Catholic Bishop Emeritus Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing hailed Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor's counsel to religious leaders to be heralds of social unity as “soothing balm for feelings rubbed raw by unwise executive and judicial fiat on religious issues”.
The sultan met 16 non-Muslim religious leaders who paid him a courtesy call yesterday at Istana Bukit Serene in Johor Baru during which he urged them to unite the people through cultivation of mutual respect for one another.
“My view is that it is one of the more heartening calls from a leader to religious heads to promote social unity through the cultivation of mutual respect for one another,” said Tan.
The bishop particularly noted that Sultan Ibrahim had issued an invitation to the assembled religious leaders to take problems in respect of inter-religious discord to him.
“If you have problems, come and see me. I am here for you,” the sultan was quoted as urging the gathering of religious leaders.
“This is the most encouraging call I have heard in recent times from a ruler to his people to resort to him when in racial and religious distress,” observed Tan.
“Truly, his highness is saying that your distress is mine and, therefore, I can't be exempt from your pain,” said the Jesuit-trained priest.
Sultan Ibrahim was also quoted as saying to the gathering: “I don't want to hear of any racial problems in the state. Every community, such as the Chinese and Indians, are citizens of Johor. We must have mutual respect for one another.”
Tan said no one hearing the sultan could fail to be encouraged by his assurances.
“Rarely have religious leaders heard so direct an exhortation from a royal to bring their problems to him,” said Tan.
He observed that this counsel from Sultan Ibrahim is the latest in a series of pronouncements on racial and religious issues that have had a vivifying effect on civil society.
Before this, Sultan Ibrahim had rendered advice on education and health issues that have evoked popular interest because of their pertinence to the welfare of the people.
“These pronouncements display a depth of concern that indicate that the peace, unity and progress of his subjects is of paramount concern to the sultan. Daulat Tuanku!” exclaimed Tan.
He said the people of Johor are indeed fortunate to obtain the sultan's solicitude on issues of racial and religious import affecting not only citizens of the state but also of the whole nation.
“May the sultan's initiatives and exhortations be emulated elsewhere so that its balm may provide relief to the feelings of non-Muslims bruised by executive and judicial fiat that have troubled them in recent times,” said the bishop.