Posts Tagged ‘Harmony’

Interview with head of inter faith panel

May 4th, 2010
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The interview by Malaysian Insider via email is below. The last line is quite interesting.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — Inter-faith dialogue in Malaysia has for years ended in a shallow cul-de-sac, until last month, when the Najib administration set up a Cabinet committee to firmly address growing religious conflicts.

The inclusion of senior bureaucrats from the powerful Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) and the influential national Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim) together with elected leaders of the various religions from the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) showed the government was serious in dealing with the long-standing conflicts.

But little is known about the workings of this committee, and less still about its handpicked coordinator, Datuk Ilani Isahak, which has inadvertently put the fledgling committee in limbo.

The only known facts are that she had been an MP for Kota Bharu and is now a member of the National Unity and Integration Department (NUID) reporting to its minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon and has been keeping very late hours these past few days.

The mystery woman recently agreed to an e-mail interview with The Malaysian Insider, which is as follows.

Q: What are you expected to do as coordinator to this special committee on inter-religious understanding and harmony?

A: My role is to facilitate the members from the various religions to achieve the objectives of the Committee as set out in its Terms of Reference. I would also ensure discussions are held in a conducive environment where everyone is respectful of each other. I also foresee playing an active role to encourage friendship between members which requires social interaction and activities outside meetings and formal events.

Q: What targets have you set for yourself so far?

A: I would like to see the working committees set up getting down to work before the Committee meets again in June. Although I am not setting any time frame to achieve certain outcomes yet I would be monitoring the momentum to ensure smooth progress .

Q: Tell us more about yourself. Why do you think you were picked by Cabinet for this role?

A: I believe my experience in chairing the Working Committee on Inter-Religious Relations set up under the National Unity Advisory Panel in 2004 – 2008. Whilst in that capacity I had worked hard at establishing good relationship with several leaders from various religions. Perhaps my track record for reliability and delivery. My background includes being a senior lawyer, an ex-vice president of Malaysian Youth Council (a multi-cultural and multi-religious orgaisation), ex-Member of Parliament of Kota Bharu which has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population and I studied comparative religion whilst doing my Diploma in Islamic Studies.

Q: What was your immediate response when you found out you were chosen?

A: Certainly, I was very pleased to once again be given the privilege and honour to serve the nation in the challenging field of inter-religious relations. I was also happy to continue and strive to complete the unfinished work. The previous Committee succeeded in initiating the process of interactions between leaders of various faiths and enhanced their willingness to work together. Although several closed-door dialogues were held yet they had not been able to progress to problem-solving mode due to time constraint as their work had to stop abruptly when the Committee’s mandate expired on December 31, 2008 and there was no renewal in 2009.

Q: What challenges are you bracing yourself to face?

A: The challenges include getting the leaders of the various religions to focus on getting our job done and not be sidetracked by extraneous issues. I also anticipate having to be very patient and allow for a cooling time whenever situations arise which lead to some members feeling aggrieved.

Q: Issues on religion are thorny. How do you plan to deal with them?

A: “When there is a will, there is a way”, so the saying goes, and I believe nothing is impossible. Religious issues require sensitive handling and a sincere commitment on the part of all members to find solutions mutually acceptable to them. The Committee has set up several Working Committees to handle a variety of matters and issues which approach allow for a greater number of experts to be involved and make possible for a speedier resolution.

Q: So far, how have the religious representatives responded to you?

A: Their responses have been motivating. They are truly sincere and I am optimistic we will be able to achieve our agreed objectives.

Q: In the past, there have been all kinds of objections from various religious groups just to sitting down together to talk about dealing with the problems affecting members of their communities. What do you think has changed to finally move the religious representatives to sit down at the same table?

A: Based on my past experience from 2004 – 2008, when they perceive there is mutual respect the religious representatives would readily cooperate to solve problems together .

Q: Malay rights group Perkasa has raised the gender issue as well when it questioned your qualifications to chair the committee, despite your appointment by Cabinet. They seem to imply that heading the committee is a man’s job. How do you feel about that?

A: The role of the chairperson in the Committee is to facilitate and does not involve making Islamic pronouncement. So their objection is untenable as the chair’s gender should not be an issue. The only major consideration ought to be the capabilities of the person to handle sensitive situations being part and parcel of inter religious work as well as secure the respect and cooperation of the members.

Q: How are you coping with the knee-jerk reactions from the various factions pitting the Muslim group against the non-Muslim group? The MCCBCHST has vowed to boycott talks with their Muslim counterparts following the DPM’s tactless remark and Perkasa and the Perak Fatwa Council have strongly objected to and rejected the validity of this Cabinet committee. Do you still have confidence in promoting any understanding among Malaysia’s diverse religions at this point?

