By Lim Sue Goan
Sin Chew Daily reported that it was common for places of worship of different religions to be standing side-by-side in many states in the country.
Religious harmony has been in existence in this country for a very long period of time, perhaps even centuries. Unfortunately, politicians and irresponsible government officials have repeatedly tried to destroy the peace we are now enjoying.
The Selangor town and rural planning department has drawn up the Selangor Manual Guideline and Selangor State Planning Standard, stating that non-Muslim houses of worship must not be built within 50 meters of a home owned by a Muslim unless prior consent has been obtained from the owner.
In addition, non-Muslim places of worship are also not allowed to be established at commercial and residential precincts.
In the first place, is there anyone complaining about a non-Muslim place of worship being built too near the house of a Muslim? Probably none, or just a handful of people.
So, is it necessary for us to bow to the pressure from a small group of people at the expense of religious harmony and divide our people based on religion?
We can therefore deduce that Selangor’s guidelines have been drawn largely out of own presumptions and are unnecessary.
Often such fallacy has been a result of the government officials’ own decisions, drawing up irrational guidelines based on their own perceptions and yardsticks.
With the Muslim population continuously on the rise, it is inevitable that Muslim residents are found in all our housing estates and neighborhoods, especially in urbanised states like Selangor where monoracial enclaves have become a rare commodity. As such, distancing places of worship from residential units is like dividing the people along religious lines.
At the same time, due to exorbitant land cost in Selangor, it has become very difficult for non-Muslim organisations to identify appropriate locations to build their places of worship, and as such many of them have been set up in commercial or even residential quarters.
In Selangor, it is very common to find places of worship within residential units, and the new guidelines means these places of worship may have to be closed down or relocated.
It has been reported that in the first planning standard guidelines published in November 2007, it was stated that non-Muslim places of worship must not be built within 50 meters of a Muslim house. This ruling was subsequently withdrawn in the second edition published in November 2010, but has now been reinstated in the third edition released this January.
Selangor senior state exco Teng Chang Khim said he noticed something not quite right with the latest guidelines before it was published, and had asked the relevant officials to make the necessary amendments. The officials failed to do this and Teng apologised for not taking a second look at the final version before it was published.
Does that mean we have plenty of “Little Napoleons” in the Selangor state government similar to those we often find in the federal government, such that the orders from the top have not been executed by the lower-ranking officials?
Or because there are people purposely distorting the policies? How is the state government going to ensure that similar incidents will not recur in the future?
Pakatan Harapan often prides itself in being more democratic and liberal. Although the Selangor administration is not strictly a Pakatan government, it is nevertheless dominated by PKR and DAP, and should therefore strive to prove its open-mindedness.
It is therefore, essential for the state government to instantly rectify the mistakes or it will lose the justification to slam the BN.
Religious tolerance and harmony
Barisan Nasional’s (BN) religious policies have made it hard for people embracing different faiths to communicate and interact, and by right Pakatan should strive to do all it can to remove such obstacles and promote mutual understanding instead of going down BN’s way.
And since religious tolerance and harmony have been in existence in this country for decades or even centuries, why should the new guidelines mess things up again?
As a matter of fact, we simply have too many people trying to create trouble in recent years in an attempt to advance their own gains by fanning public emotions.
The condition of intolerance has reached a rather serious stage in this country. For instance, crosses should not be displayed prominently and marriage laws must never be amended to address the issue of religious conversion.
We need to improve on the communication especially after the mysterious disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and several others, and not create more barriers with antagonism, pushing things to another extreme.
Fewer and fewer people will be bothered about bridging the gap in the face of their own political interests. Troublemakers are often condoned.
As a consequence, issues pop up one after another. When our society can no longer bear the weight of the stress, disaster will ensue.
We must revert to the spirit of the Constitution to be fair, rational, empathic and accommodating in defending our precious religious harmony and safeguarding the peace of this country.
Lim Sue Goan writes for Sin Chew Daily.
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