KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian leaders have called for national unity and religious tolerance on Christmas eve.
This comes after racial divisions were laid bare following the recent riots at a Hindu temple in Selangor, as well as an anti-International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
MALAYSIA IS A PEACEFUL COUNTRY: PM MAHATHIR MOHAMAD
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Dec 24) that "Malaysia is a peaceful country where people from all races and religions come together to celebrate each other’s holiday festivities".
"I hope this mutual regard will continue, and passed on to the younger generation. This is what made Malaysia unique, united and strong," Mahathir said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that Malaysians should continue to cherish the respect, understanding and love among the different groups in society.
“United we stand, divided we fall. Instead of focusing on the negative, let us all look at all the positive that far outweigh the former,” she said.
She noted that in Islam, it is compulsory to be tolerant towards one another.
Verses eight and nine in the Surah al-Mumtahanah (the 60th chapter of the Quran) encourage Muslims to be just and kind to non-Muslims who are not the enemies of Muslims, she added.
“Consider this my personal Christmas card to every single one of you celebrating Christmas this year. May you have a wonderful and joyous celebration. Happy holidays,’ she said.
UNITE AND REJECT EXTREMISM: FINANCE MINISTER LIM GUAN ENG
In the same vein, finance minister Lim Guan Eng said that the country’s economy can only be strong if Malaysians unite and reject extremism.
“The new Pakatan Harapan federal government under the leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is committed towards representing all Malaysians regardless of demography or geography,” he was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail.
He also accused the opposition of “abandoning the political centre and adopting a racist line or extremist position based on religion”.
“Not only do non-Muslims and non-Malays not be given the right to serve as ministers, but their rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution will be further undermined and diminished to the extent that Christmas celebrations is unacceptable,” the minister claimed.
RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS TENSION
Fears of racial and religious tension have grown after riots at a Hindu temple in Subang Jaya last month.
The temple administration committee and the developer, One City Development, are in dispute over the piece of the land on which the temple stands.
A firefighter suffered serious injuries while he was part of a team responding to a fire in front of the temple. Rioters allegedly pulled him out of his vehicle and attacked him. He died last week.
There have been growing calls for Minister of National Unity and Social Well-being Waytha Moorthy to be sacked, as he was among a group of ministers who publicly blamed the police for failing to keep order, just before the attack on the firefighter.
More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition calling for his removal.
Non-governmental organisations, however, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister's Office on Monday, in support of Mr Moorthy.
On Dec 8, the opposition organised a huge rally in Kuala Lumpur against ICERD, a United Nations Convention that condemns discrimination and calls upon states to pursue a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.
In September, Mahathir told the United Nations General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify the convention. However, Putrajaya backpedaled on its decision in November, as ratifying ICERD would require a two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the Federal Constitution.
Meanwhile, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s (PAS) youth chief was quoted as saying by Sinar Harian daily that Christmas has elements of “syirik” (idolatry).
Therefore, Muslims are forbidden from celebrating it, including extending Christmas greetings on social media, said Mr Muhammad Khalil Abdul Hadi.
This drew a stern rebuke from Democratic Action Party veteran Lim Kit Siang.
In a statement on Monday, he said this is not the first time PAS has propagated “toxic politics of lies, hate, fear, race and religion”.
“Does PAS want to have a world war of religions, or a peaceful, tolerant and harmonious world based on the tolerance and peaceful coexistence of all the great religions of the world?” he was reported as saying by The Malaysian Insight.