A: I have great faith in MCCBCHST’s appreciation that the work of the Committee would largely benefit them and that the earlier we get down to work the quicker they get to enjoy the desired outcomes.

Population imbalance worry

October 9th, 2009
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The PewForum report on Global Muslim population gave some interesting global statistics:

A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion.

While Muslims are found on all five inhabited continents, more than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia and about 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the Middle East-North Africa region has the highest percentage of Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, more than half of the 20 countries and territories1 in that region have populations that are approximately 95% Muslim or greater.

More than 300 million Muslims, or one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion. These minority Muslim populations are often quite large. India, for example, has the third-largest population of Muslims worldwide. China has more Muslims than Syria, while Russia is home to more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined.

Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.

My focus is on Malaysia. The map below indicates current Muslim population in Malaysia to be about 17 million or 60.4%. The report says the Malaysian Muslim population is about 16,581,000 which is 1.1% of world Muslim population.

world-distribution-weightedClick to enlarge

Most likely this figure will grow, and coupled with lower growth rate of other communities, will lead towards a bigger gap between the majority Muslim and minority non-Muslims in the country. As I worried earlier, population imbalance may lead to various problems. Our political situation at the moment is not actually helping to bridge the gap, while the policies for last half decade have only served to widen the gap between the communities.  The constitution, which guarantees the rights of the non-Muslims, is often subject to interpretration that seems lop-sided.  So, its may well remain words on paper only since the realisation of the constitution is at the hands of politicians and administrators, and the separation between government, judiciary, and legistation is not very clear.

Would a Minorities Act help in this case? A review of the constitution? A check and balance mechanism for all the policies? Population control seems far-fetched of course, at the moment, but may be needed in future.

On hindsight, would an evenly balanced population trigger more social unrest and threat to national security? A minority “Minority” will be easy to subjugate and control.

One Merdeka wish coming true?

August 18th, 2009
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Update at 2.05pm: The Star quotes DPM Muhyiddin as saying:

The Cabinet is studying a proposal to drop the column in official forms that require race information, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said.

He said the pros and cons would have to be fully studied before a decision can be made.

Looks like have to wait for the final decision.


Hmm…two years ago, I listed some of my wishes for our 5oth Independence Day. One of it took a small step towards becoming a reality:

1. removal of the words “gender”, “race” and “” in any language in all application/registration//entry forms used in our country except for those that requires specific characteristics e.g. imam must be a muslim.

Today, Malaysian Insider reports the following:

Despite the sharpening racial debate in the country, the Najib Administration’s move to push 1 Malaysia to unify its 27 million citizens of various ethnicity has received a boost with the Cabinet’s agreement to drop “race” from most official forms and documents.

It is understood that Malaysians can opt out of stating race in official forms and documents that still have such a requirement. The category has been in all forms since the country achieved Merdeka in 1957.

“The Cabinet made the decision in early August,” a government official familiar with the move told The Malaysian Insider.

He said the civil service is now working to eliminate the category in all new forms and documents being printed.

However, it is understood that some forms will continue to have the category in relation to special privileges for Bumiputras.

In an immediate reaction, Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan welcomed the decision as a Merdeka gift for the country’s 52nd independence anniversary.

“That’s great news. We are all Malaysians from Perlis to Sabah so putting race is divisive,” Nur Jazlan told The Malaysian Insider.

The two-term MP also hoped the civil service will implement prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s 1 Malaysia efficiently and effectively.

“The concept is the basis of how our country started in 1957 with the Alliance in power and then Barisan Nasional. We need to narrow our differences and widen our common characteristics,” he added.

Many activists and non-governmental organisations have long called for an abolition of the category, calling it archaic and divisive in multi-racial Malaysia.

The latest to take up the call was International Trade and Industry deputy minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir who agreed that Malaysians should not be required to state their race in most official forms and documents.

He said in Penang on Aug 9 that it was unnecessary except for certain forms relating to the special privileges of Bumiputras,

“I would highly encourage that such columns for race be removed. This is in line with the 1Malaysia concept,” Mukhriz said.

I do wonder why such an important decision was made in early August, and yet not revealed to the public. Odd. No such report came out in other media channels. So, I may be forgiven in  doubting the validity of the above news.

Anyway, if the news is true,  the next step is to ensure that everyone  in public sector is aware of the decision, especially those that are involved in application form processing.  Computer systems need to be modified for those online applications, while the mandatory symbols need to be removed from existing forms.

