SERI KEMBANGAN - Knowledge about all the religions practised in the country should be taught as a formal subject in schools and at universities to strengthen unity and harmony in Malaysia.
This suggestion was among those made at the 2016 Interfaith Forum organised by the Department of National Unity and Integration under the Prime Minister's Department, and the Committee to Promote Inter-Faith Understanding and Harmony.
The committee, comprising 32 members appointed by the Prime Minister, was set up after a Cabinet decision in 2010 to promote interfaith understanding and harmony.
The chairman of the committee, Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, said the participants of the forum felt that interfaith studies need to be taught in schools as many Malaysians were still ignorant about the religion practised by their fellow Malaysians.
He said a Universiti Putra Malaysia research several years ago also found that Malaysians generally lacked knowledge about religions other than their own.
"It's not good enough that we know about our own religion. Interfaith studies should be taught in schools and universities so that Malaysians understand some basic things about other religions as well," he said.
Representatives of groups from the seven major religions practised in Malaysia - namely Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism and the Bahai Faith - took part in the forum.
Azman said another related proposal was to include information and knowledge about Malaysia's Constitution in the proposed interfaith subject.
He said many Malaysians enter university not even knowing the position of Islam as the religion of the Federation and the guarantee given to followers of other religions to practise their respective faith in peace and harmony in any part of the country, as spelt out in Article 3(1) of the Constitution.
"If Malaysians had a better understanding of our Constitution hopefully they will respect each other more as they can see the guarantees which our country provides and how it encourages co-operation and harmony," said Azman.
Azman said there was no specific subject in schools which deals with providing interfaith knowledge and awareness.
Director-general of the National Unity and Integration Department Datuk Gandesan Letchumanan in his closing speech earlier said resolutions adopted at the forum would be refined by the department and submitted to the Government for consideration.
He said Malaysians must see themselves as citizens belonging to one country in order to succeed in promoting unity and harmony.
"We must uphold human values such as tolerance and co-operation and we must also hold a lot of dialogues because it will help to share knowledge."
Country Heights Holdings Bhd founder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, who is also member of the committee, said that resolution of disputes involving Malaysians of different faiths would be easier if all sides regarded themselves as Malaysians first and foremost.
"We could also build better understanding by co-operating on issues which affect followers of all faiths - for example, the sharing of knowledge about preventive health promoted in each of our communities so that it can benefit all Malaysians."