Prominent Malaysians call for more tolerance from Muslims

(Photo: REUTERS / Olivia Harris)Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak inspects the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) youth during the annual assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur November 27, 2014. Razak on Thursday bolstered a law protecting the sanctity of Islam and the country's traditional rulers, the sultans, in an about-turn to scrap a law banning criticism of the government. The Malaysian leader told a meeting of his ruling UMNO party that the act would be maintained and strengthened.

Twenty-five retired top civil servants and personalities that helped Malaysia rise to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, have sent an open letter to ask moderates including Muslims to stand up for a more tolerant society.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position," Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands, said in the statement.

Amid still-simmering racial and religious tensions, an interfaith council hopes that goodwill among Malaysians will continue to exist although they come from different backgrounds.

Noor Farida issued the letter on behalf of the 25 signatories on December 8.

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"It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name," said the 25 signatories to the open letter

Separately, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism issued a similar call in its Christmas message on December 25.

"Let us pray and be proactive in promoting genuine acts of care, compassion and healing to this wounded nation still bleeding with mistrust, suspicion, revenge and insulting name-calling," the interreligious council said.

Perkasa is a non-governmental ethnic Malay supremacist organization that led by its president Ibrahim Ali, with Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, as advisor.

Isma is the Malaysian Muslim Solidarity group that promotes Islamic law in the nation of 30 million people.

Just over 50 percent of Malaysians are Malays, while ethnic Chinese make up nearly 23 percent with indigenous people making up 12 percent and ethnic Indians some 7 percent.

61 PERCENT MUSLIMS

About 61 percent of Malaysian and Muslims, almost 20 percent Buddhists, 9.2 percent are Christians and Hindus account for 6.3 percent of the population.

In their 19-paragraph statement, they described the need for a rational dialogue.

"We also urge more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity," they added.

The Malaysian Insider editorialised, "Malaysians have to laud them for their stand, for their candour, and their courage to speak their mind.

"But it will take more than 25 Malaysians who have seen the world in their time to ensure shrill voices do not dominate the national discourse."

Interethnic tensions and the rise of Islamist elements have grown since the ruling Umno and Barisan Nasional parties began losing support after the 2008 general elections.

Relations between Muslims and Christians are also fragile following the controversy over the use of the word "Allah," which some Islamic groups have tried to ban Christians from using.

The federal parliament had allowed the use of the word in Malay Bibles under a brokered deal in 2011.

Tensions came to the fore again, however, when religious authorities in the state of Selangor seized 351 copies of the Malay language Alkitab and the Iban Bible, Bup Kudus, which contained the word "Allah" from the Bible Society Malaysia office in Damansara at the beginning of 2014.

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