BSC KUCHING: Malaysia Day – what does it mean to us?  For most Malaysians, it simply marks the day that Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya. For the group of Sarawakians who put in much effort to gather leaders from the various faiths to organise the Sarawak Interfaith Harmony Walk (SIHW), Malaysia Day means much more.

SIHW was first mooted two years ago.  Every year, a different faith group takes turns to be the organiser.  The first Harmony Walk was in 2017 organised by Sarawak Islamic Information Centre, followed by Kuching Buddhist Society last year, and this year by the Association of Churches in Sarawak.

This took place on Saturday, 14 September, a date purposely chosen close to Malaysia Day to recall the spirit of harmony that characterised our nation at its foundation.  This Harmony Walk is an expression of Sarawakians’ desire for unity and to live in harmony with each other. It seeks to demonstrate that religions can and ought to unite rather than divide us and hence the theme… “UNITY IS OUR CALLING”.

Despite the hazy weather, by 6:00am, eager participants, equipped with sports shoes, wearing white T-shirts, a facial mask and a Malaysia or Sarawak flag in their hands, had gathered in front of Majma Mall.  The event started with an energetic warming up exercise led by Azneil from Fit Aerobics & Dance Academy.

The exercise was a hybrid of aerobics and creative dances which symbolized various cultures such as that of Dayak, Malay, Indian & Chinese.  Azneil concluded the session with patriotic songs such as “Tanggal 31” and “Malaysia Bersih”.

The sight of all Malaysians dancing together waving the Sarawak and Malaysia flags was a moving moment.

Heads of the various faiths gave a short address, starting with Puan Zabariah Matali from Sarawak Islamic Information Centre, followed by Kuching Buddhist Society, Sarawak Sikh Temple Association, Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Malaysia Buddhist Association, Kuching Tao Cultural Association, Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai’s of Sarawak, and His Grace Archbishop Simon Poh from Association of Churches in Sarawak.

Archbishop Simon, who is also the chairman of this year’s organising committee pointed out that “we normally hear of mutual tolerance in order to live in harmony, but in Sarawak, we want to go beyond that, we want to have mutual respect and acceptance.”

Participants were introduced to #UrBins, which stands for Urban Bins and are actually recycling bins uniquely painted to change perspectives of how people perceive bins.

During the 2.8km walk, participants took the opportunity to mingle with friends of different faiths by walking together and taking “wefies” especially at the stations where the SIHW banners were displayed.  On returning to the front of Majma Mall, some participants were still full of energy as they participated in another round of aero-dance.

This was followed by the long-awaited lucky draw which saw twenty-two lucky winners bringing home hampers sponsored by the various faith groups.

The Harmony Walk ended with the handing over of the SIHW flag by Archbishop Simon Poh to next year’s host organiser, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai’s, represented by Mr Chin Chia Chau, who expressed his hope that the participants would continue to support this event next year.

What some of the participants said after the walk:

Though hazy with AQI hitting above 200, I am glad that I have participated in the Interfaith Harmony Walk this morning. Yes, the air quality is unhealthy, but I noticed that the religious disharmony and racial extremism in the country are even more unhealthy and unbearable. That’s why I rather choose to breathe the unhealthy air so that I can befriend, dance and walk with people from different faiths. I love Malaysia, a multi-racial country, but I love Sarawak even more because this is the only State in Malaysia where true religious freedom is being practiced. Neither religious differences nor haze can stop us from being friends.Thomas Ting

I am so glad I joined the Harmony Walk. I met many great people of different race and faith. The walk was a good platform for communicating the positive benefits of living in harmony and unity. I am so proud of Sarawak. Bettie Leong

By Eric Phan
Photos: Crystal Chong