Monday, January 18, 2010

Tapping the inherent goodwill among Malaysians

Inter-religious dialogue only way out

The High court decision on the Allah issue did not go down well with the Muslim population. Although many did not agree with the verdict, the majority opted to redress it in a peaceful way. However we witnessed some tense and defining moments due to arson attacks on churches by some extremists and opportunists with political motives. While we feared for the worst, the inherent goodness that ensued from the majority Malaysians, especially our Muslim brethren, saved the nation from the brink of disaster.

The vast majority of Malaysians, including Muslims, condemned the attacks in the strongest terms. Many Muslim scholars and leaders had harsh words for those who carried out these attacks. The Christians on the other hand kept calm and avoided aggravating matters.

There was a rare show of concern for Christians by many fellow Muslims following the attacks. Despite being deeply hurt, Christians offered prayers for peace and their sermons emphasised on love and forgiveness. On the other hand many Muslim groups reciprocated with gestures of goodwill. Some even volunteered to guard the churches.

Even the politicians across the political divide came forward to condemn the attacks and offered aid and reassurance. On the whole an air of repentance and forgiveness prevailed which helped bring the tension down quickly. It must be noted that the moderate majority on both sides managed to take control to deny the minority extremists a chance to disrupt the peace and stability. Moreover it exposed the inherent goodwill in them by their conciliatory gestures that were unprecedented.

The whole episode demonstrated a high level of wisdom and maturity of the people which was underestimated all these years. They have made it clear that they are not going to allow a few opportunists to undermine the peace and harmony that we have cherished all these years.However the dispute over the use of the name of God is far from over as it is no more a religious or legal issue but a political battle which the powers that be must win at all costs.

I admit we have the constitutional right to use Allah but we must appreciate its implications in our local context. The Muslims in Malaysia, we must understand, have been brought up from a very young age that the name belongs to them alone and they have great emotional attachments to it. Those in power whose positions are under threat bent on capitalizing on these emotions to the maximum. They are not going to give up their perceived copyrights without a fight which we must avoid at all costs.

Fortunately we seem to have reached a state where the moderates among them are beginning to see things differently and it is a matter of time they will be prepared to accept others to use the name as well. Inter-faith dialogue that was a taboo before is being accepted by an increasing number of Muslims which is indeed a positive sign. We need patience and perseverance to achieve an amicable solution in peaceful manner.

It is time for Catholics and other Christian denominations to get together to chart a common stand and line of action in facing the problem now that we have won the first stage of the battle in the High Court which I am sure will be short lived. Unfortunately dialogue is the last thing that we Catholics are familiar with. Unless we sit down to debate among ourselves to find a common ground acceptable to all Christians,there is no way we are going to convince the government to accede to our peaceful demands.

We have agreed as a sign of goodwill to the stay of the High Court order which is a good and considerate move. When the Appeals Court upholds the appeal, which I am sure it will, we will be back to square one minus our goodwill.It would be wise for us to leave it at that and negotiate to be allowed to use the word in Sabah and Sarawak as it being done now. Meanwhile let’s work and pray earnestly for the time, hopefully after 2013, when we can have a more civil and fairer inter-faith dialogue not only on this issue but many others that we see being unjust to us.

As Christians being a party to this dispute what can we do to encourage and harness the goodwill that is inherent in the majority of our fellow Muslims? The answer to this comes from none other than Jesus himself, who demonstrated to the extreme by his Passion, the two greatest virtues of humility and forgiveness. There is no better time than the coming season of Lent, to adopt these two virtues in meaningful dialogue with our “enemy” to bring an end to the dispute.

The dispute over “Allah” has revealed a more matured populace which is paving the way for positive political developments towards greater racial and religious tolerance and a multiracial approach in governance. These changes may be slow but with God’s grace, have definitely begun. We should not sabotage these developments by insisting on our rights prematurely as by doing so we would have to take the blame for the perpetration of racism and religious fanaticism that has plagued Malaysians for over 50 years.

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