Speech by YAB Mohamed Azmin Ali on the occasion of a lunch gathering with Sarawak Church leaders

Speech by YAB Dato Menteri Besar Selangor, Mohamed Azmin Ali on the occasion of a lunch gathering with Sarawak Church leaders on 2nd March 2015, in Kuching

Introduction

First and foremost, I wish to express my profound gratitude and appreciation for your accepting our invitation here today.

I feel privileged and deeply humbled by your presence.

It is of great importance to my colleagues here today to work for the common good of the people of Sarawak particularly from the social and economic aspects.

But I doubt they can discharge their duties fully without being in close touch with the religious leaders of the communities or constituencies they represent or work for.

That is because yours is an even higher calling going right to the hearts of the people, to give guidance to their spiritual and religious needs.

Secondly, and this goes beyond the state of Sarawak. It has great significance for our intercommunal and inter-religious relations in Sarawak and by extension to our multi-cultural and multi-religious beloved nation as a whole.

National cohesiveness

As you know, for some years now, our nation has been witnessing a slow but gradual deterioration in communal relations. Some developments are more inclined towards causing friction in ethnic and cultural matters.

Other developments are more related to causing tension, distrust and unease among our diverse religious communities. Combined, these developments should give all right thinking citizens of this country cause for grave concern.

There are some people who say that there are only isolated instances of intolerance and tension and that they do not represent the general situation. Well, that may be true and indeed we pray that things do not get worse.

However, let us not forget that what may sometimes appear to be a trickle may actually be a warning of bigger things to come. What we see may just be the tip of the iceberg.

In any event, the reality is that these developments are not happening on the fringe or caused by marginal entities. What we are witnessing is in fact an increasing clamour by highly visible groups linked to the far right.

They are very inward looking and care only about their particular interests. Consequently, they sow disunity and dissension among the people. They add fuel to the fire by fomenting increasing polarization, recklessly spreading the disease of incitement to religious intolerance and hatred.

And strangely enough the laws that we have in this country that are meant for such groups are seldom used against them. On the contrary, they are used instead against those who are trying to rectify the situation and to help prevent greater problems.

As such, these extreme and intolerant groups continue to say and do things with impunity – even though they directly threaten our harmony and peace as a nation.

But I just want to add that we should not jump to conclusions and consider that there is some kind of Muslim-Christian clash in the country. There is no such clash.

However, it is true that these right-wing groups are trying to exploit religion and race. Indeed these developments are very unhealthy. So, it is incumbent on us as community leaders to view them with deep concern.

Let us show them the way. Let us focus on the more positive things. Indeed, we are a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation but that is not a cause for despair or mistrust.

On the contrary, it is cause for all of us to reach out for each other. In the holy Qur’an, Allah sends a reminder to the entire human race:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

Nobility in the sight of God is therefore not determined by one’s social status, ancestry, race, or culture but by righteousness in word and deed.

In the Book of Proverbs 16:24, we are reminded that “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” So, it is in this spirit that I ask you to allow me to share with you a part of the New Testament that undoubtedly you are better acquainted with.

It concerns a passage from a letter that St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians. According to tradition, the Apostle Paul wrote the letter sometime in AD 62 while he was still in prison in Rome. However, there are Bible scholars who dispute the exact date and also some critical studies have even cast doubt on the actual authorship of the letter.

Nevertheless, to my mind, this scepticism is not significant and does not alter in any way the importance of the message. So, from the Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 4: verses 1 to 3 and I quote:

“I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called; with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I am given to understand that there is a historical context of the message then – a church catering to diverse cultures. So this message remains most relevant to our present time with our multicultural and multi-religious society.

While the aforementioned quote is addressed to Christians, the following text in the Qur’an with its emphasis on inclusiveness, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect is clearly directed to Muslims:

“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”

The message to the Muslims here is that they should not look at their neighbours as if they were just “the other”. On the contrary, acts of righteousness and justice must also be extended to non-Muslims.

This brings me to the theme of moderation and justice. In my humble opinion, I believe there is a duty on us in our respective callings to espouse an inclusive paradigm in dealing with inter-communal and inter-religious relations.

Extremism must not be allowed to displace moderation. Injustice must not gain the upper hand over justice. Moderation must also translate into tolerance and inclusiveness, and make us more outward looking.

Failure to look beyond one’s confines can only lead to a culture of intolerance and bigotry. This in turn has given rise to all kinds of negative tendencies and consequences.

Let me take this occasion to reiterate that religious bigotry, extremist sentiments and other such negative tendencies have no place either in governance of a state or a nation. Neither do they have any place in politics.

Community leaders must promise the people to honour and fulfil certain basic principles essential for the peace and harmony of our nation.

Conclusion

We are a nation of many ethnic groups with diverse mother tongues and religious faiths and we believe in and we earnestly want peace and harmony.

I am fully convinced that we can and we must unite to silence the whisperings of suspicion and distrust, extinguish the voices of animosity and religious bigotry and with moderation and justice, we shall overcome.
Thank you.