For the forum "Malaysia, After Lina Joy: A Dialogue", when we booked the hall at Armada Hotel which catered to some 400 persons, we were more than a little concerned that the hall would not be fully occupied. Normally, our forums are considered very well attended with a crowd of 150 persons. In fact, we attempted to procure another hall at another hotel nearby which would have been smaller, and cost much less. ;)
However, as it turns out, the worry was needless, as the DAP Petaling Jaya volunteers worked relentlessly over the week to publicise the event. An estimated more than 600 persons turned up for the event making the hall standing room only, plus another sizeable crowd, listening via the hotel speakers outside the hall. Towards the end of the forum, one of the audience even told us, the organisers, to secure a bigger hall the next time round. ;)
I thought the forum was a success, not from the perspective that we "found" a solution to all our problems relating to Lina Joy, but that it was a historic meeting of members from both sides of the divide to come together to hear each other out. For that I'm specifically grateful to the President of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, Yusri Mohamad, who was gracious enough to participate as a panelist.
When many of us, of both views, often do not even understand or emphathize with the views of the other, as they have never been properly explained, then you can never have meaningful dialogue. Unlike the often interrupted Article 11 forums, we are thankful to the police for granting us the permit to hold the dialogue, for one of the very first time, we were able to hear first hand, the other side of the story. It served as a 'starter', and we hope there'll be more dialogues and discussions in time to come.
The dialogue is well reported in Malaysiakini, with Yusri's views, entitled "Respect Islam First, Then Dialogue":
Speaking at a dialogue regarding apostasy, he told some 600 people who packed a hotel in Petaling Jaya last night that there must be respect for the religion, its specialists and authorities.And that of the others here, "A Secular Constitution Protects All Religions":
“It’s a danger if we try to build circumstances around something very fluid and subject to debate. Islam is not all-consensus,” said Yusri.
“Who gets to determine which part of Islam is already settled and definite and which part is still open to debate? There must be a respect for authority, specialisation and expertise in Islam.
“Of course you can advise on Islam but please respect the sensitivities,” he stressed.
Dr Azmi Sharom:
Another issue as to jurisdiction in the Syariah Court of the civil courts is clearly listed in Schedule 9. What is not in the list are constitutional freedoms. Constitutional freedom is clearly in the hands of civil courts. And for civil courts to say no, this is a syariah matter it is in effect saying that ‘we’re not going to live up to our responsibility to deal with this matter’.Ambiga Sreenevasan:
The constitution is the supreme law of the federation. It doesn’t undermine any religion. The Bar Council sees this from a very legalistic point of view. It’s not to say we’re pro-this or anti-that, we’re looking at the constitutional approach taken by the courts all these years.The Bar Council president has also let it be known that she is happy to participate in forums or dialogues organised by ABIM or other Muslim organisations, both to listen to other views, as well as to present hers. It's a good start, and I certainly hope that it can continue. And certainly, where we disagree, we can at least agree to disagree amicably.
Finally, we are grateful that the audience who came were generous with their donations, who help the Party cover the cost and expenses for the evening. And for those who attended, I hope you went back with a better understanding of the issues at hand.