Last Thursday, I was surprised to get a call from Bangkok which resulted in the following piece from Union of Catholic Asian News. The experience of the interaction of the phone was very helpful for me personally to recall the experience of the “People Like Us” Forum, and to reflect on it deeper.
The last one week, numerous conversations and reading of other people’s feedback on the event has caused me to engage deeper in thinking about the significance, lessons and possibilities which this “ripple” can bring about in the long term.
One thing is certain, we are already working on another joint event. So, it would be very exciting to see what lies ahead.
June 19, 2009 | MS07437.1554 | 566 words
BANGKOK (UCAN) — More than 100 Christians, Muslims and people of other religions gathered at a Lutheran church in Malaysia recently to discuss issues that religious minorities face in the country.
The Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) and Friends in Conversation jointly organized "People Like Us: How Arrogance Divides People." Friends in Conversation is a Christian group that holds discussions on social, political and economic issues. The forum was held June 12 at Bangsar Lutheran Church in Kuala Lumpur.
From left: Tricia Yeoh, Waleed Aly, Reverend
Sivin Kit and Ahmad Farouk Musa at the forum
(Photo by Ben Ong, courtesy of Reverend Sivin Kit)
The main achievement of the forum was that Muslims, Christians and others "actually came together in a non-threatening environment and interacted as friends," Reverend Sivin Kit told UCA News. The pastor of Bangsar Lutheran Church, who hosted and facilitated the event, noted that half the 103 participants were Muslims and the others were mostly Catholics and Protestants.
He also commended participants for interacting with one another before and after the two-hour event, and especially the Muslims for coming to a church to participate. Participants "were cautious not to offend each other," since for many it was their first time attending such a forum, he said.
According to Reverend Kit, Tricia Yeoh, one of three panelists at the forum, brought up several issues faced by minorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Among them was competition by Muslim-dominated political parties to push an Islamic agenda in the country.
Aloysius Pinto, a Catholic participant, agreed. He pointed out that political groups and media have been using the issue of religion in a way that has led to confusion.
Yeoh, a Christian serving at the research office of the chief minister of Selangor state, also brought up the issue of Christians not being allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to God.
In recent years, the Catholic weekly "Herald," which reports on Catholic community news in English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin, has engaged in a dispute with the government on the use of "Allah," the Arabic word for God, in its Malay section.
In late May, the country’s High Court announced that the Catholic Church cannot use "Allah" until the court makes a decision on the matter on July 7.
Ahmad Farouk Musa, another forum speaker, discussed the need for Muslims to reform. An MPF founding member, he stressed the importance of reason.
Christians and Muslims discuss minority
issues at Bangsar Lutheran Church. (Photo
by Ben Ong, courtesy of Reverend Sivin Kit)
The other speaker was Waleed Aly, an Australian lawyer and Muslim community leader, who authored the book "People Like Us: How Arrogance Is Dividing Islam and the West." He told the forum that many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims exist in the West. He acknowledged a cultural misunderstanding, but he denied that Muslims were discriminated against in the West.
Reverend Kit, a founding member of Friends in Conversation, told UCA News over the phone that the group is preparing to further engage in dialogue and conversation with Muslim groups. In the next months, for example, it plans a joint forum with Sisters in Islam (SIS), a group committed to promoting women’s rights within the framework of Islam.
SIS came into the limelight recently when PAS (Malay acronym for All-Malaysia Islamic Party), one of the three political parties in the federal opposition coalition, suggested that the group be investigated and outlawed if it was found to have gone against Islamic teachings.
Malaysia is a multiracial country, and the government considers religion a sensitive matter. About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.
For earlier posts read the following: