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Battling religious extremism

May 16, 2017

Diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the Vatican boosts our relationship especially in the promotion of better interfaith understanding.



By Chong Lip Teck

Malaysia established diplomatic relationship with The Vatican in 2011, and a Malaysian embassy was opened days ago. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman visited The Holy See to officiate the opening of the Malaysian embassy.

Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian country with Catholics making up only about 3.7% of the total population. Establishing diplomatic ties with The Holy See signifies a kind of recognition and approval not only for the Catholic Church but also Christianity and other non-Islam religions of this country.

Anifah said in The Vatican that diplomatic ties between the two countries marked boosted relationship especially on the issues pertaining to religions and the promotion of better interfaith understanding.

The Catholic Church has always been a pioneer and advocate in cross-religious interactions. In Malaysia, the Church has often taken the initiative to reach out to Islamic and other religious organisations in a bid to promote friendly mingling.

The Church fully agrees with Anifah that Malaysia strongly supports elements that will help promote peaceful coexistence by outright rejecting extremism and embracing moderation.

The Vatican recognises Malaysia’s diversity and universality, believing that not only Catholics but also those embracing other religions in the country are firm in their beliefs.

Last year, Pope Francis installed Malaysia’s first Catholic Cardinal, Rev Anthony Soter Fernandez. From this we can see how much The Holy See treasures Malaysia’s religious position in this region.

In a thanksgiving mass held in his honour earlier this year, Rev Fernandez urged the faithful to defend the Federal Constitution and Rukunegara, and make positive contributions towards national unity.

Such a call represents the Catholic Church’s desire to tackle the various challenges encountered by the country, including religious radicalisation and monoculturalism, with both the nation-building value system as well as Catholic teachings.

The tabling of the RUU355 amendment bill in the Dewan Rakyat is paving the way for the strengthening of the jurisdiction of syariah courts and the eventual implementation of hudud law in this country.

The move has since sparked polarised reactions in the local Muslim society as well as powerful backlash from the country’s non-Muslim community. It should serve as a warning sign for religious politicisation and radicalisation.

The religious authorities have come up with laws and regulations meant to restrict commercial activities and sale of products, disrupting the normal operation of local businesses while adding unnecessary burden to secular trading activities.

Meanwhile, the issuance of permanent residence to a foreign religious figure has also triggered widespread skepticism. Advocates of moderation have constantly reminded the authorities and members of the public that they should stand up and affirmatively reject any form of radicalism and extremism.

Where this is concerned, the Catholic Church will never back off.

Chinese Indonesian Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, is unfortunately a victim of religious radicalisation and politicisation of that country.

Ahok’s sensitive identity has made him a convenient target of vested interests for the many reform policies he introduced since taking office as Jakarta’s governor. They found in just one line from him that could be exploited into a potent weapon to accuse him of blasphemy, thwarting not only his effort to seek re-election but also putting him in a jail.

Ahok’s conviction has dealt a fatal blow on Indonesia’s image of religious tolerance, and should serve as a mirror for us here in Malaysia to reflect on our own situation. It is imperative that we cautiously fend off acts of radicalism lest our hard earned image of diversity and moderation goes to ruins.

Looking at the world around us, Islamic State militants are still ravaging tremendous havoc across the world, especially in the West and the Middle East. Extremism has also taken its toll on global geopolitical relations.

We should take pride in the fact that since the dawn of nationhood, we in Malaysia have been able to uphold the principle of peaceful coexistence despite our cultural and religious diversity.

The key to battling religious radicalisation and extremism lies with our capacity for religious introspection and humility. The speech by His Holiness Pope Francis at TED 2017 warrants our contemplation.

“Indeed there is a need for a revolution: the revolution of tenderness.

“Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”

He also called out to those holding the powers: “The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

His Holiness’ speech is an embodiment of the consistent stand and value system held by the Roman Catholic Church in the prevailing religious and social environments, and should serve as a catalyst in our quest to deliver ourselves from religious radicalisation, monoculturalism and extremism.

Chong Lip Teck writes for Sin Chew Daily.

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