KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has reportedly said that his administration is still willing to conduct talks with Islamist party PAS, but must draw a line when it comes to religious zealotry.
Speaking to Time magazine, he pointed to the rise of conservative rhetoric among Malaysians that stemmed from the current political environment and PAS' increasingly hardline stance.
“On whether we are prepared to engage with them, of course we do. We must. And I’ve sent [an invitation] to them ... Yes, I have been open to the idea from the beginning. After all, this is a unity government and we do what is best for our country,” he was quoted saying.
“But of course, we are going to draw a line. Islam is the religion of the federation, but this is a multi-religious country and I want every single citizen in this country, of all religious persuasions, to know that they have a place in this country.
“No one should be discriminated against, marginalised, or ignored,” he reportedly added.
However, Anwar told Time he has yet to receive a clear rejection or positive response from PAS so far.
“The political climate is still a bit heated, so we’ll let it cool off for some time,” he reportedly said.
To combat the rising racial and religious tensions, Anwar said his strategy is to bring economic development, and then education to emphasise that Malaysia's plural identity.
Anwar also said that education is key to dispelling any form of racism, extremism and religious bigotry which tend to breed easily among the more ignorant segment of the population.
“When I say ignorant, I don’t mean you’re not qualified, you don’t go to university. I mean the lack of understanding of the total message of a religion dependent on some of the mullahs and sheikhs, with their very narrow, obscure interpretation.
“Although it is a predominantly Muslim country, it is a multiracial country. And we have survived hundreds of years with the presence of Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. And there is no reason why you should upset this and cause enmity,” he said.
After taking power in November last year, Anwar said his coalition government would uphold the tenets of the Federal Constitution, namely the status of the Bumiputera, the Malay language, the religion of Islam, and the Malay rulers.
However he stressed that this should not come at the expense of the rights, citizenship, and opportunities of every race, religion and region in the country, no Malaysian should be left to feel ignored or marginalised.