PETALING JAYA: British television presenter Mark O’Dea, who has visited numerous places of worship in the country, is urging Malaysians to be proud of their unique racial and religious diversity and to reject those who are intolerant.
The 25-year-old who has been living in Malaysia for the past three years said he finds Malaysia's racial and religious diversity inspiring and unlike any other country.
While filming for various travel programmes, O’Dea found himself visiting several places of worship that changed his opinion about how religion is practised in the country.
“It was nice to go to some place where people speak about their faith ... they don’t manipulate people… they just let them come to these places (of worship) and they spread their word about their God,” he told Star Online Monday.
O’Dea said that although naturally drawn to history and religion as they are fascinating subjects with many different interpretations, he had never spoken to people with strong religious convictions until now.
He said he was excited to learn that religion in the country did not necessarily belong to just one group of people, and recounted his experience while on a recent trip to Penang where he visited a mosque.
“The guy who I was speaking to was actually Indian Muslim ... I don’t know many Indian Muslims so it was quite cool to see different races that practise different religions.
"I was impressed with what he said, the way he spoke about his God and the way he spoke about his religion, it's very inspiring that there are people who really have strong faith in their religion like that,” he added.
O’Dea also recalled that while visiting places of worship, he noticed how religious leaders never bad-mouthed or insulted other religions; instead, they all said that they were happy that Malaysia has such a rich and diverse racial and religious heritage.
He said that instead of listening to “people who say really silly things, quote articles and like to insult other religions”, these were the individuals that Malaysians should look up to.
On messages and articles online that provoke racial and religious sentiments among Malaysians, O’Dea said that although he is an outsider living in Malaysia, he didn’t like seeing his friends get upset over it.
He said people should ignore articles that aim to create disunity.
“I’ve filmed a lot of travel shows and I’ve been to many countries and there is not one that is as multicultural as Malaysia.
“I get my morning coffee and you’ve got an Indian, a Malay, a Chinese all there together ... and there is laughter and jokes ... and they probably believe in different gods and probably have different faiths but so what ... They respect one another,” he said.
O’Dea said he is also happy to be able to celebrate and experience the various religious festivals in Malaysia.
“In Malaysia it's very different because you have all these different celebrations, you’ve Deepavali, you’ve Hari Raya and you've Chinese New Year whereas where I’m from in England, it's just Christmas," he said.
O’Dea, who shared his views on a Facebook page on Sunday, said he was surprised by the positive response and by the number of encouraging comments he has received from Malaysians.
O’Dea is currently a presenter for television programme Wishlist, which airs on Astro SuperSport.
He also appears on 8TV Quickie and has a Youtube series called "Oh My Bahasa Malaysia" where he attempts to learn Malay with the help of various guests.