Nancy Shukri displays a uniquely Sarawakian openness which is difficult to emulate by her Peninsular peers

IN A video that many in Peninsula Malaysia would find surprising – and perhaps even abhorrent to some – Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri is shown enjoying a meal in a Chinese kopitiam in Sarawak alongside many other diners from different ethnic backgrounds.

What is probably anathema to many Peninsulans is the idea of Muslims dining in a very obviously non-halal eatery. Ironically, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister wasn’t the only Muslim diner in the clip as many more women donning the hijab can be seen comfortably seated in background.

The undated video highlights Sarawak’s unique melting pot culture – one that showcases the true muhhibah spirit where people of different backgrounds gather to just eat, gossip and bond over good grub, unperturbed by the semantics of halal-ness.

The fact that fellow diners were enjoying dishes such as bak kut teh (herbal pork rib soup) at the same table did not seem to perturb the MP for Santubong in the least bit.

Compare and contrast with the current landscape in West Malaysia where decades of divisive rhetoric from politicians and religious figures have created a society overly-fussed by this issue.

A recent example would be the negative reaction of certain netizens to a supposedly halal restaurant employee preparing food whilst having the nerve to wear, gasp, a crucifix. The restaurant’s knee jerk reaction to the comments from these blinkered and overly-sensitive types was to wrongfully terminate the poor man.

In a further sign that the unity government is afraid of upsetting these neo-conservatives, no further action was taken against the errant employers – Mon Chinese Beef Roti restaurant.

Common sight in Sarawak

Before any bigots start harping on the former Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister’s mixed heritage for not being overly concerned about where she eats, do note this is very much the culture in Sarawak.

“Yong Hua restaurant @ Alai is popular among Kuching folks. Even though I’m always in Kuching, I rarely have the opportunity to eat at the restaurant,” explained Nancy in a recent TikTok post.

“But that day, I got together with old friends, Datuk Rubiah Wang (Deputy Rural and Regional Development Minister) and Datuk Seri Rohani Karim (former Women, Family and Community Development Minister).”

Added the 62-year-old Santubong MP: “Although the owner of the shop is Chinese, the entire family gathered there to have breakfast whenever there is a chance.”

Will the ultra-conservatives lambast all Sarawakian Muslims as being kafir (infidel) or guilty of deviant practices? Let’s be honest – if such a video had been recorded in one of the PAS-held states, it will have led to a flurry of police reports and massive public outcry with politicians fanning the flames.

West Malaysians once lived under similar scenarios such as that in the video. That was in the 1960s and 1970s. But today, undergraduates sent to study abroad on taxpayers’ monies are offended when invited to attend an after party at a night club.

Far too often, halal issues have been used to create a ‘us and them’ narrative which has divided society to the brink of imploding on its own self-righteousness.

The video featuring the three women leaders of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) should serve as a lesson to all Malaysians on the virtues of a ‘live and let live’ attitude. Embracing cultural diversity should be applauded – not shunned. Racial harmony should be fostered not seen as a threat to a certain group’s hegemony.

Alas, in the current climate, it would appear that East and West Malaysia couldn’t be further apart. But the video does lend hope that there are still places within the Federation of Malaysia where a tolerant attitude still prevails.  – Dec 4, 2023

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