This step by the government should then be promoted in the private sector as well, starting with the GLCs, MNCs, etc.

children to remain in original religion says cabinet

April 23rd, 2009
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A sort of miracle happened today! The cabinet decreed that children in a case where one parent converts are to remain in the original religion. However, the decree is meaningless until the laws are changed. How long for that? Months maybe. So, in future, we hope to avoid more crime as done by Subashini and Indira’s husbands. But, at the moment, the fate of Indira’s childre in still in limbo. Until the Sultan’s consent to change in the state laws, and parliament passes the changes in constitution and laws, we have to keep our fingers crossed.

Further to that, the cabinet also decided that civil marriages must be resolved in civil courts and the convert can’t use the excuse that he converted to escape from his obligations.

The Cabinet has decided that children of parents where one of them opts to convert must be raised in the common religion at the time of marriage.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri said it was decided in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that a spouse who has converted into Islam would also have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil marriage laws.

Religion should not be used as a tool to escape marriage responsibilities. Conversion is not a grounds for the automatic dissolution of a marriage,” he said at a press conference at Parliament building Thursday.

“The children should be brought up in the common religion. For the spouse who intends to convert into Islam, he or she would also have to come clean,” he said.

Nazri said religious conversion must come with the innocent party being protected from being victimised, as well as protection being affored to the new religion of the converted person.

Civil marriages have to be resolved according to civil laws. The conversion takes effect on the day of conversion and is not restropective.

“The convert would have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil laws prior to the conversion,” he added.

Nazri also said the Cabinet has instructed the Attorney-General to look at all relevant laws which needed to be amended in line with what has been decided on civil marriage laws and others.

For Islamic enactment, he said the matters have to be brought up with the respective Sultans as they are the heads of religion in their respective states.

More details from NST:

“The Cabinet feels there is an implied and constructive contract between husband and wife that their children should be brought up in accordance to the common religion at the time of marriage or whatever religion they had agreed their offspring should practice,” he said.

Nazri said in the case of Indira Ghandhi, both she and her husband were Hindus at time of marriage, so it was implied that their children be brought up as Hindus.

Nazri said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Maj-Gen (R) Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, has been instructed to meet with Muhammd Ridzuan to settle the case amicably.

He will also meet with the relevant authorities (like the Perak Islamic Affairs Department) to settle this in accordance with the cabinet decision.”

Nazri said the Cabinet was of the view that conversion came with responsibility and cited two reasons – the first is to protect the innocent party from being treated unfairly and victimised and the second is to protect the new religion of the person who converted to the new faith or in this case, Islam.

Religion should not be used as a tool to allow a party to a marriage to run away from his or her responsibility as husband or wife, he said.

I do not think any religion would want it to be used as a convenient tool to run away from responsibility,” he said.

Nazri said the question of the children’s custody in Indira Ghandi’s case does not arise at this juncture as the marriage has yet to be dissolved.

“The marriage followed civil laws and the Cabinet stand by the principle that a civil marriage should be dissolved in a manner provided for by civil courts.

“Conversion to another religion is not a ground for automatic dissolution of a civil marriage.”

Nazri noted that the couple were separated at the point when Pahtmanathan converted to Islam.

“The Cabinet has agreed that the relevant date for application of Islamic laws should be on the date of conversion and it is not retrospective.

“Past acts should be resolved under the relevant civil laws. Islamic laws apply on the day of his conversion. He must resolve all his problems first and he should come clean as to his responsibilities before he converts to any other religions.

Nazri said to give effect to its decision, the Cabinet has instructed the Attorney General to look at the relevant laws which need to be amended.

“Civil marriage laws or any other laws to be amended. If it affect Islamic enactment it will be brought to the Sultan’s attention.” he said.

Thus, the children should remain as Hindus, and the custody depends on the outcome of the divorce case. The unlikely (but possible) outcome will be Hindu children being raised in a Muslim house.

The ruling also may give a glimmer of hope for Subashini to revoke the conversion of her children by her husband.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism is taking the issue of conversions to the Malay rulers, so its a good time to follow up the cabinet’s decision with the rulers, especially the Sultan of Perak so that can speed up the paperwork.

Its president, Datuk A. Vaithilingam, said the council made the decision yesterday after meeting to discuss the plight of M. Indira Ghandi, whose estranged husband had converted their children to Islam without her knowledge.

Vaithilingam said they wanted to raise the problems associated with controversial conversions as religious matters fell within the ambit of the state governments.

Since the sultans were the heads of Islam in their respective states, Vaithilingam felt they would be able to assist in finding a solution to the problem.

“We are appealing to the sultans. We will write to them once we have determined how to go about it,” Vaithilingam said yesterday after the council had met Indira Ghandi.

