Revisit: Commission not meant for interfaith dialogue

[Note] There are attempts to revive the now-stalled Interfaith Commission (IFC), as reflected through the manipulative ways and media statements issued by certain members of the so-called Cabinet Special Inter-faith panel or “Jawatankuasa Mempromosi Kefahaman dan Keharmonian Antara Agama” (JKMPKA).

The JKMPKA, it seems, is now being dominated by those who want to have the IFC to move again in motion, with the aim of eventually having its draft bill tabled and enacted in the Dewan Rakyat. Most of the non-Muslim representatives in JKMPKA are also leaders of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

Of late, some of MCCBCHST’s senior leaders have been openly questioning the status of Islam in the country, with regard Article 3 and 11 of the Federal Constitution, and particularly by demanding the use of the word “Allah” by the Christians, despite being well-aware of a leave to appeal to the High Court decision in 2009.

Muslim Non-governmental organizations should withdraw from this panel over religious concerns based on MCCBCHST’s stand on these issues.

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Originally published here.

I welcome the recent statement by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin in response to calls to set up an interfaith commission. We continue to see simplistic arguments that sensitive inter-religious issues will be resolved with the formation of such a commission. This view implies that the commission is the only means to promote interfaith dialogue.

The following grounds, once expounded by the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) in 2007, deserve reiteration in view of the re-emerging calls to reincarnate the commission:

First, the commission is not a mechanism for interfaith dialogue. It is meant to be an institution that promotes a one- sided view about religious freedom, which its proponents claim to be based on “prescribed international norms”, without room for disagreements.

Second, the proposed commission started on the wrong footing. Our representatives who sat on the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee which was set up to discuss the formation of an inter-religious commission in early 2001 were appalled by calls by the proponents of the commission for a review of the constitutional provisions which restrain a Muslim from converting to other religions.

They presented cases on the application for apostasy, which they lost, and urged others to support their call. This confirmed our view that they were not there to hold dialogues but to promote and impose upon others their own view about freedom of religion.

Third, the commission is set to interfere with matters internal to one’s religion. It is a seemingly interfaith body with a strong urge to criticise, condemn and make unsolicited recommendations on intra-faith issues beyond the juristic competence of its members.

Allowing such condemnation to take root in an “interfaith” body will only do more harm than good in our efforts to promote religious harmony.

Finally, there had been attempts by the proponents of the commission to selectively put forth constitutional provisions which seem to support their view about the unbridled freedom of religion and discard others which are not in their favour to substantiate their arguments.

In the National Conference Toward the Formation of the Interfaith Commission of Malaysia organised in February 2005, there were heated arguments on why Article 11(4) of the Federal 

Constitution, which limits the propagation of religious beliefs among those professing the religion of Islam, was not mentioned at all in the draft bill for the proposed commission.

Despite legitimate claims that the organisers should take Article 11(4) into consideration in drafting the bill, the general atmosphere of the debate during the conference had been to condemn the Clause 4 of Article 11 for restraining one’s right to freedom of religion. Although the constitutionality of the draft bill was seriously questioned, it was finally adopted by the conference. Now we ask, which constitution that the proponents of the commission are adamant to uphold?

Let’s stop making assertions that the commission is the only mechanism for interfaith dialogue. Please take into consideration the views of the majority of the Muslims who are against such a proposal when making statements on the commission and other related issues.

The first principle of successful dialogue is a willing agreement from all parties to suspend blame, incipient “lust for power”, and any hidden agenda. We also must willingly stop propagating our personal “conspiracy theories” for the sake of a more harmonious outcome in service to national unity. This is not a “battle for souls”, except as a battle for the “soul of a peaceful and secure Malaysia”.

Meaningful interfaith dialogue can be held only when all parties to the dialogue have sincere intentions to promote understanding and harmony among different religious communities. It should not be an avenue for imposition of one’s view over the others or an opportunity to demonise other religions.

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