KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — A non-Muslim interfaith council today called on state governments and Islamic authorities in Malaysia against banning Muslims from visiting the houses of worship of other creeds, amid growing debate about religious restrictions.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said visits to different houses of worship should be encouraged as they were necessary to promote interfaith understanding, respect and harmony among followers of different religions.
“The unity walks to places of worship are to see and understand the different cultures.
“There is no propagation of any religion involved,” its president Jagir Singh said in a statement.
He said a recent statement made by the Selangor state executive councillor Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni, whose portfolio also includes Islamic affairs appeared to suggest that even unity walks to houses of worship are not allowed.
“The Non-Islamic Religions (control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 referred to by the State Exco is enacted under Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution and which prohibits only ‘propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam’. “Thus, if there is no propagation of other faiths to Muslims, no offence is committed. Therefore, the mere visiting of places of worship cannot be an offence,” Jagir pointed out.
He also alluded to the King of Jordan’s proposal to the United Nations many years ago for its member states to establish a World Interfaith Harmony Week to create goodwill and unity among people of different religions and beliefs.
“The resolution was unanimously supported including by Malaysia and the first week of February of every year was declared as World Interfaith Harmony Week.
“For more than 10 years, the MCCBCHST together with other NGOs like Accin, Abim and Ikram had taken part in unity walks to places of worship as a show of respect and tolerance, including some organised by the National Unity and Integration Department.
“This had created great goodwill amongst the different races and created a sense of muhibbah amongst them,” Jagir added.
Accin refers to the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs while Abim is the Malay acronym for the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement.
“Therefore, the MCCBCHST called upon the government and Islamic authorities to not impose a blanket ban on Muslims from going to non-Muslim places of worship, but to make it clear that there should not be any propagation of other faiths to Muslims.
“It is necessary for all races to work together in a spirit of goodwill, mutual respect to enhance harmony and unity in the country,” Jagir stressed.
The Selangor state councillor’s statement was issued after an Opposition politician claimed there were attempts to convert Muslim youths through a “Jom Ziarah” programme organised by an agency under the purview of the Youth and Sports Ministry.
The agency, Impact Malaysia, had organised a series of visits to several houses of worship for youths, including a mosque and a gurdwara.
A church and a Hindu temple had been on its itinerary today and tomorrow, but has since been cancelled following the allegations, even though none of the registered participants were Muslim, as Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh had clarified in Parliament earlier this week.
She explained that the programmes were part of the agency’s efforts to increase awareness of the country’s diverse society.