Let’s move beyond mere tolerance to greater understanding and appreciation
Speech by Anwar Ibrahim at the Meet-the-people Session, Hall of the Holy Family Church, Kajang, on 16th February, 2014
Just three weeks ago, I called on all Malaysians to come together in peace. I made a direct call to the government to come to a national consensus. I said: Let us just put side aside our political differences and sit down and talk. Let us agree to disagree but let us make a promise to the people that we honour and fulfill certain basic principles essential for the peace and harmony of our nation.
Seeking consensus in our plural society
This is seeking consensus. Let us reach a consensus so that all Malaysians regardless of race religion can live harmoniously.
We are not asking for anything new or extraordinary. We are not even asking for the law to be changed for this. Our Malaysian identity – multi racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural – is already written in the Federal Constitution. It is part and parcel of our social compact.
As you know, in recent months, there have been attempts by irresponsible elements to stir up racial and religious trouble. It appears that the innocent ones are being hounded like criminals while the culprits are let off the hook.
They throw fire bombs into church compounds. No one is arrested.
They offer rewards to the public to slap other people. Yet, no action is taken by the police.
And they threaten another May 13. That’s a very serious threat. Yet, these people are immune from the law.
In other words, we have a situation where the voices of hatred, violence, anddestruction are allowed by the powers that be to drown the voices of peace, love and harmony.
In a multi-racial, multi-religious nation like ours, there are bound to be differences of opinions and a diversity of views on many issues. Public expression of these differences is part of the democratic process.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth.”
Healthy growth, yes. But we do not want irresponsible parties to capitalize on the differences of views to create a climate of fear and to sow hatred.
Where there are differences, we should sit down and talk and agree to disagree. Just hurling accusations at each other won’t resolve them. Threatening violence is not only counter-productive but is also a crime.
There are no winners in a war of abuse, insults and condemnation. Violence breeds violence and is destructive. Diversity in culture and religion is an integral part of mankind. So is our Malaysian society. That is why we need harmony and mutual understanding.
The Qur’an, in Surah al-Hujarat, Ayat 13, says:
O mankind! We created you male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah is all-knowing all-aware.
Firstly, this verse is addressed not just to Muslims but to mankind. Secondly, it lays the foundation for unity and equality in every human being. We belong to one race, that is, the universal race of mankind. We have been divided into different tribes and nations so that we can get to know each other.
Now, in the context of Malaysia where Muslims comprise the majority in our multi-cultural multi-religious society, Islam requires tolerance as the minimum standard to foster respect.
But going by the Qur’anic verse just quoted, mere tolerance in a society like ours is not good enough.
The Qur’anic expression ‘li ta’arafu’ requires a higher standard. It means to reach out and get to know each other. So, it is not just about tolerating each other’s differences but understanding and appreciating other communities.
In this regard, I pause for a moment to commend the Majlis Agama Islam Selangor for last Friday’s Khutbah Jumaat which was enlightening and very inspiring. It is precisely in the spirit of ‘lita’arafu’ calling for mutual respect and understanding among our diverse communities. This is most reassuring and a welcome trend.
And in that spirit of mutual respect and understanding, let me now quote from the Book of Romans, Chapter 14, verses: 10 to 13:
“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me;every tongue will acknowledge God.’
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
Dialogue, harmony, cooperation and understanding – that is what we need to seek.Hatred, rancour, hostility and violence – that is the way to destruction. Mutual respect, goodwill, trust and peace – that is the way to unity and integration.
Meeting the Pope
In October last year, I was at the Vatican City on invitation by the Community of Sant’Egidio for the annual inter-faith dialogue among Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths.
I am proud to say that since my release from Sungai Buloh prison, I have been regularly invited to take part in the dialogue.
As some of you may already know, while I was there, I also had the honour and privilege of meeting with His Holiness, the Pope. The Pope said he was praying for peace and for the welfare of Christians and Muslims in Malaysia and that there would be religious harmony in the country.
Get our priorities right
I say we must get our priorities right. The test of leadership is the ability to put aside partisan and personal interests for the sake of the common good.
‘Common good’ means the well-being of all Malaysians. It means a society living in harmony; clean government, economic progress, and better living standards.
So, our priorities must be focused on more pressing issues: such as propergovernance, greater transparency and accountability for acts done in the name of power.
And the biggest issue is of course corruption. Are we serious about fighting corruption or just giving lip service?
Another major issue is the rising cost of living. Just the last few days they have been running a media campaign to say there is no such thing. They say that this thing is all made up by us, all being exaggerated.
When the prices of vegetables go up, they tell us to eat – well you know the answer. When the prices of fish in the market go up, again they say don’t eat fresh fish – just go and buy imported frozen fish. They say it is much cheaper.
So, what is my point here? We should not insult the people by saying things without thinking. We are dealing with the welfare of the rakyat. Rather than trying to outdo or outtalk the other side, please come up with solutions to lighten thepeople’s burden.
The other thing is rising crime rate. We don’t want to blame anyone but we have to go back to the question of priorities. What’s more important? Going after murderers, violent criminals and snatch thieves or going after harmless professional actors in harmless videos?
The priority has to be our homes, our schools, our parks, our shopping malls, and of course our places of worship. Let us help the police make them safer.
Let me conclude with a positive note. Some people have said that Kajang is just a tiny little town known only for its satay.
We don’t think so. Yes, the satay is legendary. But Kajang is much more. In many ways Kajang is a mini-Selangor in the way that Selangor is a mini-Malaysia. We have a good mix of the various communities and it is in this diversity that we can showcase Kajang as an exemplary unified community.
So, let us lead the way in dialogue. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and followers of other faiths, let us go beyond mere tolerance and achieve greater understanding and appreciation.
Let us do so “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”