GROWING up in Sarawak, admittedly I had a relatively sheltered childhood in terms of race relations.
Because I have relatives and friends from various ethnic groups and religions, there was never a question of not enjoying festive or other celebrations together.
No one forced their religious beliefs or cultural identities onto others.
In the mission school that I attended, there were crosses around the school, but that did not mean that the Muslims, Buddhists or Taoists from my school were influenced to leave their religions. They are still faithful followers of their respective religions today.
We respected each other’s differences and accepted them without much thought. It wasn’t just about mere tolerance.
The same applies for our Sabahan brothers and sisters.
It was only when I traveled across the South China Sea to another part of Malaysia that I realised that this was not how many of my fellow Malaysians lived.
Racial and religious lines are very clearly drawn in some Malayan states – you’re either Malay, Chinese or Indian; Muslim or non-Muslim.
Yes, there is no place for indigenous Sarawakians except to be called ‘other’ (which I find completely insulting by the way, but that is another topic for another day).
For colleagues from Malaya, coming to Sarawak for the first time is always an eye-opener.
After the initial shock, they often admire how differently Sarawakians of various faiths and religions interact with each other.
An Indian friend, who visited during a Hari Raya Aidilfitri break one year, got worried when I suggested driving to some kampungs to admire the beautiful lights of ‘bertuntung’.
I assured him that my family has been doing this ever since I was a child.
At narrow points of some village roads, groups of young villagers on motorcycles waved happily and allowed us to pass first.
My Indian friend was incredibly surprised by the whole experience and told me that he would never drive through a kampung in Selangor at night, particularly if he did not actually know anyone there and certainly not as a threat for the children!
Just before Aidilfitri last year, I went to Medan Niaga Permaidani BGS (Boyan Gersik Surabaya) one evening to look for Kek Lapis Sarawak.
Many of those crowding the shops and food stalls were actually Chinese Sarawakians looking for Hari Raya treats for themselves and friends and also to soak up the atmosphere of the celebration.
Visitors from Malaya are also surprised that seafood restaurants in the heart of Malay villages such as Buntal and Muara Tebas are run by Chinese, and have been for generations.
Even more surprising to many is the Chinese Temple at Muara Tebas!
The reason I bring all this up is because Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala, a Sarawakian from Bario, recently called on all Malaysians to practise inclusiveness.
He pointed out that both Sabah and Sarawak had long practiced inclusiveness from its political structures to the daily life of the people.
“It is nothing new there. We didn’t collapse for doing this in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.
Datuk Seri Idris is absolutely right. In fact I am sure both Sabah and Sarawak are stronger States because East Malaysians have always practised inclusiveness.
It troubles me that certain quarters wish to play up racial and religious issues in Sarawak just for political gain. They are trying to ‘import’ the philosophies of their Malaya-based parties and I pray that Sarawakians will never allow them to take root in this great State of ours.
Let us always remain Sarawakians who accept each other’s differences and celebrate them.
The Bernama report:
People Can Learn To Be More Inclusive – Idris Jala
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 (Bernama) — Malaysians can learn to be more inclusive in their outlook to enhance national unity, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala.
He said inclusiveness, also a core element in the 1Malaysia concept, was an advantage.
Citing Sabah and Sarawak as examples, he said both the East Malaysian states had long practiced inclusiveness, from its political structures to daily life of the people.
“It is nothing new there. We didn’t collapse for doing this in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said in his talk titled Celebrating Diversity and Managing Polarity at an Intercultural Dialogue here, Wednesday.
The one day event was hoped to promote an open and honest sharing of intercultural experiences, to share knowledge and information about ethnicity, culture and religion, among others.
Meanwhile, Idris also answered a question from the floor on the incident where Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa) gave out angpows in white packets to recipients at a Chinese New Year celebration last Sunday.
On that matter, he said everyone should learn to be sensitive and respect each other’s belief.
“I think if you are really allergic of the colour red and in a situation like this (Chinese New Year) you have to reach for a compromise,” he said.
He added that learning about other people’s cultural and religious belief will not make a person less devout to his or her own religion.