JENNIFER GOMEZ AND SYAHIRAH RASHID
Proham secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria agreed (left) and GMM chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the forum organised in conjunction with the World Interfaith Harmony Week in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
National schools are the breeding ground for racial polarisation and the education system is the root cause of the problem plaguing the country now, an interfaith forum was told yesterday.
Parents Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim told an audience of about 65 at the interfaith forum titled “A dialogue for harmony”, that it was all about Malay supremacy in schools now.
PAGE was among 40 civil groups and non-governmental organisations at the forum in conjunction with World Interfaith Harmony Week, jointly organised by the Global Movement of Moderates and Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
“The only solution is for the glory of national schools to be returned, which means we need more subjects in English in national schools, because right now, national schools are Malay schools and nothing more,” said Noor Azimah.
She said certain Muslim groups funded by Putrajaya were also the source of the problem.
Sisters in Islam executive director Ratna Osman also touched on the education system, saying her sons were told in school that they could not mix with non-Muslims.
“I was shocked when an ustazah told them they cannot be with non-Muslims because they are not like us, because we are supreme human beings.
“I am disgusted because that is not the kind of education which I received 30 years ago,” Ratna said.
She also questioned who gave these Muslim bodies the authority to speak on behalf of Muslims in the country.
“Who gave them the right to say Muslims feel hurt and threatened?”
Ratna also said she was puzzled that Muslims could feel they were under threat when they made up 60% of the population.
“There was a minister who made a statement that we cannot have interfaith dialogue with other religions because we are supreme.
“As a Muslim, I am insulted by that statement. When we have this mentality, we cannot have interfaith dialogues.”
Another participant, Dr Hamidah Marican, called for the “education system to be taken away from politicians and given to moderates”.
She also called on Putrajaya to review government policies that were discriminatory and be more inclusive.
“These policies impact us on the ground, especially on young people in universities, who are very exclusive in their ways.
“This is not what we want to see in our young people. This is where the government needs to start, forget about the 1Malaysia rhetoric.”
A housewife from Kelantan, Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul Rashid, said that she was fighting with her fellow Muslims who were extreme in their ways and having difficulty speaking to them about Islam.
Referring to Malay rights groups ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) and Perkasa as overzealous bigots, she said that politicians were dividing the people over race, religion and gender issues.
“We don’t need the politicians, housewives like us will do,“ she said on spreading unity.
GMM chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah who also spoke at the forum admitted that Muslim groups were currently not engaging the non-Muslims in inter-religious dialogue.
He said Putrajaya should take the lead in this issue and suggested that minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom and Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, who was in charge of non-Muslims affairs, take the lead.
Calling it the “J + J collaboration”, Saifuddin said both ministers should jointly chair a dialogue to facilitate better understanding on inter-religious issues, mainly on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
Saifuddin said it was pointless for Kurup and Jamil to chair their dialogues separately.
“They should do it together, but how they do it, whether it is behind closed doors, will be up to them,” he said, adding that he will raise the suggestion at the next National Unity Consultative Council meeting on February 15.
Saifuddin said the religious conflict in Malaysia had already affected its international standing, seen in comments made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur late last year.
He was referring to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, who had urged Putrajaya to reverse its decision to ban Catholic weekly Herald from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, warning that the case may have far-reaching implications for religious minorities in the country.
“That is why interfaith dialogues should be mooted. We have to show that Malaysians are capable of discussing issues in a civil manner.
Proham secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria agreed, while touching on the current “Allah” row.
Denison said those who were against the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims probably did not have any dialogue with Christians who prayed in Bahasa Malaysia.
“Possibly these people have not sat down with a Sabahan Christian who has been using the Malay Bible since the time of their great grandfathers,” he added.
In the 1980s, several states and their Muslim fatwa committees passed laws forbidding the use of the word “Allah” and several Arabic terms by non-Muslims.
These include the 1988 Selangor enactment and the 1986 decree by the National Fatwa Council.
However, these laws were not widely enforced until 2008 when the Home Ministry banned Herald from using the term in the Bahasa Malaysia section of the publication.
“Allah” is used by Christians who worship in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban, such as those in Sabah and Sarawak.
Two-thirds of Malaysia’s 2.9 million Christians are from Sabah and Sarawak. The Herald won a High Court decision in January 2009 that overturned the ministry’s ban.
The Court of Appeal, however, overturned that decision in 2013, saying that the word was not integral to Christianity. The church is appealing the decision.