Regular religious discourse necessary, forum told

Lawyer and social activist Siti Kasim speaks during the 'Religious Tolerance and New Malaysia' forum at Gerak Budaya in Petaling Jaya July 30, 2018. ― Picture by Azneal Ishak
Lawyer and social activist Siti Kasim speaks during the 'Religious Tolerance and New Malaysia' forum at Gerak Budaya in Petaling Jaya July 30, 2018. ― Picture by Azneal Ishak

PETALING JAYA, July 31 — Multiracial and multireligious Malaysia still needs frequent discussions on religious tolerance, said panellist at the “Religious Tolerance and New Malaysia” forum organised by interfaith NGO Projek Dialog.

It was moderated by the Islamic Renaissance Front's Ehsan Shahwahid.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan noted the Federal Constitution's Article 11 guaranteed the right to practise one's religion in peace and harmony, while Article 1 maintained that Islam is the official religion of Malaysia.

“The courts may favour at times individuals whose religious rights have been infringed upon. So long as the judicial system is free from political interference, this can continue,” he said.

Fellow activist and Concerned Lawyers for Justice member Aidil Khalid argued that the concept of religious tolerance should be done holistically.

“The word 'tolerance' itself is not found within the Constitution, and instead we must look at Article Three which clearly states other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.

“To this it should be examined closely and not just as mere semantics but in terms of jurisprudence and interpretations,” he said.

Aidil said that just as religious tolerance is extended to minorities, it should also apply to the majority, citing several instance in the past which indicated Muslims had faced certain restrictions.

Lawyer and social activist Siti Kasim generally agreed on the need for continued dialogue on religious tolerance, but insisted that individuals be allowed to carry out their lives and practices as long as these did not affect others.

“There are those who will interpret the Constitution to see what only benefits themselves. What you wish to practise is up to you, but do not impose your socio-religious views upon others,” she said.

Referring to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Bill, Siti said one cannot claim religious tolerance if only some agree with them.

“As far as we are concerned the law is for everyone. One cannot force others to respect you when you do not respect others,” she said to a mixture of applause and loud disagreements.

Isma's Aminuddin Yahya said he welcomed such dialogue as it would enable Malaysian society to see things in the proper perspective. However he maintained that it should follow a proper framework.

“The Quran clearly stated humans and djinns were created with the freedom to choose. So long as we function within the rules and regulations ordained to us by God then there is no problem,” he said.

Aminuddin said it was either following divinely-inspired law or resort to what he called “human-made rights”.

“It is illogical to claim a set of values as being universal when it runs contrary to what other societies may not agree to. Rather we should discuss religious tolerance with one another as Malaysians, without using the claim of so-called human rights as an excuse,” he said.

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