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Multicultural Malaysia: Impressions

Thoughts and experiences of the thriving, yet some-way-to-go multiculturalism culture in Malaysia.

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Religious melting pot

When the judgment comes to find the world in shame
When the trumpet blows won't you call my name?
- Peter, Paul and Mary

As I left Kota Kinabalu for the last time, boarding a flight for Kuching, I saw a man struggling with a box up the stairs to the plane.
I offered to help and he graciously accepted. He spoke good English and was very interested in my travels. It turns out that I was seated next to him and his colleague.
I asked what they were doing in Kota Kinabalu, and they replied "The international Gideon convention. Do you know who we are?"

I do.
Famously, the late comedian Bill Hicks had funny bit about them - wondering how they sneak around distributing bibles like the easter bunny - to hotels and anywhere else for that matter around the world. Spreading the good word of Jesus and warning of the perils of not heeding the good word"

I had to ask, "how do you fight the good fight in a Muslim majority country, that is sectarian, despite claiming not to be?"
Sensitivity and care of others' pre-existing beliefs is the answer.
In other words, they only try to convert atheists and agnostics.

In truth, Malaysia is a very tolerant and mixed country.
Conservative, even by Asian standards, but open nonetheless with some wonderful cross pollination of foods and interesting beautiful faces.
From a religious perspective stats are something like 60% practice Islam, 20% Buddhism, 10% Christian, with the remainder practicing Taoism, Confucianism and other Chinese religions.
Interestingly, by law, all ethnic Malays must practice Islam, and I am told there are breaks and incentives to be Muslim in Malaysia, despite the open status.
So, on the surface it does seem very harmonious, however through the fairly limited-tourist engagement with my new Chinese and Indian non-Muslim pals in Malaysia, I understand that there is favoritism, which does create a strain for non ethnic Malays.

I was lucky enough to be in Kuala Lumpur for Malaysia Day - commemorating 48 years of union with the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak. The dialog of the day, was "we are a great multicultural nation, but we have some way to go before we are a completely integrated society.

Posted by SkinnyFists 21:49 Archived in Malaysia Tagged religion malaysia

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