WHILE diversity of faiths and religions test Malaysians’ capacity for unity, it also accentuates the need of a framework which is practicable and acceptable to all.
Two global scholars, Fazlur Rahman and Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, have suggested in their works that the positive value of religious communities is that they may excel in moral goodness.
According to such interpretation, this is indeed a divine command in the Quran, fastabiqu al-khayrat (al-Maidah, 5:48).
Since there are very broad opportunities for various religious communities to compete with each other towards all that is good, it is imperative to explore this model to its fullest potentiality, for example, in providing welfare to the poor.
When we say “commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil”, good and evil must not be evaluated according to secularised, anti-religious values.
Rather, good and evil here must be judged according to universal religious values and good traditions of man and society (al-ma‘ruf).
Commanding the good and forbidding the evil must be done by religious adherents in a proper, gracious, honest and sincere way.
It is extremely important to acknowledge the difference between one religion and another and thus their uniqueness.
Interreligious problems won’t be solved by denying the fact that there are differences among various religions or by saying all religions are the same as asserted by adherents of religious pluralism.
The present-day religious pluralist is either a secularist who himself does not practice a religious life or is a secularised individual who is at best doubtful of religious truths. Promoting pluralistic co-existence by imposing secular principles that make all religions equal is counter-productive.
Rather, the solution must be sought by having respect for the unique, different qualities of each tradition, and coexist with those differences.
Inter-faith relations should not be in terms of toleration if by toleration we refer to emotionless and dispassionate relations, which are artificial.
The inter-faith relations that we must promote is one which affection and compassion are intrinsic to. Such kindness and honesty is already couched in the Malaysian founding fathers’ term muhibah, which comes from mahabbah (love or affection).
However, muhibah may be established between members of society only through friendship, wherein there will be mutual help, kindness and respect.
I submit that friendship may only be realised as a result of individuals’ union in school, in university, in workplace, and in their living in the same place.
Here, we must acknowledge the challenging fact that we Malaysians are in.
To my mind, generally, there is a divide between children who go to national schools and those who go to national-type schools, let alone those who go to public schools. This divide needs to be sincerely bridged.
A bridge rather than a wall is needed to unite a divide between public and private universities; between public service and the private sector; between the rural and urban population; between Malaysians who habitually use the national language and those who don’t.
If our children, generation after generation, go to separate schools and universities and offices, and then almost live in separate places, and communicate in different languages, is there any hope for genuine friendship to bloom?
Another challenge for this nation is how to solve problems without becoming a litigious multi-religious community, as friendship cannot be expected to flourish between legal complainant and defendant.
While claimants in a civil case related to inter-religious issues are entitled to seek legal redress through the court, the fact remains that a purely legal way is not conduce to affectionate inter-religious relations.
The claimant and defendant can only be artificial friends, if at all they still want to be friends.
But how can we pay genuine respect to other people; how are we going to be genuinely kindly to others if we do not have the opportunity to be neighbours or the prospect to be friends?
As mentioned in Peloponnesian War, a work by Greek historian Thucydides, “There can never be any solid friendship between individuals, or unity between communities, unless the parties are persuaded of each other’s honesty.”
Ikim Views By DR MOHD SANI BADRON Senior Fellow/Director, Centre for Economic and Social Studies
Source: The STAR Home News Opinion Tuesday August 2, 2011