EVERY Christmas, I am reminded of a trip I made several years ago to Keningau in Sabah. It was to shoot a documentary about life in Malaysia and what I discovered in that small East Malaysian town was very inspiring.
I met a pair of siblings, a brother and sister, who are from the indigenous Dusun tribe. The brother’s name is Father Francis Dakun while the sister is known Ustazah Nooraidah Hidayah Dakun. From their names, you can probably tell that they are of different faiths.
Father Francis is a Catholic Christian priest while Ustazah Nooraidah is an Islamic religious teacher. Both of them were not born into their faiths and are converts. Historically, the Dusun are considered pagans and animists. In fact, their parents were of indigenous faiths.
What is inspiring to me is that the whole Dakun family is separated in their beliefs of Christianity and Islam. Yet, the issue of faith in the family is hardly a divisive factor; they get along very well and have never been closer as a family.
In Malaysia, where religious and racial friction is commonplace, cultivating social cohesion remains a great challenge. The so-called social contract agreed upon in the country’s infancy some 60 years ago means that the nation’s communities constantly aware of their differences.
Despite decades of independence from colonial rule, the political landscape in Malaysia is still heavily race-driven. The Muslim-Malay majority make up close to 60 percent of the population. This is followed by the Chinese at 23 percent and the Indians at seven percent. The Dusun comes falls indigenous group who account for 11 percent of the population.
The country’s unity woes are compounded by religious extremists and politicians who play on the insecurities of the different communities in order to further their own agenda.
However, the Dakun family does not allow statistics and politics determine their dynamics. The family accepts that each and everyone of them has a right to their beliefs and their actions. They respect one another and have unconditional love for each other.
The entire family celebrates three major religious festivals together without fail. Christmas at the end of the year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid), and the Dusun Hari Keamatan (Harvest Festival).
During the festive seasons, the family will hold a reunion at their late parents’ house to spend time together. Their parents had built two different kitchens so that they will be no question when it comes to the preparation of food, which is obviously due to the consideration for the Muslims in the family.
According to both Father Francis and Ustazah Nooraidah, they never harp on religion because the important thing is that there are love and respect in the family. Both religions, Christianity and Islam have always encouraged bonding among family without any regard to faith.
So let us all take a breather this holiday season and think about what is most important. As Malaysians, or anyone really, we need to see that we are all created equal and we all deserved to be respected and loved. Merry Christmas, everyone.