Vaithilingam explains more in Malaysiakini:

Council president A Vaithilingam said the council would be writing to the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal requesting that the Conference of Malay Rulers intervene in this particular case.

“The rulers are responsible for the religion of Islam in their respective states and the king is responsible for the country.

“As we are all their subjects, so we call upon the rulers to see that there is justice and fair play for all of us,” he said.

The inter-religion affairs council – which held a two-hour meeting this morning with 35-year-old Indira – expressed their disappointment with act of the Syariah Court in Perak which granted custody of her three children to her husband without her knowledge.

The children were born to a couple married under civil law, therefore until the civil court has decided on a divorce, if there is one and on alimony and custody, the children cannot be converted,” said Vaithilingam.

The conversion of the children, to us, is illegal as we believe that all those who are below 18 years of age should be allowed to decided on their faith only when they old enough,” he added.

Vaithilingam, who met the five ministers yesterday, said they told him that they were sympathetic to Indira’s predicament and gave their assurance that it would be solved soon.

“But this assurance has yet to materialise […] we don’t want to reconvene again with another man or woman who has become another victim,” said Vaithilingam.

He reiterated the MCCBCHST was not against Islam but stressed that the conversion process should be more stringent in tandem with the reform of existing family laws.

“We were promised so many times that there would be reforms to family laws to ensure that such a situation will not reoccur. Yet here we are again […] no attempts have been made to make the changes although there has been a lot of talk of reform,” said Vaithilingam.

He said grey areas under the law dealing with conversion should have been resolved ever since the controversy following the death of famous mountaineer M Moorthy, popularly known as ‘Everest Moorthy’, who was buried with Muslim rites despite his family’s claim that he had not converted.

The council appealed for a quick resolution to the Indira case as the pressure had taken a heavy toll on the young family.

“Frankly, since the council had been formed in 1983, we have achieved very little,” said Vaithilingam, adding that he hoped that Indira’s youngest child, who is with her father, would be reunited with the mother.

Well,  looks like the new Cabinet is trying to do something instead of talking only, unlike the previous ones. If they can successfully ring the changes and ensure that such injustice doesn’t have a chance of occurring again, it will win them valuable points from the aggrieved communities. Do more by looking at all of us as Malaysians, and it will be a better country.

Sampah Masyarakat cleans up Batu Caves

February 12th, 2009
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The group of volunteers under “Sampah Masyarakat” got together on Monday, the day after Thaipusam to help clean up the area. The initiative mooted by Shyam via email and Facebook saw abotu 30 volunteers sacrificing their holiday. Unfortunately, I was unable to join in on that day 🙁

Fellow blogger, Puvanan was caught on camera doing his bit. I think few other MindsBlog members also took part:

Puvanan at Batu Caves clean up by Sampah Masyarakat

No easy task: N.Puvanan, 24, (left) and Khairunisa filling up bags with rubbish.

THE Thaipusam celebration at the Batu Caves Temple in Selayang drew a big crowd and as such rubbish was found strewn about. To help clear this, a group of volunteers clad in white T-shirts took charge.

The group of volunteers, who call themselves Sampah Masyarakat, came armed with brooms, shovels and plastic bags and were kept busy from 7am on Monday.

Subscription manager M. Shyam Priah, 35, took the initiative to form the group by sending a global message through the social network Facebook to all her friends requesting for assistance for a massive gotong-royong.

It is Shyam’s way of creating awareness on cleanliness.

“We had about 30 volunteers in the morning and more by noon.

“We have divided the area to three zones from the main gate to the stairs. It is not just about cleaning up because nothing will come out of it.

“We are doing a study on how many times the bins gets filled and how long it takes to see how much rubbish people discard. We want to see if there are enough rubbish bins around the temple.

Big pile: Volunteers R. Rajendran, 42, and Dr Al Wee, 49, helping to clean up the coconut offerings at Batu Caves

“We want to create an awareness at a different level because when the attitude changes, it will last.

“I am glad to see that we have many Malay and Chinese volunteers who came to help in the clean-up,” she said.

Shyam said the Selayang Municipal Council (MPS), Alam Flora and temple committee members were also there to help them.

Student Ming Sing, 24, from Petaling Jaya left her home at 5.30am to volunteer her services in the clean-up.

“This will help create awareness on how we can save the earth.

“It is very surprising to see how people can throw rubbish indiscriminately,” she said.

Project manager Khairunisa Kamaruzaman, 30, decided to join in the good cause after hearing about it from friends.

“I have never been to Batu Caves before. I think this project should continue for other festivals as well. We should focus on reactive measures instead of just using preventive measures,” she said.