The Bishop of Lichfield, Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, was invited to take part in a meeting with representatives of 11 Commonwealth nations to discuss issues affecting people who practice a minority faith in different countries.
The conference at Lambeth, timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week, was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury working with the Commonwealth Initiative on Freedom of Religion and Belief based at Birmingham University.
The next CHOGM in 2020 was expected to be in Malaysia, with which Lichfield Diocese has strong links and so Malaysia was one of the case-studies raised. However, Malaysia has now decided not to bid to host that meeting. Nevertheless, the issue of FoRB (Freedom of Religion and Belief) especially in the the context of the relationship of majority and minority religions is still important and relevant in Malaysia and elsewhere, so one session involved some significant speakers from Malaysia: Archbishop Moon Hing who leads the Anglican church in the Province of South-East Asia and is also the bishop of West Malaysia; Azril Mohd Amin, Chief Executive of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy, Malaysia; Andrew Khoo, a member of the Bar Council of Malaysia and Co-chair of the Constitutional Law Committee; and Dato' Dr Afifi al-Akiti, Privy Councillor to the State of Perak, Malaysia and Fellow in Islamic studies at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford.
Bishop Michael's invitation was due to his keen interest in interfaith matters and relations with Islam in particular as well as the close links with Archbishop Moon Hing.
"It was good for Bishop Michael to hear first-hand the challenges in exercising the freedom of religion or belief in Malaysia from Archbishop Moon Hing, a lawyer representing the Malaysian government, a contrarian view from the Bar Council of Malaysia, and then from an advisor on the Islamic religion to HRH the Sultan of Perak," said Andrew Khoo, known to this diocese in his capacity as Provincial Chancellor (archbishop's lawyer) for the Province of SE Asia.
"That brought a church perspective, the government's view, a secular legal opinion, and insights from a royal advisor on the Muslim religion."
A selection of westerners' impressions can also be gleaned from reports from the Lichfield Diocese group that visited various parts of Malaysia in late 2017.
Archbishop Moon Hing, Andrew Khoo and more than twenty others from the four dioceses of the Province of SE Asia will be in Lichfield this July for the East Meets West events which take place across the Diocese.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke of his hopes that the Commonwealth heads of government will have the courage to dream big here.