Six-year-old Alethea teaches me about diversity

Six-year-old Alethea teaches me about diversity

By Zan Azlee

Yesterday, my six-year-old daughter Alethea Azlee decided to fast for a complete day for the very first time. Before this, she had only been fasting for half a day. Basically, she just skipped breakfast because she would buka puasa at lunchtime. She decided this totally on her own the day before.

“Mum and Pops, I want to fast the whole day tomorrow,” she said out of the blue.

“Okay. But if you feel too hungry or thirsty, just eat and drink, okay?” my wife and I said to her.

“I’ll be okay!” she smiled.

Alethea did it with full excitement and even had enough energy to go cycling on her bike in the evening. We were very proud of her. So that evening, we told her she could pick anything she wanted to eat for buka puasa. Of course, we already knew what she wanted – her favourite Japanese food.

While we were eating, I asked her about her experience fasting in school. She said she was the only one who was fasting but it was fine (we told her teachers and they were supportive). One of her classmates (a Chinese Malaysian) asked her what fasting is and I asked what her reply was.

“I told her that it’s when we don’t eat or drink or do anything bad so we can celebrate Hari Raya,” Alethea said.

For a six-year-old’s reasoning, I guess it wasn’t bad. However, I still explained to her that fasting is more than just to celebrate Hari Raya. But I kept it simple and we will have more elaborate discussions as she gets older. For now, she sees it as being a grownup and an achievement.

“So what did your friend say about you fasting?” I asked.

“I just told her that it doesn’t matter and that we can all celebrate Hari Raya together just like Chinese New Year and she said okay!” she said.

I know that many Malay-Muslim children go through this experience of fasting for the first time. It’s almost like a rite of passage. I did it when I was seven or eight years old. I guess my daughter has got me beat! It’s just a small proud stage in any individual’s life.

But, I would like to draw your attention to how important diversity is among students in schools. It is so obvious that just by interacting with different people, our children can learn so much about differences, similarities, and understanding. So that proves how our schools shouldn’t be segregated, as I wrote last week.

I was also intrigued by the article ‘Factual errors and half-truths in our history textbooks’ written by Ranjit Singh Malhi. In the article, he pointed out different factual errors and biases that show how Malay-centric and Islam-centric our country’s history is being taught in schools.

In a nutshell, he stresses the importance of how Malaysia’s history needs to represent the country’s multicultural and multi-religious heritage. It needs to consider the contributions of everyone who has played a role in our country’s progression and development. In order for this to happen, there needs to be diversity in the writings of history textbooks.

How we see our past and history will determine how we see ourselves moving forward. Like they always say, we learn from our past. Hence, I need to advise against the call from many PAS leaders for more Malay representation in the government. Like I said in a previous article, for a cabinet that already has 89 percent Malay representation, I think PAS’s call can be considered invalid.

The importance of diversity to exist in every level of society in Malaysia cannot be stressed more if we want our country to develop as an inclusive society where every Malaysian feels and is treated as equal Malaysians. We need to look at our society as Malaysia-centric so that, according to Ranjit, Malaysians are “nurtured towards thinking and working together as Malaysians for the common good and future success of the nation.”

To all Malaysians, I wish you a Happy Ramadan!

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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