spirit of the above approach of inclusion and engagement, we would have solved our race and religious issues a long time ago.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)