Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be in this beautiful and historic city of Manila.
2. The initiative by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to host the Special Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development is highly commendable. It is also very important.
3. Malaysia recognises the unique contribution that the Non-Aligned Movement can make in fostering greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths and cultures. I believe that the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents 118 countries across the globe, has excellent credentials to spearhead meaningful and productive discourse on interfaith and intercivilisational issues. All the faiths and many of the cultures and civilisations of the world are represented in NAM. The gathering of these religions, cultures and civilisations here in Manila is therefore very promising in light of the objectives of this meeting.
4. This gathering is also timely. The rhetoric may have faded somewhat and the invective dulled, but people of different faiths and cultures unfortunately continue to confront each other on a variety of issues, ranging from the political to the economic and the social. In the more extreme of cases this confrontation is violent. Lives are lost, limbs are maimed and homes, hospitals and schools are destroyed. Women, children and men die.
5. However I think you will agree with me that if we scrutinise the matter closely, we will find that rarely are conflicts between people of different faiths conflicts over religion, except when one religion tries to displace another. Rather, these conflicts and confrontations are over territory or resources, and over attempts by people who happen to be of one faith to dominate people who happen to be of another, and by the latter to defend and free themselves from the former.
6. There is a tendency sometimes to describe these conflicts as conflicts between religions and cultures. This can be innocent. Or it can be deliberate, to disguise the real issues and deflect attention from them. Those who are responsible for these issues can then continue to perpetuate them while our attention is turned the other way.
7. Then again, sometimes one party sees it as in its interest to dress its cause in religious garb to make it more appealing, respected and legitimate. When this happens, it is the obligation of those of the same faith to expose them and discredit them. When terrorists who kill innocent civilians are engaged in misusing their faith in this manner, it is our duty to challenge and discredit them. They should be condemned for bringing their noble faith into ill repute.
8. I believe – I believe passionately – that no faith asks its followers to do evil. Indeed, all religions enjoin mankind to do good and refrain from evil. This brings me to the theme of this conference, which is on dialogue and cooperation among people of different faiths. All religions ask us to know and understand each other, and live in peace with one another.
9. If I may refer to my own religion and quote from the Holy Quran:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Surah Al-Hujurat verse 13)
If I may be permitted to quote from the Bible:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to live together in unity!” (The Bible, Psalm 133 verse 1).
And if I can quote from the Bhagavad Purana of the Hindu faith:
“Like a bee gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees the good in all religions” (Bhagavad Purana).
10. The faiths are therefore not in conflict. It is peoples and nations with conflicting interests that collide. It is when one side tries to dominate another or seize what is another’s, or when one side is perceived to be doing grave injustice to the other, that distrust, enmity and violence is bred. It is when religious teachings are misunderstood, or when unscrupulous elements distort and manipulate religions to serve their own ends, that religion gets a bad name, and religion is misconstrued as the cause.
11. Is, then, an interfaith dialogue like ours in Manila now irrelevant and a waste of time? Far from it. In my humble view we of different faiths gathered here have an important role to play. We must be bold and candid in clarifying the issues and in deliberating on the underlying causes. Just as importantly, I believe it is also our solemn responsibility to unite our faiths in common cause to promote understanding and goodwill among our peoples, and strengthen peace and harmony among nations.
12. Our primary focus as a movement must no doubt be NAM and matters within NAM. At the same time our horizon cannot be confined to NAM. It cannot be just NAM because we share problems not only with each other but with the rest of the international community as well. In a globalised world where we are linked inextricably by economic and technological forces with countries outside NAM, we need dialogue and cooperation with them as well. Indeed, some of the fundamental problems we identify loosely as interfaith and intercultural problems, but which are in fact more than that, are not with each other but with countries outside the circle of NAM. We cannot overcome them without engaging with other countries of the world.
13. As usual though, I believe our first responsibility is to our own selves. We must begin by putting our own houses in better order, mine – Malaysia – no less than others’. This work never ends, especially in NAM, where many of us still face formidable challenges in nation building. There is always more that can be done to rescue our people from strife and poverty, and give them a better and more decent life. If we can each take care of ourselves the sum of NAM will be better than its parts.
14. As the few quotations from our respective Holy Books that I recited just now enjoin upon us, we of different faiths and cultures in each country must know each other, welcome each other, respect each other and celebrate each other. We must ensure that our own people of diverse backgrounds are at peace with themselves and with each other, and that they care for and prosper each other. If we are able to do this for ourselves we will be more resilient and better equipped to face the world.
15. In conclusion, I would like to thank our gracious hosts the Government of the Republic of the Philippines for giving us this precious opportunity to engage and help make a difference to ourselves and to the world we live in. I sincerely hope that the outcome of our dialogue and deliberations will be an important step forward for NAM member countries in our mission to advance peace and prosperity for all.