Amid rising religious tensions, youth gather to build bridges between faiths

Attendees participating in interfaith dialogue during the Gathering. Architects of Diversity 2024

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On 11 May, Architects of Diversity (AOD) gathered 45 youths from different religious groups for the first Interfaith Youth Alliance (IYA) gathering.

The gathering took place at PARC Subang as a one-day event to connect youth and interfaith leaders from different backgrounds and create a community that can discuss and dialogue about interfaith issues in a safe and productive manner.

The IYA is a platform to connect and empower youth from diverse backgrounds to promote interfaith harmony in Malaysia. It brings together youth representatives from various religious organisations, including Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar Islam Malaysia, the Borneo Evangelical Mission and the Young Buddhists Association of Malaysia.

The gathering invited youth leaders and members of religious organisations as a new initiative to build bridges between groups that otherwise would have few opportunities to network and know each other.

In the wake of rising religious tensions after the KK Super Mart row and petrol bombings across Malaysia, the gathering is a symbol of resistance to conflict and extremist narratives.

The gathering was officiated with a keynote address by Kuching MP Kelvin Yii on the role of youth in Malaysia in promoting a vibrant and healthy interfaith space. This was followed by a presentation of findings from Ibrahim Suffian, the programme director of the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research on interfaith relations in Malaysia.

Attendees and participants then broke into smaller groups to discuss various interfaith dialogue topics, including misconceptions of interfaith relations, harnessing digital platforms for interfaith engagements, grassroot interfaith initiatives, and policy change for interfaith efforts.

In his keynote speech that discussed the capacity of youth to build bridges without the baggage of history, Yii said: “I challenge them [youth] to think bigger, rather than to isolate. To collaborate, rather than to keep ourselves in a cocoon. Because with the age of social media and hyper-information today, there is no way we can isolate ourselves.”

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He continued: “The harder thing to do is – when people maki (insult) me – I need to address them. I need to give knowledge to them. I need to give awareness to them so they understand things better.”

While various interfaith efforts are conducted across the country, few are directly focused on youth and involve normal youth members of religious organisations.

The AOD, as an organisation with members from various religions and faiths, also acts as a neutral convener. The gathering served as an effort to expand interfaith dialogue and inter-organisational networks beyond high-level leadership.

“Interfaith Youth Alliance is a platform not only for the youth, but a collective of like-minded individuals, from diverse ethnicities, religions and races from all across the region of Malaysia. To gather as a strong elite, by putting aside each other’s pride and differences. To dive deeper into hot topics in Malaysia, discussing and solving the issues together,” said Daryl Murray D Lanjuat, an IYA member from Persatuan Pengamal Sekolah Adat Sunduan Nabalu Sabah.

“I strongly support IYA and its purpose, to create a common ground, where all can speak in one voice.”

For many attendees, the gathering was the first time they participated in an intentional space that facilitated conversations surrounding the challenges of their own faith and of the broader multi-religious landscape in Malaysia.

“The challenge of interfaith dialogue is to hold on to two things at the same time,” said Jason Wee, the AOD executive director, during the opening ceremony. “The first is our own convictions of faith, the other is the discomfort in receiving challenging views.”

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“The recent IYA gathering was a great platform to connect with fellow young people passionate about interfaith dialogue and positive change in Malaysia,” said Luqman Hafiz, an IYA member from Persatuan Pelajar Kebangsaan Islam Malaysia.

“The activities resonated with me, as true understanding comes from open-mindedness and a willingness to learn from others.” – AOD

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