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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Muslims, non-Muslims use song and service to spread unity

Friendship Group for Inter Religious Service founder Datuk J. Jegathesan says religion is supposed to be the greatest source of peace and love, but it has now become a cause for conflict. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Shafiq Safiee, July 30, 2014.Friendship Group for Inter Religious Service founder Datuk J. Jegathesan says religion is supposed to be the greatest source of peace and love, but it has now become a cause for conflict. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Shafiq Safiee, July 30, 2014.
When Datuk J. Jegathesan went to see the Islamic Youth Movement (Abim) about being part of an interfaith friendship alliance after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he was shocked that they had a dossier on him and the charity work he was doing under the Sathya Sai Baba Central Council of Malaysia.
It became apparent to him that Abim had been checking up on him and the movement he belonged to, given their concern about the charity services the council was doing among Muslims in rural areas.
‎"We used to have medical camps in rural areas in Kelantan, Terengganu and Johor and 95% of the people we treated for free, were Muslims.
He said Abim discovered they never spoke about the Sathya Sai Baba movement when they treated the poor.
"We tell our people that when they see a Muslim, they should tell the person to be a ‎better Muslim and tell a Buddhist to be a better Buddhist.”
He added that ‎after Abim discovered the council’s sincerity while in service, they came on board to be part of the Friendship Group for Inter Religious Service (FGIS), an informal coalition of the major religious groups in Malaysia.
From there on, Jegathesan, as the founder of FGIS, had no problems convincing other religious groups to join them.
Today, FGIS is made up various bodies, including the Council of Churches Malaysia (Federal Territory and Selangor), Buddhist Maha Vihara, Malaysia Hindu Sangam and the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council.

"It has been 13 years since the alliance was formed and we have been joining hands in song and service ever since in the name of promoting unity," the 70-year-old added.
Jegathesan also recalled that whenever he was asked to offer his views at meetings on interfaith in the past, he had always stressed that it was not enough to just “talk about promoting unity in air-conditioned boardrooms with like-minded people” but instead “go out and practise what you preach”.
Recently, FGIS brought people of different faiths together at the Iron Mosque in Putrajaya, officially known as the Sultan Mizan Mosque, for an interfaith session in solidarity with Palestinians, and to break fast with Muslims during Ramadan.
The first time they came together in unity at the Iron Mosque was to pray for passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing with 239 on board on March 8.
According to Jegathesan, who was the former deputy director-general of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority, they plan to repeat the goodwill in other places of worship, including churches and temples, stressing that Muslims in the coalition had no issue with this.
Abim vice-president, Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim who is active in FGIS, affirmed this when The Malaysian Insider caught up with him last week, where he said that he had no problems going to a temple or a church.
"In the past, churches used to be mosques and mosques used to be churches anyway.
"Therefore, as long as we are going with the intention to carry out programmes to sow solidarity, I don't have a problem because I am not compromising my faith in any way," he said.
Raimi recalled that he had just graduated as a lawyer in 2002 when he became part of FGIS and had been "very excited" to be part of the group that centred on volunteerism.
"There were common issues for Abim and FGIS at that time, where among our main aims were to showcase solidarity in the wake of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were united on the basis of supporting peaceful solutions to war and to show that religion and war don't go hand in hand‎.”
According to Raimi, one of the main problems among religious communities today was the failure to know the basics of other religions.
"We seem to have this belief that religion is about converting people.
"Of course, every religion will have a mission to bring people into its faith but to see it only from that point of view can be misleading.
"‎So if you understand your religion well and how other religions perceive you, it is a matter of compromising some views, without the need to compromise your faith in order to accommodate others," the lawyer said. 
As such, Raimi, 36, stressed the need for all religions to know the basics of other faiths to be able to foster better understanding.
He added that in FGIS, they discussed issues in informal sessions and were able to have frank discussions and come up with solutions, in their aim to promote consciousness about the need for unity at the grassroots.
The father of four boys said this was better than making "strong" statements in the media about other religions without even meeting the other party “face to face”.
"Compared with the days of old, there is a lot of polarisation going on even in schools and universities so we need to communicate, converse and engage," he added.
Raimi also weighed in on the “Allah” issue, saying that it was unfortunate that the case was taken the court instead of both sides discussing the issue and trying to find a middle path.
"Both parties must now concur with the court ruling and this is what happens when you fail to discuss the matter.
"To me, this case should never have gone to court because religion is not about one party winning and the other losing.”
Raimi added that in a dispute like the “Allah” case, there was always room to accommodate each other’s views and to be flexible on certain issues.
"There is no need to be extreme, we need to find the grey areas which we can work on to try and find solutions," he said.
Given this need, Raimi said that going forward, FGIS would be having interfaith-building programmes in mixed areas such as Sentul and Klang, where there are "mosques and temples next to each other".‎
He added that they also wanted to build on their youth wing, which was involved in various programmes on filial piety and respecting one's neighbour, which he said were "common teachings in all religions".
‎Jegathesan said that Abim displayed amazing solidarity when it was proposed two years ago that the coordinator post for FGIS be rotated instead of Sathya Sai Baba holding the chair all the time.
"At the meeting when this was brought up, ‎the Abim representative actually stood up and said 'no need, Sai Baba is already doing a good job, there is no need to change'.
"That statement brought tears to my eyes," Jegathesan said.
He added that going forward, FGIS was committed to addressing a common concern in the world today – that religion can be a cause for world war.
"Religion is supposed to be the greatest source of peace and love, but now it has become a cause for conflict.
"Malaysia has been an incredible showcase to the world in terms of cultural diversity in the past and the only factor that can destroy the peace now is its people.”
Jegathesan said FGIS could play a significant role now given current religious and racial tensions in Malaysia.
He said that while most Malaysians were peace-loving, he was concerned that a "rabble-rouser could turn a peaceful crowd into a raging mob".
As such, he pleaded with politicians from both sides of the divide not to use race and religion as political tools.

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