Preserve peace, harmony — the Sarawak model


Setting an example of religious harmony – Masjid An Naim and Church of the Good Shepherd in Lutong, Miri are within yards of each other. — Photo by Ghaz Ghazali

I SHARE the sentiments of those who oppose the use of religion for political purposes in the Federation of Malaysia – or anywhere at all!

The Federation, created in 1963, was not intended to be a theocratic state. Any attempt to push for such a state now will undermine the foundation and the structure of the Federation.

It is therefore incumbent upon all sensible Malaysians to stick together to ward off any attempt, from inside or outside the country, to use religion as a political ideology for the administration of this country.

Any other system will prevent us pragmatic Malaysians from forging a nation of diversity into one that is free from serious racial and religious problems; one that is generally happy and respected by the world community.

Within this context, the suggestion made by one MP that ‘houses of worship for non-Muslims should not be in the same vicinity as mosques’ (The Borneo Post, March 9, 2023) does not help; it is actually counter-productive.

The suggestion may be practicable in terms of the situation in certain locations in Peninsular Malaysia, but it would be really daft if East Malaysians – policymakers and the legislators included – to even consider toying with such a suggestion.

Why should we be stupid enough to upset the equilibrium in terms of religious harmony that has existed for so long among the people of Sarawak?

This precious harmony, the result of tolerance and acceptance of each other’s religion and culture, has developed into a typical Sarawak custom.

We are used to it that many take it for granted.

Yet, it is fragile, subject to external influences because the tradition exists in the minds, mostly in the minds of older people — and the mind changes with times as more young Sarawakians are being influenced by those who play God.

The religious harmony that has existed in Sarawak is a result of Brooke’s policy, formulated well over 100 years ago. Rajah James was all in favour of missionaries coming to Sarawak, but they were informed, in no uncertain terms, that they must not attempt to convert the Malays to Christianity.

As it turned out, in one sense, the coming of the Christian missionaries to Sarawak was good to the Malay community in Sarawak (Kuching). It was noted by contemporary observers that there was an increase in the number of Malays going on the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The relationship between the Church people and the Muslim community in Sarawak was cemented by the example of past leaders, not by statements to the press.

A former acting Tuan Yang Terutama Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak attended the funeral of an Anglican Bishop! There are several cases of Sarawakians being sensible in matters of faith; for another column, Insya Allah!

That suggestion, by a lawmaker who should know better, to impose a title condition to land on the construction of houses of worship in the vicinity of the mosques is ‘un-Sarawakian’, if I may coin a word. It will do more harm than good.

There are church buildings and mosques within yards of each other. A church and a mosque in Miri share the carpark – very sensible, their days of worship are not the same.

And if anybody has been to Sanggau in Kalimantan, just south of our border, there is a Chinese temple, a mosque and a church next to each other.

Any problem there?

The politics of fear

The use of religion as a political tool to create fear among the believers of one religion was rampant during the last general election. Reports on possible sedition or libel were lodged with the authorities with the intention to prevent confusion among the voters.

And recently, the suit for defamation filed by YB Lim Guan Eng, the MP for Bagan, against another MP, YB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, shows how the use of religion by political opponents could lead them to civil court for claims of damages.

Needless to say, I have neither the liberty nor the inclination to delve into the merits or demerits of the case.

That is not my job.

The point here, however, is that this case, about the alleged abuse of power by a non-Muslim minister over the alleged cancellation of enjoyment of tax exemption granted to a charitable organisation, has something to do with a religion by a politician to score political points.

We shall await the judgment of the court. It is good that this case has been brought to court for some definitive judgement according to the law of defamation, which is apolitical.

In this state, any politician playing the role of a ‘preacher of religion’ must be viewed with suspicion, more so if he tries to influence our young people.

Religious zealotry of any denomination will only upset the traditional goodwill amongst the Sarawakians.

We are better off as we are. The resort to politics of religion in Sarawak would tear at the seams of the political fabric, and once torn, it is very hard to mend!

Let’s preserve our long tradition of tolerance, respect and acceptance for each other’s religious beliefs and cultures.

That is what keeps Sarawakians together, but it is being undermined by religious bigotry.