MALAYSIA - Malaysians for Malaysia got together because they were tired of all the hatred being spewed in the country.
As the group introduces itself on Facebook, it is for Malaysians who want to celebrate the country's social and religious diversity and those who believe in co-existing, accepting and celebrating each other's ethnicity, culture and faith.
It is also for those who feel that "the ongoing discourse (or lack thereof) concerning inter-religious relations in Malaysia has seemingly spun out of control" and that too much focus has been given "to the views of the fringe and extreme groups and politicians who are demanding and threatening violence, hate, intimidation and the rejection of others."
Azrul Mohd Khalib, the group's convener, says they got together quite spontaneously after the gathering outside the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Klang to stand in solidarity with Malaysian Christians early January.
"We believe that it was necessary to underline the visible presence of people who reject the bigotry, hatred and prejudice demonstrated by the group who had threatened the church and the Christian community," says Azrul.
Anna Koh, another core member of the group, puts it more simply: "It's about love. It's about spreading love and people doing good."
Koh says she was nervous the first time they gathered at the church.
"We are not experts and neither are we experienced in this but we do it in good faith. We feel that even if it is just one person who turns up, it is one extra person spreading love and goodwill. But when we got there, it was heart-warming to see many people from various faiths waiting to join us," she recalls.
Malaysians for Malaysia initiated visits to other places of worship in the country, and began their "Walk in the Park".
"It is not a demonstration, a protest or a march. It is simply a walk in the park. We wanted to get people together for activities which allow them to build new friendships and strengthen ties between religions," says Azrul, adding that the initiatives also provide an alternative narrative of how "Malaysians are fighting back against the narrative of fear, hate mongering and prejudice and taking back the public space."
The response to their walks has grown beyond expectation, he says.
"Our first walk in the park was in KLCC and around 40 people attended. The next one, in Penang, saw around 110 participants and the latest in Ipoh had more than 700 people."
Last month, the group held a donation drive on Facebook to help the Tanjung Api Christian Cemetery Committee in Kuantan, Pahang, repair a few graves that had been vandalised and desecrated.
The response was encouraging, says Azrul.
"We set a target of RM4,800 (S$ 1846), which is half the estimated cost of repair). Within a week we had raised RM9,010. The donors came from many ethnicities and religions, and around one third were Malay Muslims."
When they spoke to some of the donors, it was clear that many were getting tired of all the racial and religious tension in the country, he says.
It also showed that despite our differences, we are able to be united in times of adversity and hardship, he adds.
"We saw that when an act which is considered despicable to all religions, such as the desecration of graves, is committed, we are not only able to stand together and condemn it, we are also able to help remedy the situation, regardless of whatever religion they are."
Azrul hopes that more Malaysians will join them to stand up against the extreme voices of hate and bigotry.
"We need to be vocal regarding what version of Malaysia we want too," he stresses. "The moderate Malaysians need to get out there - write to the newspapers and our elected representatives, participate in forums - to tell them what type of Malaysia we want to live in."
Koh agrees. "I think what we need to do is to push the past aside and just begin again - get a fresh start. My dream is for all Malaysians to be colour blind and co-exist in peace and harmony. It's a dream right now, but everything starts with a dream, right?
"Malaysia started with a dream."