AN interfaith forum seeking national unity took place at the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Jalan Cheras, Selangor on Malaysia Day.
The collaborative effort was led by Archdiocese Ministry of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs ecclesiastical assistant Father Xavier Andrew, and Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Rev Julian Leow, who joined forces with other religious leaders and organisations.
Over 200 individuals representing diverse races and faiths attended “Malaysia Madani: A Determined Quest for Wholesome National Unity Interfaith Forum”.
The panel featured representatives of various faiths, including Prematilaka KD Serisana (Buddhism), Ranee Sreedharan (Baha’i), Dr Muhammad Fairuz Azmi (Islam), Dr Poey Tiang Peow (Taoism), Dr Muralidaran Paramasua (Hinduism), Prabhdial Singh Daler (Sikhism), and Reverend Father Edwin Peter (Catholicism).
The session was moderated by Ravindran Raman Kutty, a fellow of Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.
The forum commenced with cultural performances, followed by a rendition of the national anthem and recitation of the Rukunegara by all participants.
During the discussion, the religious leaders emphasised a common goal – for religions to contribute to a more civil society, aligning with the concept of Malaysia Madani.
The conversation revolved around the virtues, values and principles of Malaysia Madani and how religion could play an inclusive role in the development of a greater Malaysia.
During the question-and-answer session, a question was raised about whether atheists, who numbered around 300,000 in Malaysia, posed a threat to the nation.
The moderator said as long as atheists did not break the law, disrespect the monarchy, the nation and its people, and did not cause harm, they could coexist harmoniously in the country.
The forum also addressed the issue of polarisation in schools and universities, where teachers exhibited excessive control.
The panel asserted that it was the responsibility of parents to ensure their children received basic religious teachings.
Another query revolved around the declining attendance of young people in churches, temples and mosques.
The panel stressed the importance of instilling religious teachings from a young age to help the youth appreciate and practise their respective religions.
A participant asked whether it was more appropriate to speak of religious tolerance or religious awareness and the panel unanimously agreed that religious awareness surpassed mere tolerance.
“I was excited yet exhausted after 3.5 hours of invigorating conversation and exchange between the panellists and the attendees,” said Ravindran.
The panel unanimously concurred that healthy discussions like this contributed to the betterment of society and Malaysia.
Fr Xavier expressed the need for more such forums within the Malaysia Madani framework while Poey emphasised how such forums went beyond social media discussions and promoted unity among Malaysians.
Muhammad Fairuz stressed the importance of exposing children to various cultures and practices beyond what schools offered, as this would foster greater unity and understanding.
The forum concluded with a closing address by Archbishop Leow, with a reminder that “love unites while hate divides”.