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Malaysian prime minister calls for concerted effort to initiate inter-faith dialogue

03 August 2004

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"Your mere presence in Malaysia is a powerful statement against (…) the rhetoric of hate and distrust that is so prevalent in the world today," Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad Badawi today told over a hundred church representatives from all over the world gathered in Kuala Lumpur.

In the first-ever address by a Malaysian prime minister to a Christian gathering, Abdullah introduced himself to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order plenary commission meeting as "a Muslim who wants to initiate a dialogue with his Christian friends". Abdullah stressed that such a Christian gathering "in a Muslim country" gave him "great hope that, together, we can fight the perception that religions are at war, and that civilizations are colliding".

Abdullah spoke openly about his view of religions in the world: "The lines of conflict today between religions and civilizations are evident," he said. The "dangerous but dominant view" that "this is a battle between good and evil" exists "on both sides of the divide," producing a situation where "there is less trust and goodwill between Islam and Christianity than there was a few years ago".

Regarding the Islamic world, Abdullah pointed out that many Muslims "feel that the war against terror is a war against Islam," and resent the "reluctance of the West to recognize and address root causes of terrorism" . But he also recognized that "Muslims are responsible for a number of the terrorist acts committed today," although he stressed that "they are in a minority" and are "misguided".

Given that global scenario, Abdullah told the commissioners that "what we need more than ever today is a concerted effort to initiate inter-faith dialogue". A "meaningful dialogue", based on "respect for each other's freedom of worship", should "set aside our religious differences" and address "the issues that affect all of us, whatever our faith: injustices in the global financial and trading system, the threat to the environment, poverty and disease," he stated.

Quoting both the Quran and the Bible, Abdullah stressed that "there are common values to our faiths: peace, friendship, cooperation". Through these "shared values", Christians and Muslims should address the world's problems, like "the Palestinian issue or the conflict in Iraq," as well as the "global concern" of a "globalization that benefits the rich and not the poor". "There are solutions," he said, but pointed out that sometimes they are not forthcoming "because we refuse to build an international consensus that can generate the political will for change".

Addressing the prime minister, the Council of Churches of Malaysia president, Bishop Tan Sri Datuk Dr Lim Cheng Ean, emphazised the need "to educate our people so that, through sincere and committed inter-religious dialogue, we are able to appreciate each other and learn to live in peace together".

In his turn, the moderator of the plenary commission on Faith and Order, Rev. Dr David Yemba, said that he had been struck by the "natural beauty" of Malaysia, the "rich cultural diversity" and "harmonious life of its people". He expressed his gratitude for the "hospitality of the churches and people of Kuala Lumpur," and presented the prime minister with an Arabic translation of the Bible.

The Faith and Order plenary commission is meeting in Kuala Lumpur from 28 July to 6 August, 2004.

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