Wednesday, January 08, 2003
Towards everlasting peace
TAIPING, known as the Town of Everlasting Peace, was aptly chosen as the venue of a meeting between various inter-faith groups in Malaysia to discuss the growing tension and issues that are affecting them locally and globally.
The leaders of various groups sat side-by-side and highlighted sensitive issues and discussed ways to resolve them amicably.
The main concerns were matters related to extremism, polarisation, family values, environment, intolerance, human rights, prejudice and lack of multi-faith education.
The participants voted for the importance of love, compassion, respect, selfless service, care for the environment, justice, peace and freedom to prevail.
The outcome of the meeting saw seven task forces facilitated by a number of leading practitioners in the respective fields focusing on family values, interfaith dialogue, peace, education, environment, good governance, human rights and community service.
All of them agreed to support the Declaration on Religious Harmony, which was signed by representatives of all faiths on Sept 16, 2001.
Among the participants were those from Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship (Insaf), Taiping Peace Initiative, United Nations Development Programme, Theosophical Society, Sri Sathya Sai Centre Council, International Islamic University, Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism, Pure Life Society, Bahai, Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Association, Sisters in Islam, Malaysia Hindu Sangam, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, Society of Jesus, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Methodist Church and the Germany-based Konrad-Adenauer Foundation (KAF).
To strengthen their unity and commitment to work together, the group planted two neem trees at the Taiping Lake Garden to signify their solidarity.
They also visited and participated in a prayer for peace at the first Anglican church, the Old Saints Church built in 1886 in Taiping.
“Our main concern should be to develop credible interfaith mechanisms at the national and local level where representatives of different faiths can talk to each other, reinforce common values and discuss frankly ‘burning’ issues regarding tensions, conduct joint programmes for community action and engaging in trust and confidence building,” said Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal, senior regional advisor for United Nation’s Urban Governance Initiative.
He said Malaysia has an abundance of good people, a wide variety of faiths and a long history of respect and mutual understanding.
“But we have to constantly work to build on these values, create mechanisms for constructive exchange and interaction with understanding. If not, we can lose it all. Malaysia is viewed as a model of interfaith harmony and this is recognised worldwide.
“What we have to worry about is intolerance, extremism and trust and confidence building especially among the younger generation who have unfortunately sometimes gone their separate ways and missed on the ‘interconnectedness’ so essential to the spirit of community,” said Anwar.
Anwar, who is also chairman of the Taiping Peace Initiative, said Malaysia’s “open house” tradition is a wonderfully inspiring event – people are just delightfully astonished by it.
Anwar said the interfaith network would generate specific actions and at the “vision” level promote three-dimensional peace – inner peace, peace with other people and peace with the environment.
“Community service was considered very essential – it is through acting together against poverty, crime, injustice and for peace, harmony and well-being that we make concrete building blocks for our society. Each of the task forces will be formulating and undertaking a specific project in the next 100 days.
“For example, the group on good governance is going to advocate a multi-stakeholder National Consultative Council on Good Governance to launch a campaign against corruption and promote ideas like the ‘ombudsman’ concept.”
He said some of the other outreach activities would include a website, a popular reader on peace and harmony, a poster on “The Golden Rule” (don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you), a calendar of days of action during festivals and other commemorative days around the environment, family, peace, tolerance, human rights, integrity, and even humour.
“Finally, there will be multiple secretariats, building on those who can best lead the good works. We are not reinventing the wheel but we want to link existing wheels and have a greater movement that can continue to make Malaysia a model of peace, harmony and well-being. We can make our national motto ‘Unity in Diversity’ a global beacon for all humanity,” he said.
The Taiping Peace Initiative (www.everlastingpeace.net) and Insaf with the help of the KAF will be organising a series of follow-up activities on this initiative.
Insaf chairman Dr Amir Farid Isahak said the lack of forum for heart-to-heart discussions between Muslim and non-Muslim religious leaders was one of the main concerns.
“We play a very important role by providing a channel for interaction, friendship and cooperation. We seek to encourage everyone to understand other religions through talks, seminars, visits and festivities involving all religions. We have conducted all these activities which have created strong bonds among participants of different religious backgrounds,” he said.
