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Human Rights, Environment & Social Studies

Fasting with A Friend from A Different Faith

From the Interfaith Dialogue on the concept of fasting in different religions and belief in Malaysia. What are our similarities?

On 20th June, I was privileged to attend an interfaith dialogue discussing on the topic of fasting at Govind’s Family Restaurant. Well, the fasting month for the Muslim is practically over, but that is not the essence of the dialogue that I’m going to share. Interestingly, the panellist for the dialogue were respectable personalities; from political figures, religious organization, youth and women movement supported by sporting audience.

The moderator for the dialogue, Klang MP Charles Santiago has set the stage with the objectives of the dialogue. It is to promote mutual understanding and building good relationship in society. It is also to have better understanding and confidence with oneself and to break down barriers and resistance. Focusing on the values that unites us, the panellist were Parit Buntar MP YB Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Dr. M. Balamurugan Tharmalingam from Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Pastor Gary Yeoh from Klang Methodist Church, Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz from ABIM and Mr. Vijaya Samarawickrama, teacher-author from Buddhist Maha Vihara KL.

YB Mujahid shared that fasting in Islam has been done even by the disciple before Prophet Muhammad. It is quoted to spiritually cleansing the soul and to have better connection with God. Once this is achieved, peace will be bestowed on oneself and ultimately will bring peace to the society. Fasting month is also a time to reflect on oneself. In Islam, God forbid cursing another belief, and ask the follower to have respect to brothers and sisters in humanity. Fasting is to draw oneself nearer to God, thus will promote peace and unity.

From the Old Testament, Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 58, Pastor Gary Yeoh shared what is the kind of fasting expected from the Christian point of view. Fasting and praying should go hand in hand, together. The important reflection is to understand the motive of fasting or it will becoming a mechanical motion without any meaning. He shared it is also important to beware of showing off righteous act.

The teaching of Buddha according to teacher Vijaya also shares the same benefit or purposes of fasting with the rest of the religions. In Buddha, fasting is to develop compassion and humility and also for self-conquest. This is something that Dr. Balamurugan from Hindu Sangam agreed upon. Fasting in Hinduism is for self-realization and it increases one’s social aspect.  Mr. Faisal from ABIM has enlightened further that fasting is to improve quality of life, if we follow and understand the purpose of fasting. Fasting is one of the way to project equality when all Muslims will observe the same principles of fasting. The righteous or taqwa will bring forward justice and equality to the society.

Towards the end of the dialogue, MP Charles has shared some similarities about fasting based on all religious belief. One of the striking point is about peace, be it with God or with oneself. While peace undoubtedly has many level, its outcome at large is always positive. How to achieve peace through fasting, in any religion requires discipline. It will develop humility, integrity and equality at personal level and at the community level collectively. And this is done via act of fasting in every religion.

When our country is facing evolving threat from extremism, much of it is religious motivated, we should not forget the diversity that also unites Malaysian. We should learn from the act of fasting, that taught us that we could coexist in a plural society by respecting our religious differences and accept the similarities in its values.I believe Malaysia that is based on values will ensure a more progressive and prosperous nation.Till then, enjoy your long holiday and Selamat Hari Raya.

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