KUALA LUMPUR: Last month’s fracas at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ 25 Subang Jaya left Prof Dr Suresh Kumar Govind broken-hearted.
Having been a part of the Friendship Group of Inter-Religious Service (FGIS) for the past 17 years, he found it heart-wrenching when a fireman who was there on duty became a victim of the rioting that took place at the 100-year-old temple.
“It’s so sad… I’m still deeply affected by what happened there,” Dr Suresh, who is FGIS coordinator, told Bernama in an interview recently.
His feelings are understandable considering that he and his friends from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have for years been making an effort to spread love and create more understanding among the people of different faiths in this country.
“When two groups fight, both will get hurt. When they get hurt, I too feel the pain,” said the social activist, who has been involved in community work within and outside the country for more than 20 years. FGIS is a coalition of five NGOs, namely Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Buddhist Maha Vihara, Council of Churches of Malaysia and Malaysian Gurdwaras Council, which have a total membership of 10,000.
Dr Suresh, who is head of Universiti Malaya’s Parasitology Department, said the neighbourhood where he grew up in Jalan Pahang, Setapak, here, had helped to shape his personality.
“Our neighbours were of different races and living amongst them taught me the value of fostering a harmonious relationship with people of other races and religions.
“We were close to all our neighbours and knew every family in our neighbourhood, regardless of whether they were Malay, Chinese or Indian,” he said.
He opined that misunderstandings arise due to the attitude of some people who do not attempt to understand other people’s culture and religions.
“Most of us understand only what we know and don’t want to understand what we are supposed to know, especially with regard to other races.
“The situation gets worse when society creates racial stereotypes. For example, for a long time the Indians were branded as drunks, the Malays as lazy and the Chinese as always chasing after wealth.”
The truth is, the way a person behaves or acts has no direct bearing to his race or religion.
“If only we open our eyes and hearts to understand one another, we will surely feel a sense of love, compassion and respect towards everyone, no matter what their religion is or what customs and culture they practice,” he said, adding that it was these feelings that FGIS wanted to embed in the people.
Learn more about other religions
Initially after its formation FGIS, whose members share a strong sense of camaraderie, used to organise visits to houses of worship like mosques, temples and churches to enable its members to get a better understanding of other religions.
During Ramadan, for instance, some of the non-Muslim members would participate in a breaking of fast event in a mosque to see for themselves what it was like.
However, said Dr Suresh, nowadays people seemed “afraid” to approach and find out more about other religions. Such an attitude, he pointed out, gave the impression that they were worried they might get “easily influenced” if they befriend people of another race.
“For instance, when there is a lack of understanding in a household, even minor weaknesses and mistakes will be amplified. Hence, in a plural society like Malaysia’s, harmony will prevail only if mutual understanding exists.
“I believe that the teachings of all religions are good. Religious values such as courtesy, affection and respect should be manifested in life all the time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Suresh, who has a flair for writing drama scripts, has put his talent to good use by coming up with unity-themed scripts.
Not only that, over the past five years FGIS, in collaboration with the Department of National Unity and Integration (JPNIN), has also been staging dramas based on his scripts all over the country.
Dr Suresh, who is the prime mover behind the FGIS’ performing arts initiative, said members of the NGOs in FGIS were also involved in the staging of the dramas.
“This approach (of staging unity-themed dramas) has, indeed, helped to nourish inter-religious relations through FGIS,” he said, adding that recently they staged a drama at Universiti Malaya in conjunction with its new student intake. – Bernama