A forum for religious issues

MULTICULTURAL harmony is something we tend to take for granted in Sarawak.

Over cups of kopi-o with multi-racial friends at the coffeeshop, we shake our heads at reports of division and intolerance in the peninsula and assure one another that such things will not happen here.

Our state is often held up as a shining beacon of tolerance, including by those across the South China Sea. Look at some of the many comments on a Facebook post which went viral, showing an image of Muslims and Christians breaking fast together at St Joseph’s parish centre in Kuching last week.

Sarawakians were happy to share yet another example of goodwill and harmony while other Malaysians expressed admiration and hoped that this could be emulated elsewhere in the country.

“We Sarawakians can sit at one table with different races without asking ‘where are you from?,” is a typical comment.

Here’s another one: “I am from semenanjung. I have never stepped foot in Sarawak. But I am proud as a Malaysian to see the close unity among races and different religions there. I hope the communities in semenanjung will follow this example.”

The buka puasa was organised by the Sarawak Islamic Information Centre (IIC) with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuching, after the idea was first mooted in February.

According to a press release from the IIC, the event also included members of Sarakup Indu Dayak Sarawak who decorated the hall with a Gawai theme, as the centre also acknowledged the importance of the Dayak community’s harvest festival.

While we take pride that we can sit down together across racial and religious lines, we need to remember that harmony isn’t something that occurs on its own but takes sincere efforts and commitment on our part to nurture and sustain.

This requires more than just tolerance, it also requires mutual respect and acceptance, as Archbishop John Ha pointed out in his speech at the event.

“Harmony and peace are brought about not by tolerance which has been advocated for decades and failed for the most part, but by mutual respect and acceptance.

For tolerance by nature implies mutual dislike and even mutual offence, while mutual respect and acceptance make room for one another in society,” he said.

He noted that many of the Catholics present had fasted in solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters before coming together to break fast and pray.

“An inevitable end-product of such an exercise can only be mutual respect and acceptance – and even mutual love. This surely is an important pillar of harmony and peace for our state and country,” he added.

Likewise, the IIC said it was important to nurture mutual understanding and respect for one another’s faiths through such events.

In the same vein, the newly-formed Non-Islamic Affairs Unit aims to further strengthen harmony in the state by providing a forum for religious issues to be deliberated and serving as a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

“This unit will be an important forum where a lot of sensitive issues and other issues regarding the development of non-Islamic religions in Sarawak will be deliberated.

“Later on, this will be a bridge with the Islamic religion so that religious harmony in Sarawak continues to be nurtured, strengthened and become an important feature of racial harmony for Malaysia,” said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah, who is in charge of the unit.

“We have enjoyed harmonious relations among ourselves over the years. Let us keep working together to build mutual respect and understanding as the foundation of our peace and harmony,” he said.

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