Behind the scenes of Malaysia’s racial unity efforts

Every year, Malaysian Muslims eagerly await Syed Danial’s announcement on when to start fasting and to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Every time the holy month of Ramadan arrives, the face and voice that Malaysian Muslims look forward to seeing and hearing is none other than that of Tan Sri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal.

This is because he is the one entrusted to announce the date for Muslims in the country to begin fasting during the month of Ramadan, as well as the date to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri upon the consent of the Rulers.

However, many are probably unaware that he was among the important individuals involved in restoring unity among the people in Malaysia after the May 13 tragedy in 1969.

It was that incident which led to the formation of the Rukun Negara on Aug 31,1970, which has become the foundation and pillars of nationhood and has enabled Malaysia to remain a peaceful and united nation for the past 50 years.

Syed Danial, 76, said before the drafting of the Rukun Negara, the National Goodwill Council (MMN) was established by the government under the leadership of the first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, as a preliminary effort to defuse racial tensions following the May 13 tragedy.

He said his involvement in MMN, which was established on July 18,1969, was mostly prompted by his love for the country and his wish to ensure that racial divisions would end and that the people could be united again.

“I was just entering my second year as a government officer when the tragedy occurred. I was serving in the Prime Minister’s Department when I received the offer for a new position as the Nibong Tebal district officer or an MMN officer.

“I chose MMN without hesitation because I had watched with my own eyes the tragedy that took place in Kampung Baru on May 13, ” he said.

MMN’s tasks at that time were to promote the spirit of goodwill, as well as to nurture and maintain mutual trust among the different races in the country.

“The main agenda of MMN was to bring the social situation back to normal, just like the current situation where the government is striving to flatten the infection curve of Covid-19, which is a critical issue now. Back then (in 1969), the racial issue was also critical, ” he said.

Elaborating on the roles of MMN, Syed Danial, who hails from Penang, said he had to travel to various rural areas to explain to the people about the national language through the Public Unity Class.

“The challenge I had to face at that time was being mocked because (after the tragedy) the Malays and the Chinese just did not see eye to eye. But there we were, trying to introduce the Public Unity Class and teaching Bahasa Melayu to the non-Malays.

“Although we already had a national language since 1967, it was not widely used. So, we wanted to educate the people at the grassroots level to accept Bahasa Melayu as the main language. We want to promote the national language, ” Syed Daniel added.

He said MMN’s efforts to unite the people at the time were welcomed by all, including political leaders, despite the differences in their political beliefs because the ultimate goal was to achieve racial unity.

He also opined that today’s younger generation needs to really understand what the five principles of the Rukun Negara mean, rather than just paying lip service to the idea.

He said these principles should be upheld by each member of the society in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the national philosophy, which is to achieve racial harmony and unity to ensure Malaysia’s continued success and stability. — Bernama

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