The Council of Churches of Malaysia has appealed to the country's government to reconsider a decision to withdraw support for a Christian-Muslim seminar that was to have been chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
The seminar, originally called for 7-11 May 2007, was cancelled after the authorities said they would not support its taking place, the church council noted in a statement. The council said it was "at a loss" to understand the decision.
"The Council of Churches had hoped that such a seminar would have gone a long way in pursuing the path of respectful dialogue, and strengthen our country's claim to be a viable venue to host such global interfaith dialogues," the body's general secretary, the Rev Hermen Shastri, said.
The meeting was to have been the sixth in a series of annual seminars that have met in places such as London, New York, Qatar and Sarajevo. Shastri urged the government "to review its decision and offer the organizers an alternative date" for a meeting in Malaysia.
In Britain, The Times newspaper reported that the Malaysian government had allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury into the country to preach at the consecration of a new Anglican bishop, but had said that it would not permit the seminar to take place.
In 2004, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a World Council of Churches gathering in Kuala Lumpur that interfaith dialogue was essential.
The prime minister's office and Islamic institutions had originally welcomed the seminar as being "consistent with the government's emphasis on encouraging civilizational and interfaith dialogue", Shastri noted.
But three weeks before the seminar was due to take place, organizers "received formal word from the authorities here that support has been withdrawn".
The Archbishop of Canterbury's secretary for interfaith relations, the Rev Canon Guy Wilkinson, was quoted by The Times as describing the situation in Malaysia as "delicate".
"A whole series of interreligious cases are in front of the constitutional court and awaiting judgement," Wilkinson said. "The view was that it would be better not to have an international gathering of Muslims and Christians at the moment in that context."
According to 2000 census figures, Muslims make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 24 million people. About 9 percent are Christians, 19 percent Buddhists, and 6 percent Hindus.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]