PAS national unity bureau has revealed plans to reach out to more non-Muslims despite a series of unpopular remarks and decisions bordering on race and religion by top PAS brass in recent months.
Led by the bureau's chief and Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa (left), a luncheon was held between PAS and a group of Christian religious leaders in Penang yesterday.
PAS leaders present include the party's Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim, Penang Municipal Councillors Mohamed Yusof Mohamed Noor and Mohd Nasir Yahya.
Accompanying them were Bishop Sebastian Francis, Bishop Emeritus Antony Selvanayagam, Vicar General Msgr Bernard Paul, Dr Mary Fernandez, priests Francis Anthony and Fabian Dicom.
Mujahid said PAS will continue its efforts in being more inclusive of other ethnic and religious groups despite the upheavals and challenges in the current political scenario.
Taking relationship beyond
"We want to take our relationship withm non-Muslims including the Christians beyond talks and dialogues, and plan activities together to foster closer ties.
"These activities can include welfare and education, where all races and religious groups can contribute, share their knowledge and goodwill to improve the communities they live in," he added.
PAS efforts at national unity comes amidst its president Abdul Hadi Awang being bombarded for his recent remark that local government elections can result in another May 13 racial riots.
The relationship between Christians and Muslims have been tensed since the courts ruled that the church is prohibited from using the word "Allah" to refer to God.
During his speech, Mujahid shared the story of a dialogue St Francis of Assisi held with the Egyption Sultan in 1219 at the height of the Crusades as the priest was strongly against the war.
"Although Francis had intended to convert the sultan, a Sunni Muslim with the hope of ending the war, both men ended up having a dialogue instead which left a deep mark on both," said Mujahid.
During lunch, Sebastian wished PAS spiritual leader and former Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat a speedy recovery.
Sebastian recalled his first meeting with Nik Aziz in Penang in Jan 2013 when the latter paid him a visit and presented him with a cake, after he met with the late Karpal Singh at his home during Thaipusam.
"He prayed for me during that time," said Sebastian.
Nik Aziz has been in ill-health since last week, and is currently being treated for prostrate cancer at the University Sains Malaysia Hospital in Kota Bahru.
Doing much but no one knows
Sebastian lamented the lack of news on the positive inter-faith efforts made by Christians and Muslims to bridge the religious gap.
One example was the recent floods in Kelantan, where the church opened its gates to all, including Muslims whose homes were destroyed by mud and sludge, he added.
The relevant authorities including the state and police were informed of the matter to avoid misunderstanding, he added, considering that certain quarters may not be so accepting of such efforts.
Sebastian said religious leaders were aware that there is a global strategy to pit Muslims against Christians and vice-versa.
He expressed concerns that Muslims were branded "terrorists" when violent acts were committed by groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which were obviously not professing the principles of Islam.
He was also saddened by the lack of coverage by the media, including the CNN and BBC, over Pope Francis' recent response to the Charlie Hebdo murders in France, when he said that "You cannot insult the faith of others".
"Respect towards other religions is very important and we condemn violent attacks by any individual or groups in the name of religion," said Sebastian.