PETALING JAYA: The Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) tonight paid tribute to Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali for being an influential voice when it comes to tolerance and inclusiveness in the wake of recent controversies revolving around race and religious issues.
Asli chairman Jeffrey Cheah said the wife of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad upheld values such as tolerance, compassion, integrity, inclusiveness and empathy, which he said “struck a chord with all of us”.
“These values resonate especially strongly with Malaysians at a time when some are using narratives of race and religion to divide us,” he said before conferring the “Ibu Negara” title on Siti Hasmah.
Mahathir was also present at the event.
Race and religious issues recently made headlines following several incidents, including opposition to the introduction of khat (Jawi calligraphy) in vernacular schools next year.
Controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik recently sparked an outcry after he questioned the loyalty of Malaysian Hindus to Mahathir and was later quoted as saying that the Chinese community in Malaysia were also considered “guests” in the country.
Tycoon Koon Yew Yin stirred further controversy when he belittled the armed forces by claiming that army personnel were “doing nothing except eating and sleeping” and suggesting that they be recruited to work in plantations.
Cheah said, as a third-generation Malaysian of Chinese heritage, he found the “us-versus-them language and mindset” disturbing and hurtful.
“And in this, all of us take great comfort that in Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, we have an influential voice and exemplar in upholding the values of tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness.
“She is an icon who inspires us to celebrate our diversity as a multi-cultural, multiracial and multi-religious nation.”
In accepting the title, Siti Hasmah thanked her counterparts and superiors in university for guiding her.
“I am not the person who should receive this honour as there were many people who helped me become who I am today.”
The event also saw the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation presenting Siti Hasmah with a RM10 million donation to set up the Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali Scholarship for Creative Arts and Music.