Building Bridges by Intercultural Communication: Promoting Intercultural Harmony for Peaceful Coexistence in Malaysia
Dr. Siaw-Fung CHONG
Seminari Theoloji Malaysia
Malaysia is a multiethnic and multireligious nation, where the Malays form the largest ethnic group (above 60 percent). As the Malays embrace Islam as their religion, the Malay-Muslims are the prominent ethnoreligious group who had significant social and political influence over the country. In recent years, intercultural tension in the Malaysian society intensified due to political rhetoric of some Malay-Muslim ethnoreligious proponents, who had advocated active efforts of Islamization—such as proselytization campaigns and assimilation of Islamic values into systems of public administration and education—implemented by public-funded agencies. The non-Muslim communities, including the Christians of various ethnic backgrounds, are having trouble engaging with the Malay-Muslim ethnoreligious proponents due to differences in opinions and expectations about socioeconomic development and nation-building.
In this paper, the intercultural challenges faced by the Malaysian Christians due to various Malay-Muslim ethnoreligious initiatives is discussed, bringing to light the need for engagement with the Malay-Muslims to seek empathy and establish understanding. It is proposed that God is the divine communicator who endorses communication between cultures, and that Christians are meant to be communicator of God’s goodness with people of all cultures. Thus, Malaysian Christians should play the role of peacemakers to promote and uphold intercultural harmony for peaceful coexistence in their efforts to engage the Malay-Muslim ethnoreligious proponents.
This paper presents intercultural communication as the vehicle to enable effective intercultural engagement between Malaysian Christians and the Malay-Muslims. The ideas of Samovar et al (2013) and Moreau et al (2014) on the subject of intercultural communication are examined in interaction with concepts of interreligious relations in intercultural theology (Wrogemann, 2019). It is suggested that Malaysian Christians should develop various aspects of intercultural competence to achieve success in intercultural communication through open and honest dialogues with the Malay-Muslims. In conclusion, this paper acknowledges that effective engagement is a multi-layer process, and proposes a multiple plenary intercultural engagement model to conduct effective intercultural dialogue and engagement with the Malay-Muslims to promote and uphold intercultural harmony for peaceful coexistence.
CHONG Siaw Fung is the current Principal of Seminari Theoloji Malaysia which is located in Seremban of the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He completed his undergraduate study in University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur in 1990 and later earned a Master of Education degree from the same university in 1998. From 1996 to 2014, he was working in the corporate sector in the industry of training and education, and human resource management before responding to God’s calling to go into theological education. While he was working, he completed his doctoral study and was conferred the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Human Resource Development by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia in 2008. In theological study, he received his Master of Divinity from Sabah Theological Seminary (2014) and pursue Master of Theology (Old Testament) in Princeton Theological Seminary, USA (2016). He is currently working on his doctorate in theology with AGST Alliance, Malaysia.