PETALING JAYA: Interfaith relations in Malaysia are set to improve, thanks to an NGO and attendees of a recent Christmas dinner who acted on a call by the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, who urged political leaders to stop using racial or religious issues to incite Malaysians against one another.

Tuanku Muhriz, who chaired the 260th meeting of the Conference of Rulers at Istana Negara on Nov 29 and 30, also called on the government helmed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to foster the spirit of togetherness among Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.

“I urge the new government to instil the spirit of togetherness among Malaysians. I hope there are no more leaders who will raise racial or religious issues to provoke the people,” said Tuanku Muhriz.

Taking the cue from His Royal Highness, about 300 Malaysians representing some 100 ethnic and religious groups came together at the dinner organised by the Christians for Peace and Harmony in Malaysia (CPHM) movement to promote friendship, peace and harmony among all races and religious groups.

Held at a hotel here, adherents of five major religions in the country and their NGOs were represented, including Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim), Majlis Agama Islam Selangor, Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia, Vajrayana Buddhist Council, Global Unity Network, PAS Youth and individuals such as football legend Datuk Santokh Singh, unity advocate Datuk Mutang Tagal from Sarawak and Kapar MP Dr Halimah Ali.

CPHM chairman Lee Min Choon said the “CPHM and Friends Christmas Dinner” was meant to send a positive message and counter the perception of increasing religious intolerance and extremism.

“Unity is always threatened by extremism, politics and misunderstanding.

“Following His Royal Highness’ call, CPHM began to build communication among people of different faiths and beliefs so we could all learn from one another and better understand and appreciate our diversity within a united country. We have taken a step towards religious tolerance, and although the destination is still far ahead, I am confident we can achieve it. The call by His Royal Highness is so appropriate and timely,” he said.

Lee expressed hope the gathering would symbolise and reflect the uniqueness of Malaysia as a nation of different communities, which embrace different religions and cultures while living peacefully and harmoniously together.

Abim vice-president Zairudin Hashim said Islam emphasises doing good and maintaining good human relations regardless of one’s religion or race, which is why Muslims joined the dinner.

“For a long time, Muslims preferred not to join festivities of other religions. It was not always this way, because there was a time when we used to visit our Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist and Christian friends during Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

“Then, something happened and it mostly stopped. Everyone kept to themselves due to religious extremism and whatever other reasons. But now that we have a new government in place, with our Malay Rulers all wanting to see the people interact well with one another, I am confident the future of religious tolerance is bright,” he told theSun.

Zairudin also urged those of other religions to organise similar interfaith and multiracial gatherings so the people can rekindle their friendship without being focused on race and religion.

Malaysia Unity Foundation Trustee Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the practice of paying mutual courtesies to neighbours and friends of different ethnic backgrounds and religions would lead to a stronger bond of unity.

“Harmony is essential for a multireligious country like ours as it celebrates the diversity that exists in Malaysia.

“The Christmas dinner gathering is a positive development that will contribute towards interfaith understanding and promote harmony in the nation for years to come,” he said.

Lee added that more such gatherings were needed as they would foster better understanding among the various races and religions in the country.