Sarawakian Muslims “buka puasa” with Christians under Crucifix

Provided by Malay Mail Online Seated at the table are Auxiliary Bishop of Kuching Right Reverend Simon Poh, Elder Ambrose Linang, Most Reverend Archbishop Datuk John Ha and Islamic Information Centre CEO Zabariah Matali.

A group of Sarawakian Muslims whom recently organised an interfaith “buka puasa” event at a Christian centre that had a cross on the wall said there was nothing offensive about the religious symbol.

Zabariah Matali, CEO of the Islamic Information Centre based in Kuching, had also received a copy of the Bible from Archbishop Datuk John Ha who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuching, while he was presented with the Quran in exchange at the breaking of fast attended by about 150 Muslims and Christians.

“The cross is part of the Christian centre. Why should I be offended or be opposed to it?” Zabariah told Malay Mail Online in an email interview.

“Let’s say I organised a buka puasa at our centre (like what we normally do every year) and I invited our Christian friends or friends from other faiths. If you have been to our centre, you will notice that we have verses from the Holy Quran and writings/ articles on Islam on our wall and in almost every corner of our centre.

“Would my friends from other faiths be offended, considering it’s an Islamic centre? It is the same thing,” she added.

A photo of the Islamic Information Centre’s “buka puasa” event held last Friday at the Archdiocesan Curia and Cathedral Pastoral Centre in Kuching during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan had gone viral on social media, as it showed the breaking of fast taking place in a building that had a cross (religious symbol of Christianity) on the wall.

Relations between the Muslim majority and Christian minority in Malaysia are sometimes marred with distrust, with several Muslim residents protesting last year against a church in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya, over a cross on the facade of the building.

Zabariah said Ha had said in his address at the “buka puasa” event that some of the priests in attendance fasted to share the Muslims’ experience of fasting.

“I was really touched by this gesture,” she said.

She added that the Islamic Information Centre was trying to reach out to people of various religions to promote better understanding and appreciation of each other’s faith.

“For a beautiful state like Sarawak with its rich cultural and religious traditions, this role is pertinent,” she said.

She also said that since 2009, the Islamic Information Centre has been organising visits to various places of worship under its “Understanding other religions” programme, as well as “buka puasa” events with non-Muslims like the Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Bahais throughout Sarawak.

“This programme is specifically designed for Muslims, to understand and appreciate each other’s faith better,” she said, referring to the “Understanding other religions” programme. “Recently, we were invited to take part in the Wesak Day celebration in Miri”.

Zabariah said one of the unique features of the Islamic Information Centre, which aims to communicate the message of Islam as a way of life and to promote religious harmony in Sarawak, was its Friday sermons.

“Our centre is the only place in Sarawak where the sermons are in English besides the local dialect like Iban and Bidayuh. Sometimes our sermons are in Mandarin and Arabic,” she said.