On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A bond too strong to break

It has become an unwritten rule at the newsroom every year that the evening meeting would have to be held an hour earlier so that our Muslim – and non-Muslim – colleagues can attend the breaking fast functions.

The call to end the meetings early, interestingly, often comes from the non-Muslims. This is the best part of working in an office with a multi-racial staff. Jibes are made at each other over fasting patterns or the lack of it without any prejudices.

The rule at every Ramadan is to pick the newest member of the newsroom to interview the food sellers at Section 14 in Petaling Jaya and to buy for us the mouth-watering popiah, a crowd favourite.

Tolerance and respect

Malaysians have long celebrated this holy month in the true sense of diversity; it is not just the Muslims who are seen at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman but also the other races.

The spirit of fasting is known to most Malay­sians. Christians, for example, fast during Lent as they prepare for the Holy Week and Easter. Hindus are also known to fast and perform acts of abstinence for pilgrimage and other religious obligations.

Fitness specialists will tell you that it is good and healthy to practise fasting occasionally.

Non-Muslims have long exercised consideration by not consuming food or liquid in the presence of their fasting Muslim friends and colleagues. At every Ramadan, the frequency of functions and events also slow down with focus being turned to religious concerns.

Malaysians have long demonstrated their tolerance and respect for each other’s religion.

I grew up in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, which is predominantly a Malay area in Penang.

During the May 13 tragedy in 1969, the Federal Reserve Unit had to send non-Malay officers to the area to give the Chinese and Indians a sense of security but there was no incident.

But the point is this – in this area, there are Chinese temples, Hindu shrines and even a church. As I can recall, no one has ever complained.

In George Town, these places of worship of different faiths are located next to each other, particularly along Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, formerly known as Pitt Street.

The ordinary Malaysians have no issues because they understand that religion brings out the best in people. They see the common values that touch everyone’s hearts.

Regardless of our faiths, the path is often the same with emphasis on compassion and love.

It is the politicians who pit one race against another, one religion against another, questioning whether a place of worship should be allowed in an area where one race predominates. Sadly, they invoke God’s name or their community to pursue their own selfish political interest.

The Federal Constitution clearly stipulates the right of every community to practise their religion freely.

This weekend, my family and I are meeting up with friends and family members in Penang. Some of my Malay friends include those from St Xavier’s Institution where I studied.

I also hope to spend a little time in Sabah, where I have relatives who are Muslims in Kota Kinabalu and Tawau, in this blessed month.

Last week, I received a call from a Muslim couple, friends who will be leaving for Mecca to perform the umrah.

The wife wanted to say goodbye and also to tell me that she would pray for me and the family when she is in the Holy Land.

This simple but heartwarming act speaks volumes of what being Malaysian is about. May I wish my Muslim friends, colleagues, relatives and readers Selamat Berpuasa!