The government should demonstrate its commitment to religious tolerance and inter-religious understanding by establishing a statutory inter-religious body in line with the call by NGOs
by John Chung
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): DAP supports the call to establish a statutory inter-religious body made by various NGOs at the Bar Council organized workshop themed “Towards the Formation of an Inter-Religious Council”.
The consensus reached by leading religious and human rights organizations such as the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCHCHS), Pure life Society, Insaf, National Human Rights Society and Aliran to set up a statutory body to promote religious freedom and inter-religious understanding is a significant development and should receive the support of all political parties, civil society and the religious community.
In fact, DAP had many times urged the establishment of an inter-religious council represented by all the major religions in the country where issues which could impinge or affect the rights and sensitivities of all religious groups could be addressed. The setting up of such a council is also vital to facilitate a national inter-religious consensus on the fundamentals of Malaysian nation-building.
The setting up of a statutory inter-religious body cannot be more timely, considering the need for greater understanding and tolerance of each other’s religions and in light of the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent statement that religious tolerance among the various communities is important to ensure peace. Mahathir had also stressed on the importance of understanding one another’s religion. In this connection, the existence of a statutory inter-religious body can help promote greater inter-religious understanding which is a necessary component in fostering religious tolerance.
While we applaud the call to set up a statutory inter-religious body, it is disappointing to note that such a call should emanate from a group of concerned NGOs rather than the government which have talked a lot about religious tolerance but done little to promote it. It is also disheartening to note that the proposal lack the support of Islamic organizations although it did receive the support of individual Muslims.
Hence, if the government is serious about fostering greater religious tolerance and inter-religious understanding among the various races, it should demonstrate its commitment by setting up a statutory inter-religious body made up of representatives from all the major religions as mooted by the NGOs in the same way a statutory body to promote human rights, i.e. the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), was set up.
* John Chung, DAP National Publicity Bureau Assistant Secretary