Today I read a Bernama article about a meeting between the Inter-Religious Committee to Promote Mutual Understanding and Harmony among Religions and the Prime Minister at the PM’s office. If you remember this committee got off to a rocky start when the muslim clerics objected to Dr Koh Tsu Koon’s leadership, as well as the name of the committee itself (inter-religious was objectionable).
At the meeting the PM expressed his hope of seeing intra- and inter-group unity prevailing in Malaysia.
According to another report by The Malaysian Insider, the committee is now named renamed Committee for the Understanding and Harmony Among Religious Adherents. The committee chairman remains Datuk Ilani Isahak, who also carries the title of “special coordinator to promote inter-religious understanding and harmony”. Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, the minister in charge of national unity is now special advisor to the committee together with Datuk Seri Maj Gen (Rtd) Jamil Khir Baharom – the minister who supervises Islamic religious affairs and the guy the Islamic clerics wanted to replace Koh as minister-in-charge.
The Malaysian Insider said it well in an editorial a few months ago:
After all, it does no good that non-Muslims are asked to make concessions on the panel’s name or that Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon must be dropped as the minister-in-charge in favour of the Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, who supervises Islamic religious affairs.
The Islamic clerics’ demand exposes the underlying problem with the group: that Muslims believe the position of Islam as the official religion in Malaysia accords them superiority over other religions.
If that is the starting point for the panel, what chance of any compromise or agreement for inter-faith harmony to prevent a recurrence of attacks on houses of worship.
I also read a few articles about JHEOA (the department in charge of Orang Asli affairs) telling some Orang Asli Christians in Gua Musang, Kelantan, that they do not have PERMISSION to build a church on THEIR LAND, using THEIR OWN FUNDS. So it seems that a government department thinks that they have the authority to deny the right of the Orang Asli to build a church, without giving any reason. And from what I have read, it seems that there has been at least 4 occasions when churches have been demolished by JHEOA.
As JHEOA is a government department, it is well within the Prime Minister’s power and authority to stop this and other obstacles that government officials have from time to time thrown up that prevent non-muslims from exercising and practicing their faith. The incident where non-muslim groups in a school were asked to discontinue their activities comes easily to mind. I hope that national Christian bodies will raise the matter with the PM. It will be a simple test of the Prime Minister’s sincerity and resolve to ensure that his administration is not a primary impediment to religious harmony.