September 28, 2022

Embrace pluralistic spirit in governance

3 min read

THE Association for Community and Dialogue welcomes the statement by Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz that there has been too much talk on religion and not enough on good values and principles in Malaysia, “Religion is about good values, says Rafidah” (The Star, Oct 26).

The former International Trade and Industry Minister has been the voice of reason amid the continuous display of prejudice against non-Muslims from politicians or civil society that stems from the power play for Malay-Muslim support by ethno-religious parties like Umno, PAS and even Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. The question is how could one obtain the right values if there is an absence of pluralistic spirit?

Religion provides value to society through words of wisdom and action. Such wisdom is derived from multiple sources of religious philosophy and steers towards what is good and valuable for human life.

Actions rooted in wisdom speak louder than words because the right action reconciles and transforms society. But at the same time, there is a double-edged sword where there could also be regression, leading to exclusivity and confrontation, as we can see in our country today.

In the New Testament, there is a saying by Jesus that if one does something good, people will see it and praise God.

Good does not emerge from a single dimension; it has a pluralistic dimension. Good works of love and compassion can be observed in all humans irrespective of religion or race.

To this end, it is vital to view religion not through its identity and rituals and drawing a line between people but through the pluralistic spirit which embraces what is beautiful and good in everyone. It is not about being a Malay and entitled to attend an exclusive ethno-religious conference; it’s whether that conference would lead to multi-ethnic unity and wisdom for the common good or cause greater polarisation in society.

If one takes an objective view of the history of religion, one can see that there has always been a pluralistic synthesis of values and learning. For example, Christianity derived much of its foundation from Judaism, and Christian scholars helped Muslim scholars to interpret Greek works, besides sharing common prophets in the Old Testament.

The fundamental concern in this country is over mainstream ethno-religious leaders not adhering to values that are derived from the pluralistic spirit in governance, social structure and the economy. They are caught up with exclusive religious privilege and identity that tend to look at the world from a threat basis. Every issue is viewed through a black-and-white ideological point of view, and the end seems to be obsession with power rather than religion in its altruistic sense.

It is time that the current mainstream values in this country be re-examined to see whether we have embraced the pluralistic spirit that is critical in governing a nation that is multi-ethnic and


Our founding fathers had the pluralistic spirit when creating our country, making it relatively peaceful over the decades. Let’s embrace this spirit in nation-building and reject ethno-religious exclusivity.



Association for Community and Dialogue