Despite the ongoing debate over the Allah issue, which has thrust Malaysia into the international limelight, these youths from various religious backgrounds, under an initiative called "Projek Dialog", have been organising walks to places of worships in an attempt to promote peace and understanding.
In its latest project called "Konvoi Rumah Ibadat IV", the youths went to different houses of worship to spread the word of peace and to build a platform for discussion and dialogue, and promote better understanding among the races.“But due to changes in the political landscape, politicians have politicised issues for their own agenda. This is the problem we are facing today,” he said.
Its organiser Uthaya Sankar told The Malaysian Insider that Malaysians actually live harmoniously with one another.
“And it is our duty to bring it back on track.”
He said the first walk under Projek Dialog was organised on October 12, when about 10 youths went to a Hindu temple, a mosque, a Sikh temple and a Buddhist temple in Kuala Lumpur to learn about the various religious practices.
They began at the Subramaniam Chettiar Hindu Temple in Jalan Ipoh before proceeding to the Gurdwara Sahib in Jalan Sentul, Tokong Dewa Pengawal in Jalan Sentul, Masjid Al-Hidayah in Jalan Sentul and Sri Lanka Buddhist Wat in Jalan Sentul.
Uthaya said that besides the Gurdwara and Buddhist temple where they were greeted by the president and monk respectively, at the other places of worship, they were greeted by the faithful. Each visit took one hour.
“We want the youths to feel safe talking about religion and to ask questions about one another in order to better understand religious issues.
“The response has been great. We have more people inquiring about it but we try to keep the group between 15 and 20 people for each session, to allow for more personal interaction.”
He first initiated the walk in 2010 on his own. Since then, he has organised three, the most recent being the one carried out under Projek Dialog, which was also featured on BBC News recently.
He said the idea was mooted after a group of protesters in Shah Alam brought the head of a cow to the Selangor state government’s headquarters in 2009 to protest against the state’s decision to relocate a Hindu temple in Shah Alam, a Muslim majority area. Cows are considered sacred to Hindus.
The following year, attacks were carried out on several churches after the High Court allowed the use of the word Allah in the Catholic Church’s weekly newspaper, Herald, in its Bahasa Malaysia edition.
Tensions escalated recently after the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and banned the use of the word in the Herald.
Earlier this year, a surau in Kota Tinggi was demolished after a group of Buddhists had allegedly meditated there, and a Muslim woman was detained and then released by police after a video clip showing her washing the paws of her dogs to the call of the Azan prayers surfaced on YouTube.
Meanwhile, an activist who wanted to encourage the exchange of progressive views among youths on religious relations set up a website calledprojekdialog.com.
Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, the managing editor of projekdialog.com, said the website has gained recognition since its inception in April last year.
“I started this website with only four columnists after receiving grants from a non-government organisation called Internews in the United States. Their writings received many hits and we realised there was a demand for this kind of writing in Bahasa Malaysia.
“I also realised there was an increase in traffic and in different takes on religious issues, not just from the conventional ustaz, but from ordinary people, citizens and activists, who look at religion differently.”
Eventually, more writers came on board, their articles resulting in projekdialog.com receiving about 20,000 hits a month.
“For a Bahasa Malaysia interfaith website, this is a big deal. We became an avenue for sensitive discussion in Bahasa Malaysia.
“Such a platform is necessary as there is so much division and discourse in the country among both the English-speaking and Malay-speaking groups,” he said, adding that hopefully it would promote a more tolerant and progressive society.
The efforts of these youths appear to complement the initiative of Parit Buntar MP, Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa of PAS, who has been visiting churches since 2010 to encourage dialogue and mutual respect between Christians and Muslims. – November 1, 2013.
~ The Malaysian Insider