Our destiny as a nation living in harmony depends entirely on us embracing all our histories to ensure a common and beautiful future.
THE dust has yet to settle on the anti-Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) rally in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 8. Malaysia is at a crossroads again ... and yet ... again.
Although the rally went smoothly without any name calling or clashes with the authorities, it unearthed the deep fissure in our society caused by race and religion.
Our modern society has us sitting in cocoons with each race or faith following the dictates of our Constitution not to care about each other’s thoughts and understanding. Just stay within your cocoon and everything will be OK.
Not so. We will never be OK. Peering into my crystal ball 100 years ahead, I predict more and more distress and mayhem.
There are a few root causes of this schism that I have written about previously in articles that were ignored by the previous administration as well as the present one. In this article I would like to focus on the importance of our history and our heritage and how they can save us from a bleak future.
I think the subject of History and its syllabus in our secondary schools is driving us apart. The syllabus should be jettisoned, lock, stock and barrel.
When I was in school I learned about other faiths and histories but now we seem to focus only on ourselves, and the focus goes deeper into the politics of where we were and how we came about. It is filled with treaties and political parties and personalities that spent their lives building the country.
OK lah, I can understand the idea of remembering certain people. But the history of our nation, as taught to our children, should not contain a message about the superiority of one ethnic group over another, or the importance of one faith over others.
I urge Malaysians to call for the teaching of history that would put all of us in the same boat and not in separate sampans. I call for history lessons that make us want to learn about the different faiths and cultures that will add up to an inspirational adoration for Malaysia, a country of many identities.
I call for the rejection of the 1Malaysia ethos of favouring one ethnic group over others. I call for One-Many Malaysia rather than just One Malaysia. After all, doesn’t the advertisement say “Malaysia, truly Asia”?
Why can’t we accept the plethora of churches, mosques, temples, gravestones, cemeteries, clock towers, mansions, outhouses, huge administration offices, palaces, Malay houses, Chinese shophouses, long houses and all the built heritage that keeps reminding us of our multifarious and common history?
None of us can claim to be isolated from another ethnic group or faith. What of your teacher, your employer, your friend, your business contact? We cross paths every day, and yet on that Saturday, 100,000 people from one ethnic group demonstrated that they are isolated by their own narrow-minded choice and, thus, easily manipulated by political parties with their own agendas.
I want a new History syllabus for my grandson, Hamzah, who will be starting school next month. I want him to learn about the history of the Christian faith in this country with the teacher showing slides of churches, cathedrals, mission schools, residences of priests, charity buildings and cemeteries.
These came from the colonialists who brought Christianity into the Malay heartland. Schools like St John’s Institution eventually became nationalised and Malaysians of all races and faiths benefited from the masonry stones, wooden desks and hallowed halls of study.
Like the sekolah pondok or pasentran or madrasah of Islam, these early schools taught us ethics, proper behaviour and faith to pull us through difficult times with hope from a caring God. Despair was never an option if you have faith as taught by the missionaries and ustazs.
When the Methodist Girls School was without a head teacher, the Malay and British administrators had to rely on the Methodist Mission to appoint Miss Mabel Marsh who was the head for 30 years. I am sure that her faith in Christianity moved her to spend a third of her life dedicated to teaching young ladies how to become responsible adults for the nation.
I want my grandson, Khalid, who will go to school in four years’ time to learn about the hardship of the Chinese people thronging the barges and ships, braving the sea with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I want him to feel how these Chinese people worked till the end of their lives in mines, in sweat shops, tailoring, crafting, toiling in this relentless climate to prepare a better life for their great-great-grandchildren. The remnants of their toil can be seen at Pudu Road’s gravestones and houses for the sick in KL.
I want Khalid to learn about the Teo Chew Association that cared for kinfolk by forming trades of wine, fishery, grains, and how the society prepared collective graves, cared for the sick, and built the Puay Chai School that later became nationalised.
Our history should acknowledge the Char Yong Association which set up a medical facility called Fay Choon Kuan.
Our history should also be coloured by personalities like the King of Iron, Chan Sow Lin, who became rich enough to sponsor the building of the Confucius School and the Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur. He also contributed to the development of the state of Selangor as an appointed state ahli majlis (council member).
How can we live in Selangor and not appreciate certain roads, bodies of water, forests, rivers or irrigation systems that enrich our lives and think only of ourselves in our own small cocoon of religion or race?
My daughter, Fatimah, is now heavy with her third child. My wife and I will be getting, God willing, our first granddaughter! I have had the great satisfaction of raising three daughters and two boys who are now independent-minded Malaysian citizens schooled somewhat by their mother’s conservative Islam and their father’s unorthodox view of a hundred and one things.
I want my granddaughter to one day walk with her own child into the historic areas of KL’s Brickfields and smell the strong incense of Hindu temple after Hindu temple, such as the Mahakaliaman Temple, the Sri Sakhti Vinayagar Temple, the Sri Sakhti Aalayam Temple, the Sri Kandaswamy Temple, the Shri Khrisna Temple, the Sree Veera Hanuman Temple and the Sri Maha Muneswarar Temple.
She might even stop at the quiet Lutheran Evangelical Church that Tamil Christians frequent. I imagine my granddaughter walking towards the Surau Ghoutiyyah for prayers, a place where Indian Muslims rest and wait for the solat (prayer time).
She would pass by the Tokong Sow Kam Tong, the Tokong Seng Hong as well as the Maha Vihara Buddhist temple. Such colours of history, such a palette of faiths painting a nation of many origins, many lands, many dialects, many songs, and many hopes.
This is the heritage of people in our shared history, where our fathers, mothers and grandparents crossed each others’ paths on their way to work, on their errands of charity, while escorting children to school, and carrying out the funerary rituals of the dead.
Whoever we are now is whoever they were then, with their historical path of life intersections in our common heritage. We are the children of many nations. We must honour our own nations of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Kadazan and many others while opening our minds, hearts and purses to engage with our “others” to complete our presence in this physical world.
For when all is said and done, the realm of the spirits of the dead and the hereafter know no political identity nor ethnic origins but only the values of compassion, the faith of hope, and the desire to serve as the true measure of our being.
Our heritage presents our hope. Our history presents our path. Our destiny as a nation living in harmony depends entirely on us embracing all our histories to ensure a common and beautiful future.
- Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi specialises in Islamic Architecture at the School of Architecture and Built Environment, UCSI University. He has published 48 books on architecture and writes regularly for news portals and newspapers.
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