Jom Ziarah: Let’s talk about it

I was recently interviewed by a local vernacular daily on the kerfuffle relating to the ‘Jom Ziarah’ programme organised by Impact Malaysia, an agency under the Youth and Sports Ministry.

I took the effort to look up the word “kerfuffle” in the Oxford English Dictionary to ensure that I got the meaning correct. Because the way I see it, the whole mess is just a fuss, cooked up by certain disgruntled politicians, thus exacerbating the issue.

I have always believed that civilisational dialogue is the key to reducing tension between races and religions, and are crucial for maintaining social harmony and promoting national unity.

Through these means, people can deepen their understanding of each other’s cultures and religions, eliminate barriers, and establish a more harmonious society.

Interestingly, our centre (Universiti Malaya Centre for Civilisational Dialogue) had planned a similar programme called the ‘Harmony Programme’, which aimed to invite people from different backgrounds and religious beliefs to visit various religious sites in Malaysia, such as mosques, temples, churches, gurdwaras, and others; in order to deepen their understanding of each other’s cultures and beliefs.

In fact, this programme was to receive RM20,000 in funding from the Selangor Unity and Integration Council as informed in February. However, it is still pending approval – which I believe is related to the recent controversy surrounding the ‘Jom Ziarah’ programme.

Our goals in the ‘Harmony Programme’ were to break down religious barriers, eliminate misunderstandings, and create a more harmonious social environment.

This would not only help to eliminate unnecessary misunderstandings and hostility, but also help people better understand their own cultural backgrounds and enhance their cultural and national identity.

Such intercultural dialogue not only promotes religious harmony, but also social progress, and is a very meaningful activity.

There is an old Chinese saying: “It is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books”, which basically attributes the various benefits one could have by immersing oneself in the experience itself, rather than just by reading about it.

Although we can acquire a wealth of knowledge and information to learn and understand each other, we often cannot truly experience and feel the characteristics of the different cultures and religions.

It is through personal experience or on-site visits that we can feel and better experience the real situation of different cultures, customs, and religious ceremonies, so as to gain a deeper understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas behind the different cultures and religions.

In this regard, dialogue is one such immersive means, and will help us understand better. Moreover, meaningful dialogues will also force us to appreciate both the similarities and differences between varying cultures and religions.

The importance of civilisational dialogue lies in its ability to foster mutual understanding and respect between diverse communities.

It is only through dialogue that we can appreciate the similarities and differences in each other’s cultures, beliefs, and values. Such understanding is essential in creating a peaceful and harmonious society that celebrates diversity and promotes inclusivity.

As a society, we must acknowledge that building harmonious relationships among the diverse groups is not an easy task. It requires us to use wisdom in our judgment, be open to different perspectives, and be willing to engage in constructive dialogue.

We must work towards creating an environment that encourages civilisational dialogue, where people can express their opinions without fear of being judged or persecuted.

Furthermore, we must avoid inciting emotions and exaggerating situations that can potentially cause harm and further divide us.

Fear only serves to widen the gap in our understanding of each other, and does not contribute to creating a harmonious society. Instead, we must focus on building bridges and fostering mutual respect to promote greater social cohesion.

In conclusion, civilisational dialogue is an essential tool for building a better and more harmonious Malaysia. It requires us to use wisdom, embrace diversity, and work together to create a society where everyone feels valued and respected.

By engaging in dialogue and building bridges, we can move towards a future where diversity is celebrated, and inclusivity is the norm.

Chang Lee Wei is a Senior Research Officer at Universiti Malaya Centre for Civilisational Dialogue.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.