That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice | Selangor Times
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26·06·2017
Issue 118

 

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That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 13 Apr 2012

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

This piece will not comment on the veracity of the event, but on the steady complexity of dealing with a multiracial and multireligious society, a characteristic of Malaysia that will never change.

In recent years we have been witness to several alarming events, namely the church-burning incidents following the controversy of the use of the word “Allah” by East Malaysian Christians (whose native tongue is Malay), the raid on the DUMC church when officials from the Selangor religious department JAIS suspected that Muslims were also present, as well as the trampling upon a cow head (the cow is a holy and respected creature in the Hindu faith) in relation to a temple relocation dispute in Shah Alam.

Sharing Common Spaces
Asians are a religious lot. With the exception of your urbanite atheist and agnostic, religion and its manifestations in public life is pretty much here to stay in all of its various forms. And given the multiplicity of faiths in Malaysia, figuring out just how to live in a common public space has been the million-dollar question.

Miroslaf Volf from the Yale Center of Faith and Culture writes about a “reciprocal relationship”, where we are “interested not only in what we think about ourselves and about others but also in what others think of themselves and us”. Rowan Williams, up to recently the Archbishop of Canterbury in Britain says similarly that “we have to see that we have a life in other people’s imaginations, quite beyond our control”. (Sivin Kit, 2009).

One of the best ways to bridge the gap between ourselves and those around us is to seek to understand those different from us. The danger that accompanies living in a plural society is that each community begins to adopt an insular approach, one that is inward-looking and creates isolated silos.

Living in Malaysia does not necessarily mean knowing, truly, the heart of your fellow neighbour Muslim/Christian/Buddhist/Hindu/animist: what are his motivations, dreams, hopes, fears and needs?

Sharing a common space is more than about sharing a common physical space. If the lowest common denominator as Malaysians means being together and merely not breaking out into a brawl, then circumstances are sad indeed.

We must aim to reach a stage where we share common ideals and goals. And this is entirely possible if one were to use a faith-based context.

Faith and Justice
It has been said that all religions preach justice. And certainly, social justice does feature prominently in the main faiths practised in our country.

That said, what then of the points of contention that keep recurring? What happens when the interpretation of justice sought for each faith group conflicts with that of another faith group? When each community’s needs and demands rub against each other’s and cause friction – how is justice then achieved?

This is where some cool heads, rational minds, steady conversation, prolonged interaction and wisdom come into play.

The whole point of building a network of people from different religions was to ensure these sorts of long-term relationships would develop. When emergencies or fringe cases take place, this group of concerned citizens of Malaysia would work closely with various other stakeholders – government, NGOs, community groups, faith groups respectively – to solve the problem in the best way possible.

If there is something to learn about ourselves, it is that the diversity is here to stay.

And the sooner we recognise that, the sooner we will realise the importance of working with and reaching out to groups that we consider not worth our time.

This works both ways between Muslim and non-Muslim faith groups. The chasm might seem overwhelmingly wide between the two at times, but like it or not, this is Malaysia in its full glory.

Conservative and liberal groups may not see eye to eye on almost every subject, but when circumstances demand resolution, some compromise (not theological compromise but that of personal pride, perhaps) may be necessary.

Where Christians fear their minority rights being eroded, Muslims fear their own community being weakened and converted, for example.

A recognition of this is needed at the first instance.  

Some intellectuals continue to argue for a separation of religion and state, and whilst I may personally believe this is a solution theoretically, this is not a realistic outcome in the near future.

In a country (and region) that is so deeply steeped in the history and tradition of religion, this will continue to be a prevailing theme.

 

 Selangor Times

 

 

Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

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The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

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It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

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Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally

 

Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.

 

 

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