Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said intercultural friendship and understanding were much more in demand today, as the people tended to migrate to other countries where the cultural composition was unlike that in their countries of origin.
"There is therefore, a greater need for everyone to learn and understand the differing cultures, in particular those related to the religion of other members of the population in their new countries," he said at the International Multicultural Symposium in Melbourne, Australia Saturday.
The text of his speech titled, 'Social Cohesion, Intercultural Friendship and Understanding', was e-mailed to Bernama here.
The event was organised by Darul Uloom Academy of Brisbane, the Australian Islamic Friendship Association and the Lebanese Muslim Association.
Dr Mahathir said for Muslims, this was doubly important as more and more Muslims were now residing in non-Muslim countries whose cultures were contrary to the cultures they were used to.
"Without losing faith in their religion, they must make adjustments within what is prescribed by Islam, since Islam is not so rigid as to stand in the way of such adjustments," he said.
Dr Mahathir said there was a need to promote tolerance, especially tolerance of the different cultures and religions of each other, since it was becoming more important currently, as migrants from different countries were found everywhere.
He also reminded that "there is a need for everyone to be sensitive to the feelings of everyone else." "A common practice in Malaysia is for hotels to prepare all kinds of foods for Muslims for the iftar, and often the guests are non-Muslims.
"But in deference to the Muslims, everyone waits for iftar before eating and the non-Muslims are quite comfortable with this and they are sensitive to the feelings of the Muslims during the fast," he said.
Dr Mahathir said it was also a practice in Malaysia for peoples of different faiths to participate in each other's religious festival by holding open houses where all were welcome.
He said there was also a need to promote common values which could reduce the differences, and this could be found in sports and music.
"Ethnic foods have been accepted as national food in many countries. In Britain, chicken tikka is as much accepted by the peoples of different groups as their national food, such as steak and potatoes," added the former prime minister.
Intercultural Friendship, Understanding Needed - Dr Mahathir