Double-edged sword in seeking inter-religious tolerance amid immense sensitivities

A PUBLIC uproar has been sparked in the country – notably within the Muslim population – over recent brouhaha involving interfaith initiatives, visit by Muslims to non-Muslim places of worship and the use of Bahasa Malaysia for advertising purpose.

The PH-BN (Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional) coalition government led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – including Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh – must strike a careful balance between addressing the youth economic situation, tackling unemployment, and providing clarity on the reasons behind the choice of language to promote interfaith programmes while being sensitive to public sentiment at the same time.

Concerns have been articulated concerning the ministry’s motivation to promote interfaith activities in Bahasa Malaysia. Some have speculated that using the national language may be a cover for an effort to convert Malays to another religion.

They wonder why the event organiser/s don’t use English – a more neutral language – to avoid the appearance of discrimination and to promote equality.

The PH-BN government must be fair in dealing with widespread concerns by not accusing the opposition of merely attempting to stoke racial hatred.

Mahathir Mohd Rais

Top officials of the country must question whether they are sensitive enough to the country’s predominantly Muslim population and are prepared to deal with the fallout from flaring religious tensions. What can be done to ensure that interfaith activities and language choices are approached with greater caution and thought?

Mitigating challenges

Hannah Yeoh must address these issues head-on by openly and honestly communicating with the Muslim community, sharing details about the intentions behind interfaith activities, and clarifying why Bahasa Malaysia is used in promotional materials.

Yet, it’s unclear whether she can admit to and fix any communication blunders in time to prevent them from fuelling widespread dissatisfaction. How can Hannah win back the public’s confidence? How can she win over those on either side of the debate over interfaith efforts?

Others have argued that the Youth and Sports Ministry’s resources would be better spent on programmes that bring people of different faiths together rather than on interfaith dialogue.

Specifically, they question whether the minister is making sufficient efforts to resolve these concerns with PM Anwar.

How might the young people of our country benefit from her ministry? Is enough money being put towards programmes that help young people develop professionally and personally like training and capacity-building courses, incentives for business creation and mentorship?

Hannah Yeoh

The government also needs to think about how it can promote religious and ethnic tolerance and harmony. To do this, it must consider how the unity government can best serve the country while being sensitive to their worldviews and practices. Can it enact policies that encourage collaboration and togetherness without undermining the tenets of various faiths?

Ultimately, the PH-BN coalition administration must address concerns about young unemployment, linguistic rights, and religious intolerance.

The government can set the stage for a Malaysia that is more welcoming, harmonious, and prosperous by being open to public input, having honest conversations, and placing a premium on the well-being of children from all backgrounds.

To succeed on this path toward a better future for all Malaysians, being dedicated to understanding, flexibility and empathy is essential.


Mahathir Mohd Rais is the Federal Territories’ Perikatan Nasional (PN) information chief.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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