A unity lesson from Sabah and Sarawak


TOMORROW’S Malaysia Day celebration is not just a public holiday.

It is a reminder to Malaysians of how Malaysia was created.

On Sept 16,1963, North Borneo (as Sabah was called then), Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya formed the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore left the Federation two years later.

As Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad acknowledged, Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners to Peninsular Malaysia.

The addition of Sabah and Sarawak doubled the geographical size of the Federation of Malaya, which had gained independence earlier on Aug 31,1957.

These two Bornean states also brought in other Malaysians into the Federation besides the Orang Asli, Indian, Chinese and Malay living in Peninsular Malaysia.

They include the natives of Borneo such as the Bajau, Suluk, Murut, Rungus, Kadazandusun and Lundayeh from Sabah and the Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh and Lun Bawang in Sarawak.

Both states brought their Bornean cultural diversity across the South China Sea into the new Federation.

Malaysians living in Peninsular Malaysia can learn from them on unity in diversity.

Sabahans and Sarawakians are the embodiment of unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation.

It is their way of life. They don’t live in religious or racial silos as in many families, there are siblings of different religions.

Take, for example, the Kadazandusun in Ranau, Sabah. Many Dusun households have Muslim and Christian family members.

They will tell you that religion does not divide them. They have learnt not to tolerate but to respect their siblings’ religion.

This is the same for the Melanau in Mukah, Sarawak. It is common to find a household with siblings who are Muslims and Christians too.

Blood, they will tell you, is thicker than religion. They will not allow religion to divide their family.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said it best when he commented on a misunderstood directive forbidding Muslims and non-Muslims from praying together.

Abang Johari said the doa (prayer) recital would never become an issue in his state unlike in Peninsular Malaysia.

“What is doa? It is when you need blessings from God. We respect whatever faiths you have. You have your doa and we have our doa, ” he said after the Archbishop of Kuching Simon Poh recited a prayer at an official function in Kuching.

With Sabahans and Sarawakians respecting the religious beliefs of one another, it is not surprising there are Chinese coffeeshops in the states where people of all religions and race patronise.

They don’t have any religious hang-ups.

They live in peace and harmony.

Tomorrow when we celebrate Malaysia Day, let’s reflect on the muhibbah lessons we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak.

There’s unity in diversity. Happy Malaysia Day!


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