Buddhist monk to PM: Call for dialogue to end interfaith row

Members of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. Buddhist chief monk for Malaysia and Singapore, Rev Dr Sumana Siri said that a dialogue was needed for religious and community leaders to sort out the Allah issue.— Picture by Choo Choy May
Members of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. Buddhist chief monk for Malaysia and Singapore, Rev Dr Sumana Siri said that a dialogue was needed for religious and community leaders to sort out the Allah issue.— Picture by Choo Choy May

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GEORGE TOWN, Jan 7 — The Buddhist chief monk for Malaysia and Singapore urged today Datuk Seri Najib Razak convene a dialogue with all religious leaders to allay the anxieties of Malaysians over the latest flare-up over use of the “Allah” word here.

Rev Sumana Siri, who is chief monk of the Malaysian and Singaporean International Buddhist Cultural Organisation, pleaded with the prime minister to step in and ensure the tussle between Muslims and Christians does not spread to the other faiths and become a “free for all”.

“He should have a dialogue session for all religious leaders and community heads to resolve this issue,” Sumana told reporters here.

The monk stressed that he was not “attacking” the prime minister, whom he noted has kept silent in the wake of a raid by Selangor’s Islamic religious enforcers on a bible supplier in Petaling Jaya last week.

“The crackdown may now be confined to the Christian faith but there are now fears that this could spread and affect other faiths too,” he said.

Last Sunday, some Muslim groups declared “war” on Catholic priest, Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, whom they blame for provoking tensions.

They were offended by the priest, who is also editor of Catholic weekly, Herald, for reportedly saying churches would continue to use the “Allah” word in their worship as the Federal Constitution guaranteed freedom for religious adherents to practise their faith in peace and harmony.

Sumana pleaded with the prime minister to take action to douse the sparks before it spirals out of control.

Najib had mooted a special Cabinet Committee to Promote Harmony and Understanding Among Religious Adherents in 2010 in a bid to mend the widening rift between Malaysia’s Muslim majority and its sizeable multireligious minorities following a rare burst of attacks against houses of worship nationwide.

A church was firebombed while mosques, surau and even a gurdwara were vandalised after a 2009 High Court ruled that the Catholic Church could publish the word “Allah” in the Malay language section its its newspaper, Herald.

Progress within the Cabinet interfaith committee however, appears to have slowed over the years following the death of its first chairman, Datuk Ilani Isahak, from cancer on February 24, 2011.

Sumana chided Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, for failing to take a clear stand on the raid by his state’s Islamic Religious Department (Jais) on the Bible Society of Malaysia’s (BSM) office last week, in which it seized over 300 bibles in the Malay and Iban languages, which contained the word “Allah”.

“He also needs to straighten this matter instead of claiming that he does not know about it,” Sumana said of Khalid.

The Buddhist monk noted that five Malaysian states, including Johor and Perak, featured the word “Allah” as part of the lyrics in their anthems and questioned if non-Muslims were wrong to sing the songs.

“If the word can’t be used by others, then why non-Muslims are also singing these anthems with the word Allah in it?” he asked.

Sumana also express bafflement over the federal government’s differing policies on use of the “Allah” word within Malaysia, questioning the approval given to Sabah and Sarawak but blocking its utterance in the peninsula.

“How can it be 1 Malaysia if there are two different sets of laws, one for East Malaysia and one for the peninsular?” he asked.

Sumana, who has a doctorate in Theology from Oxford University, urged all parties to emulate social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir who has said the “Allah” word is for all.

“The word ‘Allah’ predated Islam, and non-Muslims in the Middle East were not banned from using the word and in fact, ‘Allah’ was featured in Malay-language bibles that dated back to 1612, which is more than 400 years ago,” he said.

He also said Catholics in the country have been using the word “Allah” since the 19th century, and added that the word was not banned to non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, India, Malta, Pakistan and Indonesia, the last which he noted is the largest Muslim nation in Southeast Asia.

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