Monday, April 05, 2010

Cabinet moots inter-faith panel to solve dispute

The Cabinet has finally agreed to form an inter-faith panel to foster religious understanding and harmony disturbed in the past few months by bigots and the controversial “Allah” ruling.

The Malaysian Insider understands the Cabinet, under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, had earlier this year appointed Datuk Ilani Isahak to bring religious leaders to the table in an attempt to peacefully iron out conflicts.

The idea for an inter-faith panel was first mooted in the early 1980s but was spiked following objections from Muslim groups such as the Islamic Development Department, better known by its Malay acronym Jakim.

According to sources, the objection was because an inter-faith council would place Islam, the nation’s official religion, on equal footing with the other religions.

Various attempts have been made to revive the idea over the years, but have come up against a wall, until now.

A former Kota Baru MP, Ilani who is now with the religious affairs division in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), was handpicked to head the inter-faith panel. She was a member of the National Unity Advisory Panel under the Abdullah administration.

Ilani declined to comment on the issues raised when first contacted by The Malaysian Insider but promised to do so later. She did not specify when.

Religious representatives who have spoken to Ilani told The Malaysian Insider that she is very tactful and sympathetic to the non-Muslim communities on their problems which have been piling up over the years.

Reverend Hermen Shastri, secretary-general of the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) greeted the Najib administration’s latest overture with cautious optimism.

He noted that rise of inter-religious disputes pitting Muslims against the non-Muslims in the last few years over a number of issues, most notably burial rights and conversions.

One of the most bitter controversies is the case of kindergarten teacher, M. Indira Gandhi, a Hindu who is battling her Muslim-convert ex-husband, Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, for custody of their youngest daughter.

While a civil High Court in Perak had earlier this month awarded the mother custody of 22-month old Prasana, a Syariah high court had granted custody to the father.

The inter-faith panel first met last February 12 after a spate of street protests and attacks on houses of worship following the New Year’s Eve High Court ruling over the use of the word “Allah” showed the need for all religious groups to face the problem straight on.

Although the “Allah” issue is before the courts, some 28 religious leaders, including Muslim officials from Jakim and the Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim) were present at the first talk to discuss the disputes.

Suggestions were made then to split the main panel into several smaller committees to better manage the disputes, namely: religious conversion; places of worship; burials and cemeteries; proselytisation; and use of religious terminology.

Another idea mooted was to set up an action team comprising respected civic leaders who could immediately step in, in an emergency, to deal with conflicts on the ground.

Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Reverend Thomas Philips, said the inter-faith committee will be meeting again today for the Cabinet’s feedback on the various proposals made.

courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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