I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Hindu Malaysians and others who celebrate the Festival of Lights, a very Happy Deepavali.
While Hindus constitute a small community in Peninsular Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak constitute 60 percent of the Malaysian landmass lest we forget), they are much loved and appreciated.
In Borneo, we love and respect other human beings as brothers and sisters, regardless of their numbers, wealth or strength, as long as they love and respect us likewise.
Hindus have enriched Nusantara for 2,000 years
Hindus have shaped the cultures and languages of Nusantara for nearly 2,000 years before the 15th century. Without the early Hindus, we would not have words in Malay that originated from Sanskrit like agama, bahasa, bangsa, budi, bumi, erti, maya, putera, raja and syurga, and from Tamil like harta, kapal, kedai, kolam, kota, kuda, peta and singa. The Hindus then and now have enriched us all.
It is a Nusantara tradition to extend festive wishes, whether religious or cultural, to our friends and relatives without worrying that our own faith would be compromised. In fact, we can draw universal meanings from others’ religious celebrations for our reference.
For Hindus, today is to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, in the victories of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana in Ramayana (an Indian classic that is treasured in Nusantara) and of Lord Krishna over demon king Narakasura.
Universal metaphors of light and darkness
For me, metaphorically, light is kindness, wisdom and courage while darkness is selfishness, ignorance and fear, that exist in everyone’s heart including mine.
While I believe in Christ and not Krishna, the lights of Deepavali remind me that I have to do better to rid selfishness, ignorance and fear in me. In the gospel of Luke 8:16-18, it is mentioned that “no man when he hath lighted a lamp, covered it with a vessel or putteth it under a bed; but putteth it on a stand, that they enter in my seethe light.”
My Deepavali wish for the nation is that all of us would be blessed with more kindness, wisdom and courage, inspired by our own faith and belief system and from learning about others.
As a nation, we Malaysians often cannot think inclusively to treat others like siblings in the same family, as we are consumed by our own insecurities, created by our pains in the past and our fear of the future. Insecurities drive us to “get even” on others instead of getting ourselves better and stronger.
Hence, insecurities only imprison us and prevent us from being the best we can be. When we look at everyone who is different from us suspiciously and seek refuge in conspiracy theories for a false sense of security and solidarity, we are denying ourselves personal and collective growth.
One only needs to look at the United States to see how conspiracy theories and ethnocentric populism can damage humanity, democracy and liberty in the world’s superpower.
End political exploitation of insecurities
For Malaysia to move forward, all parties must work together to address each other’s insecurities and their political exploitation. Certain segments of Malayan Muslims feel deeply insecure that others are out to insult their faith or confuse them.
The truth is, barring some extremists and sociopaths, most people don’t enjoy other humans’ sufferings and humiliations. The fact that so many Malaysians help out other Malaysians under the slogan “rakyat jaga rakyat”, regardless of faith and ethnicity, is the best proof that we are capable of inclusiveness and overcoming our insecurities.
Fortunately, such insecurities are not found amongst Borneo Muslims because they have non-Muslim families and friends, and they know that non-Muslims are just normal humans like Muslims who seek happiness, health, peace and livelihood for themselves and their loved ones.
Borneo Muslims do not demonise their non-Muslim families and friends, refrain from eating together with them for fear of pork contamination, call tuak and lihing “Satan’s urine” or feel confused or threatened when hearing Christians praying to Allah.
‘For you is your religion, for me is my religion’
If Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is serious about building a happy and prosperous Keluarga Malaysia, then he must rein in the political exploitation of Muslims’ insecurities.
To have insecurities is human but to deliberately exploit insecurities to fuel superiority and hatred is wicked and dangerous. No family can survive if some siblings are constantly haunted by insecurities against other siblings.
He must call upon politicians from Malay-based parties – PAS, Amanah, Umno and PKR – to compete on how to protect Malays from the pandemic, unemployment, Industrial Revolution 4.0 and climate change that may cause 13 percent of our total landmass – within 5km from the sea – to go underwater.
Ismail Sabri must ensure that the Islamic spirit of religious freedom, “for you is your religion, for me is my religion”, is truly practised in Keluarga Malaysia. He must stop the anti-alcohol campaign, from the Timah witchhunt to the partial alcohol ban in Kuala Lumpur, which is deeply insensitive to Borneo natives as well as other communities.
Just because Muslims cannot drink alcohol, it does not mean that non-Muslims must be restricted from buying alcohol or the consumption of alcohol must be hidden.
Malaysia belongs to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Anyone who has forgotten this should pay a visit to the Batu Bersumpah (Oath Stone) on the social contract of religious freedom and allegiance to Malaysia, in Keningau, Sabah.
Withdraw govt appeal on Allah ban
More importantly, Ismail Sabri must instruct the Attorney General’s Chamber to withdraw its appeal against the High Court’s ruling on March 10 that declared the Allah ban since 1986 is unconstitutional.
The PM must hear the plea of Borneo Christians and the 18 MPs, four senators and 31 assemblypersons from Sabah and Sarawak representing them in a statement dated March 15 calling for the withdrawal.
The plea is a cross-party voice. Included in the list are four MPs, one senator and 15 assemblypersons in the government’s camp, namely Willie Mongin (Bersatu-Puncak Borneo), Richard Riot (SUPP-Serian), Larry Sng (Julau) Anyi Ngau (PDP- Baram), Senator Robert Lau Hui Yew (SUPP), Harry Henry Jinep (PDP-Tasik Biru), Miro Simuh (PBB-Serembu), Martin Ben (PBB-Kedup), John Ilus (PBB-Bukit Semuja), Snowdan Lawan (PRS-Balai Ringin), Gerald Rentap Jabu (PBB-Layar), Rolland Duat (PDP-Meluan), Alexander Vincent (PRS-Ngemah), Allan Gramong (PBB-Machan), Christopher Gira (PRS-Tamin), Wilson Nyabong (PRS-Pelagus), Jefferson Jamit (Bukit Goram), Kennedy Chuk Pai (PRS-Murum), Majang Renggi (PRS-Samalaju) and Dennis Ngau (PBB-Telang Usan).
Ismail Sabri must summon the moral courage to inform Malayan Muslims that Allah is used by Borneo Christians in worship because that is the word used in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and even Arab for “God” in any Abrahamic religions, and that the cultural shock many Malayan Muslims encountered since the 1980s was due to the success of the National Language Policy in Sabah and Sarawak, and the influx of Sabahans and Sarawakians to Malaya for education and employment because their home regions had been marginalised.
If Malayan Muslims need to feel more secure, then the government should introduce comparative religions courses in schools and through public media so that both Muslims and Christians know their different understandings of Allah without feeling insecure.
Use your vote wisely in Malacca, Sarawak
Malaysians must not give up hope that the light of inclusiveness can conquer the darkness of insecurities.
In the upcoming state elections of Malacca and Sarawak, make sure you turn out to vote and use your vote to reject any candidates and parties who deliberately exploit the politics of insecurities.
Choose only amongst those who respect each other’s belief and sensitivity, as expressed in the great principle of “for you is your religion and for me is my religion”.
WILFRED MADIUS TANGAU is the MP for Tuaran.