Academic journal article International Journal of Islamic Thought

Inter-Religious Dialogue: The Perspective of Malaysian Contemporary Muslim Thinkers

Academic journal article International Journal of Islamic Thought

Inter-Religious Dialogue: The Perspective of Malaysian Contemporary Muslim Thinkers

Article excerpt

Malaysia is a country known for its multi-racial society, religion, language and culture with an estimated population of 23 million people that consists of 200 different ethnic groups (Mansor 2000: 188). The Department of Statistics Malaysia (2011: 5) reported that Malaysian population as of in year 2010 was estimated to be approximately 28.3 million, in which Malaysians make up around 91.8 per cent and the remaining 8.2 per cent are non-citizens. Malaysian citizens consist of Bumiputera ethnic groups (67.4%), Chinese (24.6%), Indians (7.3%), and others (0.7%). Malaysian citizens who profess Islam have recorded the highest percentage; (61.3%). Meanwhile, Buddhists come in the second place (19.8%), Christians (9.2%), Hindus (6.3%), and the remaining are from other religious groups (Ahmad 2011: 41). The statistics presented above clearly shows that the diversity of race, ethnicity, and religion in Malaysia reflects the uniqueness of this country compared to other countries. Due to multi-ethnicity and multi-racial, the issues of unity and understanding are of very important concern and one of the processes to achieve it is through interfaith dialogues.

The mechanism of interfaith dialogues has long been practiced since the time of the Prophet. Even the Holy Quran also has noted issues regarding inter-religious dialogues that took place during the time of the previous prophets with their people, such as Prophet Abraham (pbuh), Prophet Moses (pbuh), Prophet Noah (pbuh), Prophet Hud (pbuh), Prophet Shuaib (pbuh), and Prophet Saleh (pbuh) (Tantawi 2001; Ahmad Fakhrurrazi & Wan Nasyrudin 2009). This means the need and role of dialogues in a multi-religious society is so important and is enjoined by Islam. Dialogue is also seen as a form of oral missionary endeavour of the apostles who had practiced earlier. Even in the current world context, the role of dialogue as a form of missionary endeavour is not only a need for the religion, but humanity as well. This is clearly reflected by Humaid (2010: 25) who states 'dialogue, thus becomes a religious requirement when its subject is religious, as in inviting people to Islam or explaining the truth to them. But, it is also a human requirement demanded by people's needs and differences'. From another perspective, dialogue can be considered as a strategy to alleviate inter-religious crisis, and also create positive and mutual cooperation (Abdullah 2010: 11).

The Reality of Inter-Religious Dialogues in Malaysia

In the context of Malaysia, the population is quite different with various ethnic groups and religious affiliations, such as Taoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, Bahaism, and worship of ancestors (Ibrahim 2003: 137), but the main religions in Malaysia are Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. In short, all religions can be found in Malaysia. Thus, in creating a more peaceful, and harmonious country, as well as complementary and understanding community, in reality, interreligious dialogues have informally taken place among Malaysians, for example, socializing and meetings between different religions in the context of neighbourhood, community, employment, education, and administration, which usually trigger dialogues in an unplanned manner.

Previously, the Muslim community in Malaysia was closed-minded and was not ready for dialogues, especially inter-religious dialogues (Utusan Malaysia 2008). Due to the conservative attitude and uncomfortable feelings among Muslims in accepting the idea of interreligious dialogues compared to non-Muslims, the government has formulated and introduced inter-religious dialogues in a more planned manner for the Islamic organizations. For example, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) has taken the role of implementing action plans and has further led other Islamic organizations in conducting inter-religious dialogue activities in Malaysia (Khairulnizam 2008).

In expanding the dialogue between different beliefs, Malaysia does not only focus on the people alone, but the leadership of Malaysia also plays a role, in which the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Tun Razak has involved directly with the 'World Interfaith Harmony Week 2012'. …

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