The Association for Community and Dialogue welcomes former international trade and industry minister Rafidah Aziz’s statement that there has been too much talk about religion and not enough about good values and principles in Malaysia.
She said the focus has been on religion itself and not what religion teaches. Religion is all about good values.
She has been the voice of reason amidst continuous bigotry against non-Muslims, whether from a political party or civil society, that stems from the power play for Malay-Muslim support by ethno-religious parties such as Umno, Pas and Bersatu.
The question is how can one obtain the right values if a pluralistic spirit is absent?
Religion provides value to society through words of wisdom and action. Such wisdom is derived from multiples sources of religious philosophy and steers a direction towards what is good and valuable for human living.
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Actions rooted in wisdom speaks louder than words because the right means of action reconcile and transform society. But at the same time, there is a risk of regression, leading to exclusivity and confrontation as we witness in the country today.
In the Christian gospels, there is a saying by Jesus that if one does something good, people will see it and praise God. Good does not emerge from a single dimension, it has a pluralistic dimension. Good works of love and compassion can be observed from all irrespective of religion and race.
To come to this end, we have to take a completely different view of religion from an identity and rituals base to principles of pluralistic spirit that embrace what is beautiful and good in others rather than drawing a line between people.
It is not about being a Malay and being entitled to attend an exclusive ethno-religious conference. It is whether such a conference will lead to multi-ethnic unity and wisdom for the common good – or lead to greater polarisation in society.
If we take an objective view of the history of religion, there has always been a pluralistic synthesis of values and learning. For example, Christianity derived much of its foundation from Judaism, and Christian scholars helped Muslim scholars to interpret Greek works, besides sharing the common prophets of the Old Testament.
The fundamental concern in this country is about mainstream ethno-religious leaders not adhering to right values that are derived from a pluralistic spirit in governance, social structure and the economy.
They are caught up with exclusive religious privilege and identity that is domineering, that tends to look at the world from a threat basis. Every issue is viewed from a black-and-white ideological point of view. The result: an obsession with power rather religion in the authentic sense.
It is therefore time for current mainstream values in this country to be re-examined to see whether we have embraced a pluralistic spirit, which is essential for governing a nation that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
The Rukun Negara proclaims a belief in God in a plural sense and not in an exclusive sense. The founding leaders had a pluralistic spirit in them that created the foundation that made Malaysia a relatively peaceful country over the decades.
Let’s embrace a pluralistic spirit in nation-building and reject ethno-religious exclusivity.