Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blaspehemous blogs: Religious dialogue needed


Must religious dialogue be painful? Must it be greeted with hostility? Or is it a moot question - that the answer lies in our education system’s failure, decades ago?


I have faith that we will one day be ready to appreciate interfaith dialogue. Same too for philosophical discussions and scientific debates. My experience conducting interfaith dialogues every semester in American classrooms gives me the assurance that we will be ready.

It would be good to know that eventually our corridors of academia are filled with passionate discussions on the self, the universe, God, and fate of humanity.

The core of each religious foundation is there for us to explore and to learn from. We need to escape from being trapped in the particular and liberate ourselves into explorers of the universal.

Of course this will take time given the nature of class and caste system we are in; developments that have impacted upon our consciousness. But evolve we must, if we are to see a progressive country emerging out of these ruins of communal politics, immorality of modern capitalism, and persistent religious misunderstandings. Ignorance is the greatest enemy of knowledge, as the sage Socrates once said.

What is interfaith dialogue?

hajj pilgrimage haji pilgrimage 040107 prayerThe aborted Bar Council forum was a good example how we will continue to approach inter-faith dialogue. There is vision in chaos, creation in destruction, and opportunities in threats. Educators of peace and social justice must not give up.

In a country with a Centre for Civilisational Dialogue in Universiti Malaya, and in a country wanting to be known as a "moderate country with a Muslim majority", we are seeing contradictions. It’ll get uglier if we fail to reflect upon the means and methods of religious dialogue.

We do not know much what each one of us believes in and what are the rituals and practices of our neighbours. We do not know what scripture they read, let alone the meaning of the prayers, the doa, zikir, the pujas, and the mantras. We lack the knowledge of the fundamentals. This is understandable - fear governs our consciousness and directs our actions and ultimately reproduces itself inter-generationally. Religion is a "sensitive" issue, they say - which needs desensitisation, I would contend.

Back to the Bar Council forum protests. It is a misrepresentation of what Muslims are and a reflection of how we have approached not only dialogue on religion but also on other "sensitive issues" as well. In this environment and in this regime where exploitation of issues are orchestrated by opportunists at the expense of peaceful dialogue, we will always be at the losing end of education for critical consciousness and for peace.

Humanism and rationalism

We must go back to the drawing board of our approach to teaching religion in terms of curricular design and how to juxtapose or even infuse it with core ideas of humanism and rationalism. This will take another few decades given the complexity of our society and its present evolution of “half-bakedness” of hypermodernity.

Here in the United States, I have just finished teaching two summer classes on 'Religions of the World' and 'Introduction to Religion' in a college where I have also been asked, for the last three years, to teach 'Islamic Scriptures'.

sikh prayer 040108 02I find it liberating to conduct classes after classes in which my students not only are American and foreign-born Muslims but also Jews, Christians, Catholic, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, and even Pagans. At the end of each semester, they have a different perception of each other - more in-depth understanding of what could have remained antagonistic. We read the Quran and the Hadiths and look at the scriptures from a hermeneutic perspective - situate it in the present and projecting it into the future.

Most often, our discussions on jihad evolved into a reflection on the struggles for the human self to explore suffering, violence, and liberation in all religious traditions. It includes passionate discussions on media representation of the concept.

I often wonder if what I am doing is possible in Malaysia but I certainly have the confidence and hope that given the most peaceful way to approach it, a lot can be gained. Essentially religious dialogue need not be painful.

It ought to help foster deep understanding and dispel misconception of ANY religion. It ought to make us become deeply religious and to learn to explore what others believe, to respect them, to learn from the universal themes of spirituality, and ultimately to contemplate our existence within the context of the struggle between Good and Evil and to evolve as more ethical and rational beings - so that we may participate better as political and social beings..

Major scriptures

mawi concert 1 in kota bharu 041005 woman prayerI believe we need to revamp undergraduate foundation courses in our public and private to include one that teaches the classics of the thoughts of the Eastern and Western tradition and the scriptures of the major religions.

But then again, our university students are not even allowed to be involved in politics and to engage freely in public forum on political matters – how might this be possible with interfaith dialogue then?

We have a long walk to mental freedom and to a philosophical understanding of Islam and other religions. Unfortunately we are now known as people who are good at disrupting dialogues. I hope this perception will change.

But then again, education is about hope, peace, empathy, intelligence, and liberation - these we must use as a basis for a new design once we see major restructuring efforts under way undertaken by perhaps a new political, social, and educational arrangement.

