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Need for more open dialogue with Muslim groups

July 10, 2017

Writer believes having more speakers with differing views will also make these dialogues more productive.

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By Josh Wu

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending a dialogue on Saturday, entitled “Deceitful? Distracting? Or Dedicated? Evangelicals & Current Controversies”, which was organised by Kairos Dialogue Network and the STM Centre for Religion and Society.

First off, I have to say that I was greatly encouraged by the number of Muslims who attended the dialogue, especially since the event was held on Wesley Methodist KL’s grounds, albeit in a multipurpose hall. There were also attendees from Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram), Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim), and the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).

Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung started off his presentation by briefly mentioning a few issues which have recently arisen, namely, accusations against Hannah Yeoh’s biography, the cancelled Jerusalem Jubilee event, the CEO of the Centre of Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA) calling for evangelicalism to be outlawed in Malaysia, and Nik Abduh’s statement that Christians have infiltrated a major political party in the country to carry out their Christianisation agenda.

Bishop Hwa Yung went on to say that such issues are based on a confusion of terms, a misrepresentation of who evangelicals are, and religion being highly politicised. He then explained the difference between evangelicals, evangelicalism, and evangelism, based on an article written by local Christian theologian, Ng Kam Weng.

The fact that the CEO of a think tank conflated such terms are highly illustrative of why interfaith/interreligious dialogues are necessary. If the CEO of a think tank could make such a mistake, what more us ordinary folks?

International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) lecturer Maszlee Malik, later in the dialogue, gave an example of Christians praying for the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and how Muslims may be alarmed because they fail to understand what a Christian means when he/she says that. Understanding each other can most definitely, allay unnecessary fears and conflicts.

During his allotted time Mazlee raised a good point, suggesting that one of the ways forward is by dialogues, but more specifically, by engaging more mainstream Islamic groups such as Abim, Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia (PERKIM), and the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (Macma). Or even figures like the Federal Territories mufti and/or the Perlis mufti, both of whom represent more mainstream Islam.

On top of Mazlee’s suggestions, I would like to put forth certain propositions for the consideration of any party concerned in this matter.

Firstly, civil societies like Kairos Dialogue Network should go even further than what Mazlee suggested, by engaging with groups like Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) which are perceived as more hardline.

Its president, Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, has been under the spotlight in recent years due to a few controversial statements he has made. It would be good for him to be able to present his views on interfaith matters, free of any misrepresentation, and to be allowed to defend them under scrutiny (either through the questions of fellow panellists or by way of questions from the audience).

Inviting speakers of differing views would also make the dialogues more productive. As much as I respect Mazlee and his willingness to participate in these dialogues, his moderate views might result in the dialogues being an echo chamber or information cocoon of some sort.

Perhaps these dialogues could also be streamed live on platforms such as Facebook and/or YouTube.

Although Saturday’s dialogue was recorded, a live stream would allow the entire discussion to be shared on social media, hence raising awareness about the existence of such events. People who could not attend the dialogue due to a variety of reasons would be able to have access to the content of what was discussed, in the event there is a livestream.

Besides that, the moderator, Rev Sivin Kit mentioned before the start of the Q&A sessions that the organisers are aware of suggestions that the dialogues should be conducted in the national language and be held elsewhere.

It is my sincere hope that the organisers can implement these recommendations in the future. Having these dialogues in the national language would allow the information discussed to be heard and understood by a greater majority of Malaysians.

Furthermore, if Muslim groups are open to this idea, future dialogues could/should be held on mosque grounds (not necessarily at the area where prayers are conducted if that would be inappropriate).

Understandably, not all Muslims are comfortable entering church grounds. Thus, having it on mosque grounds would make it much easier for Muslims to participate in these dialogues.

It cannot be stressed how important interfaith dialogues are, especially in our multireligious society. Efforts by organisations such as Kairos should be applauded.

Ordinary Malaysians should make time to attend these events as it would allow them to have their misconceptions corrected, and to allow them to ask any pressing questions they may have been dealing with.

Josh Wu is a final year law student.

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