Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Interfaith dialogue is essential to promote understanding and mutual respect between believers of different religions, especially between Muslims and non-Muslims, in a historical period that marks a deterioration in relations. This is the message of the leaders of the main faiths in Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation where, in the last year, there have been repeated incidents of discrimination and targeted attacks, especially against Christians. For the religious leaders it is important to find a common ground of dialogue and outline differences, while seeking to avoid tensions and social upheavals. And in this context, fundamental are the participation and the involvement of moderate exponents, who are often relegated to the margins by various fundamentalists who often enjoy greater prominence and popularity.
Representing the Malaysian Catholic Church is Julian Leow, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, who points out that interfaith dialogues are "wonderful platforms to understand the motives and values of other faiths"; it is important that comparisons of this nature are approached with "an open and generous spirit" and that "all points of view are taken seriously".
"If I know each other's sensitivities, - says the prelate - I can be careful of how I project and profess my faith. It does not mean I stop professing my faith, but it means I can understand and be sensitive to the feelings of others." His words follow an open letter sent by 25 prominent local religious leaders who call for a "rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy, amid worsening race and religious relations in Malaysia".
The Indonesian Muslim scholar, Ayang Utriza Yakin, says that Islam promotes tolerance and pluralism, and this should be the basis of interfaith dialogue, which is "essential" in a multiracial and multi-confessional society. Buddhist leader, Barbara Yen, of the Maha Vihara movement echoes his words and encourages Malaysians to live in harmony and to practice moderation, rather than exacerbate tensions. "Anger prevents mental development and causes us to be unable to judge how far our speech is correct", instead we should find out what is "the truth".
The invitations to interfaith dialogue spring from a context of tension and targeted attacks against the Christian minority in Malaysia; behind the raids and abuses of this year - the seizure of Bibles, attacks on churches and desecration of graves - there is the controversial judgment of the Court of Appeal, which prevents the weekly Catholic Herald Malaysia of using the word "Allah". Following the verdict, some officials of the Ministry of the Interior blocked 2 thousand copies of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur's magazine at Kota Kinabalu airport, in the State of Sabah. They "justified" the seizure with the need to check whether the publication was "in line" with the proclamation issued by the magistrates and did not contain an "unlawful use of the word Allah."
In Malaysia, a nation of over 28 million people with a large majority of Muslims (60%), Christians are the third religious confession (behind Buddhists) with over 2.6 million faithful; the publication of a 400-year-old Latin Malay dictionary shows that, from the beginning, the term "Allah" was used in the local language to define God in the Bible.