Penang's Islamic and Catholic leaders meet

Penang's Mufti, Datuk Dr Wan Salim Mohd Noor (in white cap), and the Roman Catholic leader, Bishop Sebastian Francis, during their dialogue this week.
Penang's Mufti, Datuk Dr Wan Salim Mohd Noor (in white cap), and the Roman Catholic leader, Bishop Sebastian Francis, during their dialogue this week.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Dialogue comes amid occasional tensions between different faiths in Malaysia

GEORGE TOWN • The mufti of Penang and the state's Roman Catholic bishop have had a dialogue in what has been hailed as a historic meeting between two religious heads.

Top Islamic leaders in Malaysia had in the past avoided meeting heads of other religions, as they deem Islam has a higher platform as the country's official religion.

The Penang meeting followed a widely hailed one between the archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and the Federal Territories mufti in January. And there was a recent meeting in historic Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur involving the Catholic Church's Archdiocesan Single Adults and Youth Ministry (Asayo) and members of the Malaysian Youth Movement (Abim).

The Penang meeting between Datuk Dr Wan Salim Mohd Noor and Bishop Sebastian Francis delved into issues such as the lack of a common platform to discuss syariah and civil laws, the threat presented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and extremism, reported The Star.

"Issues such as the lack of a common platform to discuss the provisions of law in syariah and civil courts were brought up. We spoke about custody matters where one parent has converted and the other has not," Dr Wan Salim said on Monday, after the meeting.

"There should be a common platform to discuss which is the relevant law in cases like this and which law should be improved."

He said the meeting was aimed at eliminating confusion and misunderstanding between the Muslim and Christian communities.

"If it is of public interest and it is for something just and fair, the Islamic faith gives its blessings," Dr Wan Salim added.

Bishop Sebastian said he was impressed with the outcome of the meeting and commended Dr Wan Salim's commitment to ensuring that justice, peace and mercy continued to be upheld.

"We are here to build bridges between both faiths. There are many things that we agree on and there are many issues which need to be tackled as well. They will be done in good time," he said.

Both sides are committed to holding more of such dialogues, he added, according to The Star.

Last month, members from Asayo and Abim held what they described as a fruitful dialogue at the National Mosque where the two sides explored the similarities between the two religions, the Malaysian Insider reported.

That meeting took a cue from one between Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Julian Leow and Mufti Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri, the top Islamic leader of Malaysia's Federal Territories, last month.

The top-level meeting was widely seen as ground-breaking, coming amid occasional tensions in the country between the majority Muslims and non-Muslims, following several court cases that pitched the Islamic courts against the non-Muslim minority.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Penang's Islamic and Catholic leaders meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe