The year 2019 has not been a particularly good year for the nation; what with the hike in the cost of living, the increase in racial and religious squabbles, and the rise in political chicanery.
No wonder a survey by the Merdeka Center shows Malaysians are losing confidence in the country’s direction.
I would like to talk about racial unity in this column as it is the bedrock of stability and economic growth.
We should heed the words of Perak ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah who warned of the dangers of disunity and hate speech, which he described as a “ticking time bomb”, at the state Maal Hijrah celebration on Sept 1 last year.
“Fragments from this time bomb will not differentiate its victims, which includes the grandchildren and families of those who spew hate speech,” he said, adding: “The more they let emotions take control of their judgement, the more shallow their minds get.”
The sultan noted that every incident from accidents on the road to disciplinary action by teachers in schools or employers in the workplace to mistakes made when flying the national flag to changes in the school curriculum were being coloured with racial or religious hues.
Saying such actions placed the nation in a dangerous situation and caused fear and worry among the people, the majority of whom loved peace, Sultan Nazrin added: “We need to wake up and do something about it.”
In fact, the Perak ruler has consistently called on Malaysians to respect each other and live in harmony.
Perak has, over the years, had rulers who have spoken up for unity among the various races. For instance, Sultan Sir Iskandar Shah in his New Year message of 1935 called on the people of Perak to preserve peace.
Saying he was happy that Malays, Chinese and Indians in Perak had good relations, he used the analogy of sports to get his message across: “A good sportsman never shows ill-will towards anyone under any circumstances. Therefore, let all of us in Perak continue not only to be good sportsmen, but endeavour to help those around us no matter what race they be.”
He added: “The world is today in receptive mood for Allah’s blessings. Let us all pray for these and endeavour to bring them about by our own conduct.”
The last line is telling: it means each one of us is responsible for bringing about a better society or harmony through our conduct. How have we been conducting ourselves lately?
At another function, saying unequivocally that the Malays should receive justified preferential treatment, the sultan added that he would, however, not tolerate any discrimination against non-Muslims in Perak, whom he said had done so much to make Perak what it was.
I was taken in by an editorial in the Times of Malaya of Dec 29, 1934. I’ll quote a few paragraphs: “Almost the first thing that strikes a newcomer to Malaya is the extraordinarily cosmopolitan nature of the population.
“After a short stay, another point strikes the newcomer even more forcibly and that is the fact that all Malaya’s peoples live in a harmony which it would be difficult to match anywhere else in the world. Hindus may clash with Moslems in India, but there is no ill-feeling here between the two religions. Though there was strong Chinese feeling against the Japanese recently, no incidents occurred in Malaya. All the domiciled communities are on the most friendly terms with the Malays.”
One of these newcomers, the then high commissioner to Malaya Sir Shenton Thomas, coming after serving in Africa, was amazed at what he described as “the spirit of co-operation and mutual tolerance” of the various races in Malaya.
As first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman used to repeat: “This is a beautiful country.” He meant its natural beauty and its diversity of people living in harmony. We all have a role to play in making Malaysia beautiful again.
And we can start by paying less attention to the politicians and more attention to the rulers.
We have a Yang di-Pertuan Agong who truly wants a united Malaysia. I have often heard ex-sports journalists who used to cover Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah when he was actively involved in football and sports talk about how he showed equal respect for all races and how good-hearted he was.
He is an example of someone with the sportsman spirit that Sultan Sir Iskandar Shah spoke about in 1935. In fact, because he has the sports spirit in him, the king can mix freely and see all Malaysians as part of a big family. I have noticed that the king and the queen never fail to send out greetings to all Malaysians for all festivals.
I believe they are the first king and queen to send greetings to those celebrating festivals such as Onam (a Malayalee celebration) and the Chinese mid-autumn festival. In fact, they convey their greetings for all festivals celebrated by the various communities, even the lesser-known ones. That’s leadership by example.
He has also shown by example, for instance in stopping to help motorists involved in accidents, that he is a man of the people, not just the king.
Unlike some of our political leaders, many of the rulers realise they are sultans for everyone in their state, regardless of race or religion; they realise that even though they are the guardians of Islam in their respective states, they also have a duty to protect the rights of their non-Muslim subjects.
The Agong, in his New Year message, called on Malaysians to forge stronger unity and cooperation to ensure harmony and prosperity. He urged Malaysians to be friendly towards each other, to trust each other and to respect each other.
In 2020, let’s listen to the king; let’s listen to enlightened rulers such as Sultan Nazrin more than we listen to politicians.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.