Interfaith Prayers to Continue with Muslim Participation in Sarawak

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The suggestion that Muslims and non-Muslims not pray together by the Federal Islamic Affairs Department (Jakim) doesn’t apply in Sarawak, said a state assistant minister.

Praying together is part and parcel of the state’s policy of religious tolerance, said Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office in charge of Islamic affairs Abdul Rahman Junaidi.

Rahman said the reciting of doa at state government functions will continue even in the presence non-Muslims.

The Pantai Damai assemblyman said prayers, after all, seek universal wellbeing.

“We in Sarawak have always given priority to maintaining harmony and unity between races and religions in our multiracial society.”

Rahman’s colleague in the Chief Minister’s Office, Abdullah Saidol, said barring Muslims from joint prayers with non-Muslims, even at unity events, has no place in Sarawak.

Abdullah said the state cannot afford to have such a divisive ruling.

“In all our official government functions, we have the prayers and people of other faiths are even encouraged to say their prayers in their own quiet way.

“The ustaz who offers the prayers, I have never heard them saying their prayers are for Muslims only.

“There’s no harm if a Muslim is to pray for your (non-Muslims) wellbeing.”

He said the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) cannot afford to play politics with faith.

“In GPS, our politics is about being inclusive. Sarawak has more ethnic races than any other states in the country.

“This is our distinctive feature. Inclusivity, not exclusivity. There is no place in Sarawak for this kind of thing,” he said.

“We don’t want to go into the political culture currently happening in the peninsula and embraced by the political parties there.”

In a statement yesterday, Jakim said based on outcomes of a 2006 national-level fatwa council meeting, as well as the 113th Federal Territories Shariah Law Consultative Council meeting, Muslims are not allowed to participate in interfaith prayers – whether in the form mass silent prayers or through separate rituals at an event.

In response to a government directive forbidding Muslims from participating in joint prayers, Christian groups said religious leaders should be allowed to pray together so as to unite the country.

They said the ability to stand together, especially in times of crisis, is necessary to teach the world of the goodness of their respective faiths and to comfort their communities.

“If we cannot stand together prayerfully, how can we ever work for peace?”  said Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) general-secretary Rev Hermen Shastri.

Joint prayers include instances where Muslims recite their doa (prayer of supplication) simultaneously with members of other faiths who recite their prayers before a function begins.

It also covers instances when Muslim and non-Muslim groups each pray before the start of a function.

Hermen said Jakim should not forget that in times of tragedy, religious leaders would band together to offer comfort and support to their fellow Malaysians.

“They should not forget the downing of MH370 and MH17 (Malaysia Airlines flights) and (the religious leaders’) response to New Zealand and Sri Lanka acts of violence and many more.

“Jakim should not forget how Malaysians of all faiths felt comforted and supported when religious leaders from all faith traditions stood together in silence in many ceremonies.”

He said the Jakim ruling appears to buck a global trend.

“There is a growing global movement that religions should work together for peace based on the universal values of love, compassion and justice they share throughout the world,” he said.

National Evangelical Christian Fellowship’s Eu Hong Seng said it is important that religious leaders stand together to unite their different communities.

“Religious leaders should stand together if they are to teach the world of the goodness and integrity of their religious beliefs and convictions,” said Eu.