Tuesday February 12, 2013
Sabah shows way in religious harmony
CERITALAH By KARIM RASLAN
At a time when our public discourse is seething with resentment and distrust, the quiet but very dignified mutual respect of the Dakun family is so refreshing, if not uplifting.
IN Sabah, the line between religions often runs through the middle of a family.
Needless to say, many West Malaysians with our black-and-white way of viewing the world might fine such proximity a little disturbing.
Still, as I discovered a few weeks ago when I was shooting my Astro Awani show Ceritalah Malaysia in the former timber boom town of Keningau, issues of identity are all the more fluid and less divisive the further away you are from Kuala Lumpur.
For Francis bin Dakun, a 44-year-old Catholic priest, Hari Raya celebrations are a family affair: “I take leave to spend time at home. I’m from a family of twelve: seven of my brothers and sisters are Muslim. My father, who became a Catholic, ended up building two kitchens in the house.”
“We are Dusun and in the past, we had no religion. We followed the traditional beliefs. My father (he’s passed away now) was a bobohizan.
“He was like a kampung doctor and when we were sick he would take care of us since he understood the various herbs and medicines.”
“I became a Catholic when I was 14. It was a personal choice and the family respected it.
“I did not hear God’s voice calling me to be a priest. However, I was 25 years old at the time and working in a shipping company in Kota Kinabalu, I saw that the there was a great need: that the Church lacked priests. It took me seven years of training in Kuching to become a priest and further two years study in Rome.
“We use Bahasa Malaysia in our religious ceremonies,” (indeed we filmed a wedding he presided over in a small church outside the town).
“The use of the word ‘Allah’ is normal and acceptable in our community.
“We have been using it from well into the past. We are so comfortable with the word and cannot help but use it during the service.”
Father Francis’ elder sister Nooridah Hidayah bte Dakun is a Muslim and an ustazah.
She is also extremely active in the community giving regular talks on Islam and the Quran as well as a surprisingly innovative multi-faith discussion last year between Muslim, Christian and Buddhist religious figures.
Listening to Ustazah Hidayah as she talks about her childhood, it’s clear that she was sensitive and very spiritual from an early age: “I was close to my Atok, my grandmother and each year they had a ceremony to guarantee the family’s safety – the ‘menerebung’. However, I would feel worried. I was afraid that the ‘menerebung’ didn’t really protect us, didn’t cover everything.
“I had doubts and was uncertain. I began questioning everything: where did the rain come from, the storms at night?
“It was then that I came across the word ‘Allah.’ At the time I was a Christian and I found the word in Christian books.
Finally, I managed to find the Syahadah itself and the sentence made me feel at ease and at peace.
“When I was 14 I went to a residential school.
“There and with the help of an elder sister who’d converted and married a Muslim, I, too, became a Muslim. It was a difficult time.
“The family was unhappy and it took five years for my father to accept my choice of religion. Then one day as I was about to pray, he called me by my Muslim name, Hidayah.”
Her initial struggle for acceptance by her family has given Ustazah Hidayah a greater degree of empathy and warmth: “We must accept others for their faith. We must have hikmah.
“We should approach others respectfully. There is no need to speak harshly.”
Both brother and sister are soft-spoken and diffident and there is a slight aura about them, especially when they are together.
As a West Malaysian Malay I can’t help but find the Dakun family’s history and their respective personal journeys to Christianity and Islam enormously instructive.
Moreover, at a time when our public discourse is seething with resentment and distrust, their quiet but very dignified mutual respect is so refreshing, if not uplifting.
As Father Francis says: “In our family, one thing that is meaningful to me is that religion is not the cause of disunity but to bring us closer. After all, we are just one family.”