By Yusuph Masanja, Co-Facilitator, Global Alumni Network

Goldin Global Fellow Mahdar Tahir from Malaysia and founder of the Crescent Collective contributed as a panelist to an online discussion and celebration about Religious Freedom. This online event brought together contributors from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Malaysia to share wisdom and knowledge about how religious freedom promotes social harmony. The event was hosted on 28 April 2022 by American corners and was moderated by William Robertson,  the U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad, India.

At Crescent Collective, Mahdar works to guide Malaysian youth towards spiritual awareness and understanding by grounding moral values through talks, community projects, and volunteerism on arts and culture. Right after his participation in the Celebrating Religious Freedom event, I requested a brief interview with Mahdar to discuss his insights on the topic. We discussed tolerance, the role of religious leaders, and the problem of misunderstanding other people.

We started talking about tolerance where Mahdar argued for a more proactive approach in promoting freedom and harmony.

We must move beyond tolerance. I believe it is everybody’s duty to seek to understand others. We no longer live in villages without seeing other people. The world is global, and it is our job to promote understanding of different people and cultures. Even the Quran has a commandment about understanding each other. We would not need to know each other if we were the same!

In the face of today’s ongoing conflicts, Mahdar highlights the role of religious leaders in promoting peace. Their influence from spiritual teachings is a powerful force for Peace because they can speak to the hearts of people.

“It is not about the mind, it is about the heart. How do you understand others and begin to appreciate them if you do not even understand yourself?

He insisted that religious leaders must teach the core ethical values of understanding one another. That way we can effectively advance social harmony. In Mahdar’s perspective, failing to understand each other is evil, and the best way out of that is through complementing each other.

In this brief phone interview, Mahdar summed up his thoughts by reminding us that religion is a very powerful tool which can be used for good or for bad. And that the lack of understanding one’s own religious values is often a source of conflict.

Lack of religious freedom does not imply different religions fight against each other, but rather a tendency where certain individuals with evil motives use religions to divide people, exacerbate conflicts, and therefore limit freedom.

In a different but relevant update, this year’s Ramadan saw Mahdar working single handedly to collect food from Ramadan food bazaar and distribute it to those who needed it most. He sought to understand how the problem of food wastage during Ramadan could be solved. After walking and talking with community members to understand their concerns, he quickly took it up for himself to organize food that could otherwise be trashed as excess by vendors and delivered it to people who appreciated it!

He saw the value in understanding the predicament of local businesses in Malaysia with regards to freely distributing the food themselves which helped him realize a simple yet effective solution. His endeavor during this year’s Ramadhan reduced food wastage, created awareness and reminded everyone that the spirit of Ramadhan is to reduce consumption rather than increase them. “Reduced consumption will lead to zero waste.”