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Let's steer M'sia towards peaceful religious co-existence

LETTER | A “Bangsa Malaysia’ for nation-building can only be achieved through a harmonious religious coexistence and respect of all faiths where all forms of extremism, radicalism, racism and bigotry be rejected by all Malaysians on International Day for Freedom of Religion.

October 27 marks the International Day for Freedom of Religion, and after 62 years we see now the seeds of racism, religious bigotry and hatred planted by race-based parties of the former regime flourish dangerously now and is sinisterly acting also as a tool to always remind Malaysians that they are often judged by their skin colour, ethnicity and religion instead of character.

This day should be a reminder to all of us to promote coexistence and respect between people of different cultures and religions in this Malaysia we all call home.

Of course, Malaysia is in no comparison to victims of religious persecutions in countries like Myanmar where the Rohingyas are persecuted; the Uighurs, Buddhists and Christians in China; Christians in Eritrea and Uzbekistan; Christians in Tajikistan; Sunnis, Sufi Muslims, Christians and Bahais in Iran and Uzbekistan; Jehovah’s Witness, Sunnis and Sufis in Russia; atheists and Shias in Saudi Arabia; Christians and Buddhists in Vietnam; Christians in Turkmenistan and other forms of persecutions against other faiths.

But if extremists and radicals are not stopped now, what assurance do we have that we won’t go down that dangerous path?

And are we going to allow religious bigots, racists and radicals dictate the path our Malaysia should take? Are we going to allow the loud extremists to speak for us, peace-loving citizens of Malaysia when we disagree with their distorted, archaic views?

If no, then we must start speaking up, in one voice to silence these bigots and not give those who preach hatred and differences rather than to focus similarities between Malaysians, further pushing the wedge between ethnicities and faiths, in the attempt to further separate Malaysians.

According to the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) Annual Report for 2019, Malaysia maintains her standing in Tier 2, for “engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious’ standard for designation as a ‘country of particular concern,’ under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

One may disagree with the findings of the USCIRF, but the reality on the ground will point in that exact direction. Religious discrimination in schools, in our local communities, in public institutions, in institutions of higher learning and in employment cement this theory. It is up to us now. If all Malaysians, civil society and the government do not grab the bull by its horns, weeding out these zealots, the challenge of rebuilding a New Malaysia will be more and more an uphill struggle.

We need to come out of the shadows of ‘religious tolerance’ and steer this ship in the direction of ‘coexistence of religious harmony’ giving the due importance to the beautiful similarities between different religious beliefs and faiths, in embracing diversity and culture – from Perlis to Johor, Sabah and Sarawak, and in one voice to reject all forms of racism, religious bigotry and extremism plaguing our nation.

It is a time of religious dialogues between Malaysians from all walks of life, to peer at and experience ‘Malaysianism’ at its best. It is a time to bring Malaysia back to her glory days, much of it seen in the black-and-white movies by our beloved treasure P. Ramlee.

Malaysia is a country that has so much potential to be a model country for the rest of the world, weaving cultures and religions to create a fabric of Malaysia by Malaysians.

“Religion is the compass that orients us to the good and steers us away from evil, which is always crouching at the door of a person’s heart” - Pope Francis.

KASTHURI PATTO is Batu Kawan MP, International Secretary for Wanita DAP, Member of Parliamentary Special Select Committee for Human Rights and Gender Equality, and Member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for the Freedom of Religion and Belief (IPPFoRB).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.