For the first time in human history, civilisations, cultures and groups are compelled to relate to one another on a constant and continuous basis. Yet mutual ignorance exacerbated by mutual suspicion and hostility inhibit them from establishing ties that endure and flourish. Sadly, communal violence has become the bane of humankind at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. It is the magnitude of violence among different groups in a situation where societies everywhere are becoming multi-cultural that underscores the importance of intercommunity, intercultural and intercivilisational dialogue. Dialogue and mutual understanding are the prerequisites for building just and equitable relations between cultures and civilisations. Intercultural communication and civilisational dialogue could help strengthen relationship and improve understanding regarding the fundamental principles and practices that distinguish the various communities. It is important to understand these civilisational differences just as it is important to take cognizance of the affinities that exist between civilisations - especially in the context of the globalisation process. It is only when both the similarities and the differences between civilisations are celebrated can a truly just, humane and compassionate world civilisation evolve. Similarly, as Asia undergoes rapid economic and social transformation, the thinking segments of societies are beginning to realise that growth and prosperity would be meaningless unless founded upon, and shaped by universal spiritual and moral values as those being taught by all beliefs that lie at the heart of great civilisations which were all conceived in the womb of Asia. Therefore, if Asia wants to remain true to its multi-religious and multi-cultural civilisational heritage, it should not hesitate to incorporate spiritual and moral values into its development process through intercivilisational dialogue.
Being a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional grouping, Malaysia will seek to establish its own identity and promote its own interests within the larger Asian and world community with the other member nations. It is hoped that the shared values derived through intercivilisational dialogue will help mould the ASEAN identity of tomorrow. Malaysia is indeed a nation where civilisations come together. Perhaps no other nation exists on earth where substantial numbers of Buddhists, Christians, Confucianists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Taoists live together in peace and harmony. Equally remarkable is that these civilisational communities have for decades been exposed to, and have interacted with the Western civilisation. Since such civilisations come together in such a significant manner, they should be encouraged to dialogue with once another. It is through intercivilisational dialogue and intercultural communication that Malaysia seeks to strengthen the sinews of national unity and national integration. Needless to say, unity among the different communities is fundamental to the nation's survival. That is why Malaysia views intercivilisational dialogue as crucial to its very existence. It is against this backdrop that the University of Malaya made its pioneering attempt to initiate an intercivilisational dialogue between Islam and Confucianism in March 1995. Following the success of its first endeavor, the University organized a second intercivilisational dialogue between Islam, Japan and the West in September 1996. As one of the nation's major universities, it is altogether appropriate that the University of Malaya should be at the forefront of this exciting enterprise. After these two major international conferences and several other national programmes on civilisational dialogue, the University felt that the time was ripe to institutionalise the idea. Towards this end, it decided to establish a Centre for Civilisational Dialogue which aims to undertake various programmes and activities in furtherance of its mission.