By Neville SpykermanKUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s backtracking on the need for the formation of a national consultative council on religious harmony is sending the wrong signal, says religious groups and Yayasan 1Malaysia.
“He had previously said it was a good idea and it’s disappointing that he has changed his position.” said Dr Chandra Muzaffar, the chairman of Yayasan 1Malaysia. The foundation advocates the formation of the council to resolve all religious disputes including the ongoing row on the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims
The deputy prime minister said two days ago that an interfaith commission, which is similar to Chandra’s national consultative council on religious harmony, was not necessary at this time.
According to Muhyiddin there have been no major issues until the current dispute over the use of ‘Allah’ and said dialogue was enough to resolve the problem.
However, Chandra disagreed and said he does not think informal dialogues are enough to resolve the row, which had climaxed with attacks on churches, a Sikh temple and the desecration of two mosques last week.
“I don’t think ad hoc dialogues can help us resolve the issues that now confront us.”
He said the government must be involved with civil society in order for a solution to be found.
“That why we suggested the prime minister heads the council, because decisions have to be made.”
He said Muhyiddin was wrong to say there had been no major disputes previously.
“There’s been lot of issues and it is more important for a mechanism to be found to solve these disputes in a frank manner.”
He, however, agreed with Muhyiddin that dialogue be held behind closed doors.
Chandra, who also lectures on global studies in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), said he suspects the reluctance on the part of the government for a national consultative council was due to opposition from the Islamic religious establishments.
He said religious bodies may feel that the council could demean Islam but he pointed out that there was no theological basis to their opposition.
“Islamic civilization and history shows that Islam has always engaged other religious and is open to dialogue.”
Meanwhile, Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism president Rev Dr Thomas Phillips today also expressed surprise at Muhyiddin’s change in position.
“I am surprised because I thought he welcomed it.”
He said a national consultative council on religious harmony would allow leaders of all faiths to come together to resolve all overall concerns instead of tackling issues as they crop up.
“There must be a mechanism where we can come together, while respecting differences and still move forward.”
He said the time was right to create a better Malaysia for the next generation.