Let us look at possibilities in interfaith dialogue. Let education for peace and justice do that.


Anonymous said...


Should anyone give face to those who don't even care to look at faces other than their own?

Sori I just won't coz I have had enough.

Justice said...

It is in the nature of monotheism to pick a quarrel-so what do you expect?! I believe a starting point would be to desensitise religion, in particular Islam but not Islam only, in Malaysia.
I also believe this sensitivity stems from the multitude of issues which our politicians (read UMNO)have decided,on our behalf, to be considered sensitive.
Dialogues,sensitivity training and other well meaning forms of indoctrinations have been tried. At these sessions, the food and accommodation is excellent, and that's about it. How else do we explain the present malaise?
For the well being of the country (I deliberately avoid using "nation" as this is a politically unknown concept in racist and fundamentalist Malaysia) we have to understand and respect each other but I don't think anyone knows where to start,and it seems more convincing to believe that the Govt couldn't really care less.

Anonymous said...

I very welcome and appreciate your views. However, in Malaysian, especially amongst Muslims is this possible. No way anyone will be allowed-even legally, peacefully have any dialog.Lets start from our schools. No other religion is even heard of by kids. Only Islam is taught and put forward as THE SEPREME religion. The non Muslim students who have a a longer civilization are taught MORAL eduaction-as if they are some uncivilised beings.
Every way the Muslims are taught how great their religion is and perfect that non Muslims all will go to hell. I was in school (in 70's that was)one muslims student told me' you are so good but sad you will end in hell coz you are not a muslim'
How can anyone have any dialogue with this kind of beings? When in the local uni then they introduced a 'kenegaraan malaysia'-in late 70's which also among others highlighted the great islam religion and openly critize Chritiens etc .I remember some of my Chritien friends just walked out unable to control their anger.
But we all MUST pass the paper to get our degree.

Why is this superior feeling amongst Muslims? Why they think every other faith is false and equavalent to Devil worship? How can they even think like that when they are not allowed to read others scriptures?

Dear Doc. Not all muslims are as rasional as you are and have sincere respect to others faith and believe. I think Muslims are so afraind and insecure that their followers will leave their faith if they are allowed to be open.How can there be any interfaith-dialog in malaysia??? You tell me.


Anonymous said...

Only a change in the political atmosphere that will make your dream come true.
Nothing will improve unless there is a will by the people to kick the present government out. There is no hope in as far as the current politicians that run the government to initiate such move.
Will it happen soon? next10,20,30, 50 years or during yours and my lifetime? Only God knows.
At the moment the best thing to do is to get out of Malaysia and we let the "lunchais" by themselves.

DR SURESH said...

This a true story which I would like to share here again.About 2 years ago before I left Malaysia,a patient of mine walked into my clinic.A 70 year old retired bank manager.The uncle was visibly upset.I asked him,what's the matter,and this is what he said to me;
'Dr,I am just coming from a specialist centre and as I was walking into the waiting lounge,a 5 or 6 year malay boy ran up to me and said,my religious teacher said that people like you must be killed'.
The uncle said that,what made him more upset and hurt was,seeing the reaction of the little child's parents,who did not make any attempt to reprimand the child but instead were smiling.The uncle apparently told the parents that,if this is the way they are going to bring up a child,the future of this beloved country is certainly going to be doomed.
Now we are not blaming that innocent child at all, infact we feel sad that the child is being nurtured in a very wrong manner.It is horrifying to know that we have teachers who chose to instil poisonous thoughts in the minds of kids at such young age.This is the danger posed by monotheism and the ultras.So it goes beyond rotten politicians alone to bring about a platform to discuss religious issues.I am sure incident like above is not only happening in Malaysia but all over the world.The very first step towards discourses is for all muslims to be inclusive in their approach when dealing with non-muslims.On one hand muslims say Quran teaches them to love mankind and be fair to all and sundry regardless of our origin and on the hand muslims say that there is only one god and islam is the only perfect religion,so can some one tell me,with such perception how can muslims have dialogues and discourses with others who dont profess islam?Nevertheless I sincerely hope that Malaysia will not go in the path of failed states like Afghanistan,Pakistan,Sudan,Iraq etc,as these countries are the examples of what religious extremism can do to a nation.Lets all focus on nation building as Malaysia is blessed with so much natural resources and a melting pot of some of the world's richest and oldest cultures which is unique by itself and a great asset to the country.
I must add here that I am certainly happy to see broadminded and reasonable individuals like Dr Azly Rahman here who are trying to bring about some sort of understanding and realization amongst the people which gives us all a ray of hope for a better world,unfortunately such individuals amongst the muslims are very few and apart.I hope Malaysians can usher in the new year with much love and respect for each other regardless of race and religion.United we stand,divided we fall.

