PETALING JAYA: Despite rapid technological advances, Malaysians are still lagging behind in terms of religious tolerance and understanding, say academics.
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) Assoc Prof Dr Charanjit Kaur said the only way to overcome this is to have more open inter-religious dialogues within the society.
Speaking from her personal experience, the lecturer for Gender and Religious Studies said most of her students still lack understanding of other religions.
“When I asked them to study about Islam, they said no directly. And why is this? I believe that this is caused by their upbringing and environment.
“It is ironic that while most of them are tech-savvy, they’re still lacking in knowledge about other religions, what more the ones practised by the minority,” she said at a roundtable discussion on religious tolerance organised by the Academy for Civilisation Studies and hosted by PKR Senator Dr Muhammad Nur Manuty here on Tuesday.
“It is still frowned upon to have an open debate or forum on religion as Malaysians prefer to remain quiet and just accept even if they don’t agree with something," she said.
Former Hindu Sangam chairman Datuk A. Vaithilingam said while he agrees that there should be tolerance in religion, he prefers the term "understand".
“When you tolerate, it means you accept it even though you don’t like it. I believe understanding others is better than tolerating.
“We must be open. We know Islam is the religion of the federation and we accept when official functions start with their prayers, while we do our own silent prayers,” he said.
Speaking on Buddhism, Taylors University senior lecturer Vijaya Samarawickrama said the religion has been misunderstood due to Myanmar Buddhists’ persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
“We are peace loving, and people have been asking us about what is happening in Myanmar.
“Whatever political reasons the Burmese people have, we cannot condone our Buddhist monks wearing yellow robes picking up sticks and beating up people.
“Buddhism is not which one can be a member of. One must be practising to be called a Buddhist.
“Dalai Lama once said, ‘Even if you are holding my robe, that doesn’t make you a Buddhist if you don’t practise’,” he said.
Meanwhile, Director of the Centre for Religion and Society of Malaysia Theological Seminary Rev Dr Sivin Kit suggested that an inter-religious dialogue should also discuss standing in solidarity with others from different faiths, and not just ideas.
He said this while referring to the plight of the family of missing Pastor Raymond Koh.
“I had organised a vigil for him in Seremban to pray for him, and the Buddhists came, our Muslim friends from Abim and Ikram came."
Speaking from Islamic perspective, chairman of the Academy for Civilisation Studies Dr Ghazali Basri believed that the term "tolerance" should at least be practised by the Muslim audience.“I think it is a very basic element in understanding other faiths. We need to sacrifice some things we do not like because Islam is a mercy to all,” he said.