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Interfaith harmony forgotten

18 Mar 2020 / 20:40 H.

FEBRUARY 2020 will go down in the books as a month of savage disharmony that broke friendship pacts and destroyed the faith of many in the value of politics. This is a profession that has long been associated with the biblical story of a creeping creature in a garden that could speak to humans but was adept at sowing distrust. No creature other than a human being can do a spin.

Throughout the 29 days of this special month, politicians squabbled and jostled with no memory of a 10-year-old resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly that the month of February shall always be dedicated to the promotion of harmony. Entrusted to be keepers of harmony were the leaders of religion. Did they also forget?

Ten years ago, the UN established World Interfaith Harmony Week to be celebrated during the first week of February or any other stretch of days in the month to promote harmony between people of all faiths.

In the early years of this resolution, the Malaysian government enthusiastically led the national celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week. But interest soon waned and no interfaith gathering in recent years has attracted more than a few dozen participants, whereas the UN’s intention is to get thousands in every country to build friendships across religious barriers.

We have Pakatan and Perikatan, but no Persahabatan. We need to get our Ps right: there is no peace without friendship. At the heart of the UN resolution is a feeling that peace must begin with all the religions lowering their barriers. This isn’t happening despite the efforts of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who initiated the UN resolution, and that’s why there is still no peace in politics. There is only interim peace.

The resolution encourages all governments to spread the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in mosques, churches, temples and synagogues. Malaysia’s houses of worship are second only to shopping malls in their crowd-pulling abilities. But did anyone last month hear a call to establish universal friendship across religious barriers?

Religious barriers present large obstacles that the human mind does not want to cross. Why not? The reason will surprise you: these barriers are set up by the human mind. Why would you cross a barrier that your mind erected? Religious barriers are completely human-designed. If you’re in doubt over this, just ask the virus. It is able to cross species barriers from animal to human because the virus does not see barriers. At that primary level, barriers separating organisms do not exist.

Religion is taught in a highly barricaded fashion to persuade you that there is only one true faith, and hence interfaith dialogue is rubbish. Instantly your mind erects barriers to separate your religion from all other religions, and this highly divisive manner of thinking seeps into politics. In its true calling, politics isn’t a contest between opposite forces but is the art of harmonising diversity to achieve a unity of the whole for best governance.

Malaysians live alongside each other but are mentally apart. We have tremendous diversity in our world-record mix of religions, ethnicities, and cultures but there is no integration of diversity to produce inclusiveness.

What’s so important about inclusive diversity? There is a famous pencil drawing of a woman. If someone tells you that it is a picture of an old maid, you will see an old maid. If you are told that it is a picture of a young maiden, you will see a young maiden.

If you keep your mind open, you will see an old maid one second and a young maiden the next second. But if you study the picture, it is just a series of lines and shades.

Faith schools stamp on our minds a supremacist belief: the only correct way of looking at the picture is to see it exclusively as an old maid; these others who see a young maiden are steeped in error.

Religious exclusivism accounts for the continuing trend of militancy in five religions across Asia and America. Its effects are plainly being felt in politics.

The vaccine against radicalism is holistic multifaith education that promotes inclusiveness. Sadly, the vaccine remains unwanted.

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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