Malaysia: Address real issues in interfaith dialogue, religious leaders told

PETALING JAYA: A Christian leader has urged religious leaders to stop ignoring problems experienced by their communities.

Center for Religion and Society director Sivin Kit says religious leaders often don’t want to be seen as ‘compromising’ their own faith.


This comes after Joshua Woo Sze Zeng, an alumni of Cambridge University’s Inter-Faith Programme, related his experience attending a recent interfaith dialogue organised by local Catholic and Muslim leaders.

In a commentary published in Free Malaysia Today, Woo said there was a serious lack of in-depth engagement on the actual interfaith challenges in our society.

Completely agreeing with the statement, Centre for Religion and Society director Sivin Kit said the way forward is for new models of interfaith dialogues to emerge.

“We need forums where real experiences are shared so the participants can hear actual stories of joy and sorrow.

“Dialogues need better planning and guidelines so panellists can address issues with focus and clarity.

“However, this may require actual cases mixed with some discussions on religious teachings,” he told Free Malaysia Today.

Sivin said facilitators who could encourage complexity without too much jargon and academic “aloofness” were also important in order for ordinary believers not to feel alienated.

“Complexity of religions, the expectations of religious communities and the reality of low religious literacy become hindrances for real talk.”

He said another reason religious leaders tend to ignore dealing with real issues, especially in public forums, was because most religious people only had a “surface understanding” of the religious traditions of other faiths.

“A mature and confident faith, ironically, is able to deal with contradictions and engage in respectful and rational dialogue.

“But even if the speakers are themselves knowledgeable, they are often speaking to a public where religious literacy may be low,” Sivin said.

This, he said, often put religious leaders on their toes as they don’t want to be seen as if they were “compromising” their own faith.

“Interfaith dialogue often is stereotyped as just talking nice about religion.

“Usually, speakers want to be seen as defending their own as well as being respectful. But touching on actual cases may be perceived by their own communities as selling out to another religious community.

“So, while I think honesty is the best policy, others may perceive it as compromising one’s faith.”

Sivin said the fact that religion was so politicised in the country did not make things any easier.

“Religion is so politicised in Malaysia that it’s hard to make clear distinctions whether an issue is theological, cultural, ethical or political. It requires some skill and ability to do so in public.”

Sivin said this tendency to ignore the problems faced by religious communities may have been one of the factors that led to the recent controversies over evangelicalism discussed in the public sphere.

“There are clear cases of basic misunderstandings of terms, history and practices when dealing with these controversies,” he said.

This Saturday, Sivin will be moderating a talk on evangelicals and other current controversies in the country at 3pm at Menara Wesley in Kuala Lumpur.


Temples in Malaysia


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