Administering Religious Harmony for the Future
By HARMONICOMarch 2023 FEATURE
JALAN MASJID KAPITAN KELING is often called the Street of Harmony, where four houses of worship can be found in close proximity – all within the 800m range. Starting from St. George’s Church at the junction from Lebuh Farquhar, followed by Kuan Im Teng (Goddess of Mercy Temple), Sri Mahamariamman Temple and Masjid Kapitan Keling, they have been an easy expression of Penang’s society – a testament that harmony can be achieved between those of different religious beliefs.
Though these worship sites have stood tall for decades, one should not forget that investing to protect and ensure racial harmony is hard work. The multiracial and multi-religious cohesiveness we enjoy now must not be taken for granted.
When looking into houses of worship, we saw that the building and management of mosques, along with other Muslim community needs, are met through established government departments such as Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam Pulau Pinang (JHEAIPP). Meanwhile, non-Muslim houses of worship such as temples, gurdwaras and churches have no “overseeing” agency to communicate their needs and issues to the state government.
This was why the Penang Harmony Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (also known as HARMONICO) was established on 10 March 2021 under the Penang Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). Its focus is set primarily on non-Muslim houses of worship, with a vision to instil universal values and spiritual understanding amongst those of different faiths. Though its focus is on places of worship, HARMONICO works with people serving these to maintain an inclusive and harmonious society.
It is by collaborating with faith communities, inter-faith organisations and educators to increase understanding among different faiths and to widen public awareness of distinctive religious traditions in Penang, that the corporation contributes towards perpetuating harmony across later generations.
HARMONICO serves as a reference point for all non-Muslim houses of worship and contributes towards realising the full potential for Penang to become a popular religious tourism destination.
Indeed, the many religious places of worship in Penang are steeped in history and culture, and are expressions of the rich histories of the local communities. Outside the Street of Harmony, there is Kek Lok Si, Reclining Buddha Wat Chaiyamangalaram, Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple, Sam Poh Footprint Temple and Minor Basilica of St. Anne, just to name a few.
However, there is a great need for accurate information and centralised data on the current situation of non-Muslim houses of worship in the state, and their individual histories.
Introducing the eRIBI System
The data of religious organisations registered under the Registrar of Societies are accessible by the state government. Some, however, are registered under the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) or cooperative societies legislation. Others were formed under Parliamentary Acts that do not require any registration. Without accurate data, attempts to disburse funding or provide skilled assistance have proved sub-optimal.
To improve the situation, HARMONICO embarked on setting up the eRIBI system with funding from the state government. RIBI stands for Rumah Ibadat Bukan Islam (non-Muslim houses of worship), and the system collects the relevant data needed by the state government, including locations of these places of worship, land ownership or building details, management (e.g. chairperson or secretary), history, services conducted and contact details.
Such a move to collect these data and provide a digital platform for engagement is in line with the Penang2030 vision, under Theme C: To empower people to strengthen civic participation. The strategy is to accelerate programme delivery and institutional reform. The vision’s Theme D is to invest in the built environment to improve resilience and to upgrade municipal services with smart technologies.
Having access to a centralised and comprehensive database, the state government can effectively provide support in a targeted manner to these places of worship. Institutional reforms can also be developed using data from eRIBI.
Other than that, eRIBI can also help improve municipal services within the locations. Those who manage houses of worship can apply for funding or grants within the system too.
Members of the public can visit the eRIBI website at eribi.gov.my to search for houses of worship they are interested in visiting. Included in the system are details such as special celebrations or observations.
With the eRIBI system and HARMONICO, Penangites are in a position to better understand and respect the beliefs of others.
Penang Harmony Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (HARMONICO) was established on 10 March 2021 under the Penang Chief Minister’s Incorporation (CMI) as an implementing agency to oversee matters pertaining to religions other than Islam and to execute plans and policies that will promote and bring about an inclusive and harmonious society in Malaysia.