'Respect for Freedom of Worship' as the Basis of Dialogue

Malaysia's Muslim prime minister becomes the first in the Muslim-majoirty nation's history to address a Christian-only crowd at the WCC's faith and order plenary commission
( [email protected] ) Aug 04, 2004 04:24 PM EDT

"Your mere presence in Malaysia is a powerful statement against the rhetoric of hate and distrust that is so prevalent in the world today.”

Thus began the historic address by Malaysia’s Muslim Prime Minister to a gathering of over 100 theologians and representatives of the ecumenical Christian movement at the World Council of Churches’ faith and order plenary commission on August 3, 2004.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, as the nation’s first Prime Minister to address a Christian-only crowd, spoke openly about his views on Christianity and Islam.

“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".

Representing the Muslim-majority nation where Christians are often the targets of assault and discrimination, Abdullah recognized that “Muslims are responsible for a number of terrorist acts committed today,” but added that “they are in a minority and are misguided.”

Speaking on behalf of the general Muslim public, Abdullah said they “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”

Thus, he urged the commissioners to work toward establishing interfaith dialogues where they are needed most. Holding Christian events like the Faith and Order plenary commission in a Muslim nation gave him “great hope that together, we can fight the perception that religions are at war, and that civilizations are colliding,” he said.

Rather than pitting Muslims against Christians, the prime minister said “meaningful dialogues” based on “respect for each other’s freedom of worship” should “set aside our religious differences."

The Prime Minister did not refer to the anti-conversion laws set in his own country, that prevents Christians from witnessing to Muslims. He also did not mention the general public ban of "The Passion of Christ" film in his nation, an issue that was raised at the plenary several days before his attendance.

Nevertheless, Abdullah continued to say that the two religions should stand side by side in addressing "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.”

Abdullah pointed out the many similarities between the two faiths by quoting passages from both the Quran and the Bible.

“There are common values to our faiths: peace, friendship, cooperation,” he said. 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".

Following the Prime minister’s address, 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".

The weeklong Faith and Order plenary commission in Kuala Lumpur will end on August 6.