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In search of harmony

  • It is not uncommon to see Muslim newly-weds take pictures at FGS Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom, Selangor.

By POOK AH LEK
Sin Chew Daily

This Merdeka month is a little depressing with racial and religious issues gushing in one after another.

Controversy over the disparaging remarks by Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, “boycott non-Muslim products” campaign, Jakim's edict to ban Muslims from participating in interfaith prayers...

His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong has urged Malaysians to forego our differences and break the barriers that stand in the way of national unity. Unfortunately all of the aforementioned issues have been taking the country many steps backward, widening further our differences.

Sin Chew Daily and Sinar Harian are working together in an unprecedented cross-media and cross-community collaboration by launching the #KitalahMalaysia event to convey the all-important message of “Bersama, Berbeza” with the objective of bringing down the walls, promoting greater intercommunal understanding, and dissolving the long-standing negative stereotypes we have towards each other.

Chinese are all rich? Malays don't speak English? Indians are all scoundrels?

The reporting teams of Sin Chew Daily and Sinar Harian have gone down to the streets to find out whether Malaysians are having negative stereotyped impressions towards their fellow compatriots from a different ethnicity. Reassuringly, the interviewees have given us a firm “No” answer to each of the questions above.

Without doubt we do have some common understanding with people from a different ethnicity over many things in our day-to-day lives, our interactions with neighbors, or in our workplace and tertiary institutions where we learn together. However, majority of Malaysians have only skin-deep mutual understanding, especially when it comes to customs and religious taboos.

We always claim that Malays have plenty of misconceptions about the local Chinese community. Similarly, the Chinese community knows too little about their Malay or Indian compatriots.

It is imperative that we all make an effort to take the first step by trying to understand people from a different ethnicity, including mutual visits during festive seasons.

Through such goodwill interactions, sure enough many of our misunderstandings will subconsciously be erased.

It is not uncommon to see Muslim newly-weds take pictures at FGS Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom, Selangor.

This year is the Year of the Pig, but this does not stop Muslim families from taking pictures of the lovable pig-shaped lanterns during the lunar new year lantern festival there.

Fo Guang Shan founder Master Hsing Yun has advocated the four “Gives”: Give people confidence, give people joy, give people hope and give people convenience. As such, the door of Dong Zen Temple is always open throughout the year for devotees to offer their prayers, and for villagers to do their morning exercises, including the Malays.

Venerable Jue Cheng, Fo Guang Shan's Chief Abbess for Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, has gone a step further by setting up a Muslims' prayer room at FGS Hsing Ma Temple in Johor Bahru for the convenience of Muslim visitors.

We believe this is the only Muslim prayer room set up in a Buddhist monastery in this country. This speaks volumes of the inclusivity of religion and is a significant initiative in promoting interfaith interactions and racial harmony.

Jakim's edict to ban Muslims from participating in interfaith prayers, on the other hand, is a move backward. It is sad that the PH government has done nothing to reverse the decision.

In the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, it is not uncommon for people from different ethnic backgrounds dine at the same table or visit one another during festivities. This is because the politicians there don't exploit sensitive religious and racial issues. The state government has also decided not to comply with Jakim's edict and will continue to allow people embracing different religions to pray together.

Over here in West Malaysia, we cannot look to our politicians to help promote intercommunity and interreligious relations. We should be thankful if they would refrain from talking nonsense or raising sensitive issues for the sake of electoral support.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) founding president Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin wrote in his column: “In light of lamentations and feelings of betrayal, some Merdeka opinion articles this year were gloomily pessimistic.

“And so, adding to the lamentation, there is a feeling of betrayal, too, from those who sincerely felt that the tactic of racial and religious divide and rule would be finally renounced.

“Instead, there is a growing belief that these issues are being deliberately fomented to enable political leaders to draw attention away from their own incompetence at their jobs, and even more damning, manufactured not only to encourage division among the population, but to create divisions within their own parties and coalitions, as a tactic to consolidate their own power.”

Those words that came out right from the heart of Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin are, sadly, a veritable reflection of what the country is going through today.

 

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