KOTA KINABALU: As Sept 16 draws close, all Malaysians regardless of their religious and ethnic backgrounds are reminded of the importance of appreciating the concept of unity in diversity.
It is the very pillar of our plural society and our diversity is something every Malaysian should cherish in his/her heart and mind.
In fact, it is this melange of cultures and belief systems that has strengthened our nation’s fabric of unity and has enabled us all to practice tolerance and learn to respect and understand one another.
Our openness to celebrate our diversity and accept our differences has enabled this “ship” called Malaysia to sail peacefully towards the direction of becoming a developed nation, observed senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Centre for the Promotion of Knowledge and Language Learning Dr Abd Hakim Mohad.
He said Sept 16 was a significant date as it was on that day in 1963 that Malaysia was formed, truly marking the start of unity in diversity.
“The society we are part of today is the outcome of the formation of Malaysia as a nation on Sept 16 of that particular year. Hence, this date should be given as much importance as Aug 31, our National Day,” he said.
Malaysia’s strength is its diversity
Abd Hakim said Malaysia’s strength was its multiracial and multicultural society as it contributed to creating a nation state that has not only progressed but was also viewed as an exemplary nation by the outside world.
Being the basis of racial integration, Malaysia’s diversity can also be viewed as a blessing as it has helped to create a mature society that does not see other races as foes but as friends.
“The term ‘ship’ is the most appropriate analogy to use when talking about Malaysia’s unique society. Her diversity is a source of strength because one person’s shortcomings are offset by another person’s strengths.
“Together, we have to take care of this ‘ship’. There should be no attempt by anybody to allow this ‘ship’ to leak. If a conflict arises, it should be resolved through discussions,” he said.
Only an efficient and stable ‘ship’ can sail smoothly and ensure the well-being of all its ‘passengers’, said the academic.
“From its agricultural beginnings, Malaysia has turned towards industrialisation. First there was Vision 2020 and now we have the 2050 National Transformation programme. These are the destinations of our ‘ship’,” he said.
Pointing to Malaysia’s outstanding performance at the recent SEA Games, Abd Hakim said the nation’s unity came to the fore as all Malaysians irrespective of their race, religion or political leanings came together to support their athletes.
Tolerance alone not enough
Since Malaysia’s plural society is made up of Malays, Chinese, Indians and the various ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak, he felt that it was not enough for Malaysians to practice only tolerance.
“As a matter of fact, they must shift towards practising acceptance,” said Abd Hakim, who is also a member of the advisory board of the Institute of Research and Training of National Integration at the Department of National Unity and Integration.
It is only through acceptance that walls and prejudices separating the racial groups can come crumbling down, he stressed, adding that mutual understanding and broad-mindedness should prevail in a society where people of different races and faiths share the same environment.
“We’ve to be more open to accepting the presence of people of other races in our midst and regarding them as our friends. In fact, if there are people among us who choose to mingle with only those belonging to their race, then it’s a problem as such a thing shouldn’t be happening in our country.”
Abd Hakim said every individual is free to adhere to their own religious belief, customs and culture and this freedom should be respected by all.
Parents, he added, played an important role in educating their children to respect the religions and cultures of fellow Malaysians
“The inculcation of positive values from young will help their children to grow up to become citizens of noble character.”
Sabah an outstanding model
Describing Sabah as an outstanding model of unity in diversity, Abd Hakim said the people of the state lived as “one big happy family” despite their diverse racial and religious backgrounds.
He said the Sabah people’s openness enabled them to get along well with everyone and this is why many Malaysians outside Sabah tend to fall in love with the state as they are smitten with the people’s friendly and peace-loving nature.
“The people of Sabah have a high level of acceptance when it comes accepting people of all races. Perhaps, this is because many communities here inter-marry and you can find people of different races and religions in a family. It enhances their spirit of togetherness,” he said, adding that their openness was an asset as it has contributed to the state’s peace and prosperity.
If this same formula was practised in the other states, Malaysia would enjoy eternal peace and harmony.
Reminding Malaysians to appreciate the harmony that prevailed in the nation, Abd Hakim said they should make an effort to preserve this harmony and further strengthen unity.
“Whatever our country’s achievements are in terms of physical development or technological progress, all these will disappear in a wink if there are problems that threaten our harmony and peace. So, let’s us all strive to remain united and live together harmoniously,” he added. – Bernama