CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 March 2019

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New group seeks to jump start interfaith dialogue in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (UCAN): The newly-formed Christians for Peace and Harmony Malaysia (CPHM) has planned a roundtable discussion and dinner in July with Perkasa, the Malay rights group which has accused Christians of proselytising among Muslims and has even called for the burning of bibles.

The group’s chairperson, Reverend Wong Kim Kong, indicated that it also planned to break fast with Muslims during the month of Ramadan— including communities in Taman Medan and Kota Damansara.

Taman Medan made headlines in late April when a group of 50 Muslim residents protested in front the premises where the Community of Praise church was located, demanding that the cross affixed to the façade be taken down (Sunday Examiner, May 3).

Wong said that other activities including a sports event in Taman Sinar Muda, Shah Alam, initiated by its residents association and a dinner event in Segamat, Johor, are being planned over the next few months.

He also said the group is collaborating with the government’s Committee to Promote Understanding and Harmony among Religious Adherents in organising a peace walk to places of worship.

CPHM is also working with Muslim scholar, Hashim Kamali who heads the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS), to organise a roundtable discussion on human and religious values shared by Muslims and Christians.

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, launched Christians for Peace and Harmony Malaysia earlier in June amid heavy criticism that the group was a government tool to win over Christians. However, Wong insisted that CPHM had no agenda other than to promote peace and harmony.

“We are not collecting votes for the government,” he said.

Wong said that even before the group was inaugurated, people had pre-conceived ideas about it, with some even questioning the use of the word Christian in its name.

He said this was because those with negative views tended to articulate their thoughts on social media while those who were supportive were more personal.

“The silent majority do not normally go to the press,” he said, adding, “You don’t see or hear them, but to say that more people object to us rather than support us may not be the true picture.”

Wong added that almost every weekend meets Christians who have expressed their support for the movement.

He said that although Christian groups such as Christian Federation of Malaysia and National Evangelical Christian Federation have not openly pledged their support, he believed they were beginning to warm to CPHM playing a complementary role to their efforts.

He added that although there has been no official statement the two groups, he was in constant contact with their representatives.

“We must not overstep into their domain,” he said. “Maybe the others have not made a clear stand on how they view us because they were fearful we meant to trespass their role.”

He explained, “We have never said we don’t want to work with them, I have said from the very beginning that we cannot do this alone.” 

Some have alleged that CPHM do not care enough about hot button Christian issues, such as restrictions on the use of the word Allah.

However Wong pointed out that there were two reasons why they were not wading into this ongoing debate.

“It is not that we don’t care, but we believe this is the purview of the Christian Federation of Malaysia and therefore we should not interfere. Secondly, if we start speaking about this now, it will be contentious to the Muslims and we cannot do what we set out to, which is to bring peace and harmony,” he said.

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