Singam said...

Today, fingers are being pointed at the Muslim community for the failure in interfaith dialogue. But, just a few centuries ago, the Christians were equally aggressive in suppressing and wiping out the heretics. I see Islamic belief as currently in its adolescence and needing to grow up. For that to happen, a reformer such as Martin Luther needs to shake up the Islamic community from within.

Even after Islam undergoes such reformation, can we have any meaningful dialogue? To answer this, we have to ask if the mainstream Christian movements can seriously have dialogue with those who don't subscribe to their image of a monotheistic God?

So long as a religion is founded on the premise that "only we can be right", there cannot be any dialogue. From what I understand of the Qur'an and Bible, I feel that dialogue is possible. But if those responsible for interpreting the Books and propagating the theology refuse to acknowledge alternate viewpoints, attempts at dialogue would be futile.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate and enjoy all your postings.We in Malaysia are unique in many ways and want to live in peace and harmony with each other and the world.Problem is that many a time Political party's misuse religion for their expediency, hence we are faced with problem of race relations.Keep posting your thoughts and views which is useful for all of us to maintain a sense of belonging.

Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...


Far too often a dialogue turns out to be a monologue
When right from the start there must be 'polylogue'
And let there be not a question of reluctant tolerance
But actually an open, frank and respectable policy of mutual acceptance

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 281208
Sun. 28th Dec. 2008.

Anonymous said...

Interfaith dialogues may help but at the most it is scratching the surface and suppressing the real problems and root causes.

To resolve this critical issues, the problems must be resolved by reprogramming at the genetic and neural level of human nature.

Anonymous said...

This is understandable - fear governs our consciousness and directs our actions and ultimately reproduces itself inter-generationally.
Religion is a "sensitive" issue, they say - which needs desensitisation, I would contend.

From the perspective of Pareto's 80/20 principle, this would be the 5% criticalness that represent 95% of the whole issue of conflict in faith.

If we can remove the fundamental fear factor and desensitize the issue, we will be able to resolve 95% of the world religious conflicts.

Most of the advanced principles of religion tackle this problem hed on and provide solutions to how to handle this primordial emotion of fear.

The obvious good examples are from the Bhagavad Gita, the Four Noble Truths, Tao, etc.
However it is not so obvious from the Abrahamic religions except those from their rare and mystical teachings.

I suggest you keep harping on those two critical variables of primordial fear and the need to desensitize which is spontaneous with spiritual growths.

John Bastille said...

No problems with interfaith activities with all Great Religions

The world we live in to day with the Great Religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism is at relative harmony with each other save some glaring exceptions, of course.

The main problem is Islam. Wherever there are muslims, there are trouble. From Southern Thailand, Sweden, Australia, China, and of course Gaza Strip.

It is the muslims that are commonly against understanding the Free People's religion.

With fatwas even forbidding festival greetings, yet alone befriending the Free People, muslims are the outliers.

Surely, the muslims can claim oppression and in many cases, their grievances may be valid. However, one cannot miss the point where muslims contribute to most of civil unrests and terrorist activities everywhere in the world.

However, if muslims continue to adopt the regressive mentality, the gap between the muslim world and the Free People can only be larger and that does not bode well for the world's immediate future.

amoker said...

I was shocked to be told by the teenagers that they don't study about other religions in their sejarah nowadays. Only Islam. That would not help any discussion on religions if the fundamentals are not allowed to be studied

pak yeh said...

The rootcause of Muslim intolerance for other religions is the Hadis.This 2nd book contradicts the teaching of the Quran,the only "aproved by Allah" book for the Muslims.
The original Islam religion has been changed to the Hadis Religion.The Quran proofs it.
AlQuran 31:6 "Some people use vain Hadis to mislead others from the straight path(Islam),without knowing,and make a mockery of it(Islam).
This Hadis Reliogion is taught by Government Universitys so as the real Religion of Islam does not treaten their position.It is like neutralising the real religion of Islam.

Anonymous said...

All that believers in the supernatural, that is to say, religion's adherents,should expect from secular Western societies is respect for the right to practice their beliefs. Under no circumstances should respect for the irrational and often ludicrous content of religious belief be demanded or even expected.

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