Dr Amir said they co-organised the annual course on World Religions with St Francis Xavier Church and had a series of talks on the different religions’ perspectives of god, peace, spirituality, women and health.
“We’ll be having our multi-faith muhibbah festivities (to celebrate Deepavali, Hari Raya, Christmas, New Year, Thaipusam and Chinese New Year ) on Feb 8 at the Pure Life Society premises and all are welcome.”
He said the development of the Taiping Interfaith Network was encouraging because the dedication shown by participants and support of the facilitators and sponsors was strong and they were willing to follow through to ensure that all that was decided is actually realised.
“We will see the first evidence of this when we hold our follow-up meeting on Feb 15.”
Dr G. Gopinath from the Bahai Community of Malaysia said initiatives undertaken by the various religious groups to focus on core moral values and the unity of God and religion lack intellectual coherence and spiritual commitment.
He said failure to disseminate information on the areas of understanding and commonalities of every religion to the people perpetuated differences among the world’s major religious traditions with respect to social ordinances and forms of worship.
“Claims to exclusivity or finality by religions have been the greatest single factor suffocating the process to unity and better understanding of the common values inherent in all religions. The fundamental rights of individuals in their choice of religious beliefs have yet to be addressed openly and dispassionately.
“After all the fundamental basis of all religions as a motivating force is for the upliftment of humanity to an ever advancing civilisation,” Dr Gopinath said.
He said more interfaith dialogues should be carried out to every stratum of society and to every part of the country with the support of the Government.
He proposed that a national inter-faith non-governmental organisation be established to initiate and sustain the movement.
“The study of spiritual and moral values contained in all religions need to be incorporated in the school curriculum. The study of comparative religion should be introduced in colleges and universities and religious leaders and organisations must work conscientiously in promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding.”
Altruistic Leadership Institute principal consultant Datuk Dr Ismail Noor said the main concern revolved around ignorance and misapprehensions about each other’s faiths (not to mention the same thing happening within one’s own faith).
“This is made worse by a lack of interest to get to know each other’s faiths through inter-faith dialogues. The prevailing attitude seems to be that it is safer to refrain from butting into each other’s domains. This exclusive stance is not helpful towards building harmony in a pluralistic society.
“We need to work on our strengths rather than delve into our weaknesses and differences in order to foster mutual respect,” he said. He suggested that a Good Governance Consultative Council (GGCC) involving as many stakeholders as possible, working on concerns like better parenting, health-care, ensuring the well-being of senior citizens, conducive mentoring for the development of the younger generation, and the good upbringing of children, be set up.
Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Association Johor branch president B.K. Jothirajah said people should be conscious of their spiritual existence which would in turn allow peace and harmony to automatically flourish.
He said educating people in this one aspect would help to develop understanding for harmonious relationships between the various faiths.
Theosophical Society president K. Narayanan attributed growing tensions between the different faiths to ignorance of the teachings of other religions besides practising their own religion from a rituals and dogmatic aspects rather than the true teaching of their prophets or founding masters.
“If one were to understand the philosophy of the various religions, one will establish that most of the values expressed are common to all religions although each group assumes it is practised by them solely.
“The concept of ‘Unity in Diversity’ is an ideal state. To achieve it is a mammoth task but it is not insurmountable. Education is the key to understanding and applying the actual teachings of the various religions.
“By doing so, one will be able to understand the philosophy of the various religious practices. It should be done by incorporating into the education system common values in every religion as a subject to be taught from primary school to university level.”
KAF representative in Malaysia Peter Schier said the aim of the foundation was to safeguard peace, freedom and promote understanding across national and cultural borders. In Malaysia, he said they were focusing on inter-cultural, inter-faith and inter-ethnical understanding, appreciation and cooperation.
T. Selva, who pens the Vasthu Sastra column in The Sunday Star's Starmag, took part in the dialogue. He is also Maritime Editor.
©Copyright 2003, The Star (Malaysia)
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