Where religion can’t break blood ties

Rusdeh (right) and his extended family posing for a photo after cleaning up the cemetery in Keningau.

KOTA KINABALU: Some families break apart when one or more of their members leave the religion of their birth for another, but this is certainly not the case with the Arifin clan of Keningau.

Arifin Badau’s family, originally from Tambunan, was once an all-Christian Dusunic family until some time in the early 1970s, when Arifin himself and his wife Jamaliah Rampot converted to Islam.

“Our late parents never forced any of us to follow them,” said Rusdeh Arifin, the eighth of 12 siblings. “Being very small at that time, I of course followed them, but I was never forced. In the end, seven of us became Muslims while the rest remained Christians.”

Rusdeh (right) and family members pouring water over the grave of a relative.

Rusdeh, who is 49 and has three children, said his parents’ belief in maintaining blood ties despite religious differences had seeped down to himself and his siblings and their children.

“We never see religion as an issue and it never will be,” he said. “To us, blood is thicker than anything else.”

He spoke of a long family tradition of mutual help, including during religious festivities.

The Arifin family poses for a photo after cleaning their relatives’ graves.

“Our Christian relatives would come before and during Hara Raya to help us spruce up the cemetery where our parents are buried,” he said, adding that the roles would be reversed at Christmas time.

“After all the hard work, we’ll have a big feast and catch up on what’s been happening with one another other.

“Our Christian family will order food from Muslim caterers. During Christmas time, there will be alcohol around, but we don’t mind. We don’t touch those, but we will have a go in the karaoke session.”

Rusdeh’s nephew Willie Jude sprinkling water over the grave of a relative.

Rusdeh, who works for a legal firm, acknowledged that many families in Sabah were like his and behaved similarly, but he spoke of peninsular Malaysians who were shocked by such a relaxed attitude.

“I brought my friends over from the peninsula and they asked me, ‘How can you have Muslims and Christians in the same family?’

“I explained that Sabah is unique because Sabahans are never bothered about differences in religion or race. We live in harmony. That’s how it’s always been and how we intend to keep it.”

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