A religious minefield

MALAYSIA -THE other day I had halal Du­­sun food. As a Catholic Ka­­dazandusun, I was cu­rious to know whether the Dusun Muslim dishes were the same as my community. (Dusun and Kada­zan are ethnic groups, part of the Kadazan­dusun indigenous community in Sabah.)

I'm also from Penampang (the closest Kada­zan constituency to Kota Kinabalu) and I also wanted to taste Dusun dishes popular in Ranau, about 100km from the state capital.

"Yes, we can make hinava (raw fish) and non­som sada (pickled fish)," said a tudung-wearing Du­­sun woman who had prepared the dishes.

"But we didn't prepare them as there was no instruction for it to be on the menu."

Both dishes are my favourite Kadazan food.

The Dusun feast, held in the Ranau Commu­nity Hall, was organised by Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Ma­­sidi Manjun.

An avid twitterer, Masidi invited @saroki19 and me via Twitter to visit his hometown in Ranau to experience Dusun culture.

I tweeted the Dusun feast menu - which included soup sinalau tambang (smoked deer) with jungle vegetable, fried mixed Ranau vegetable with salted fish, soup garap (a bony river fish known in Peninsular Malaysia as ikan kelah), boiled river snail and linopot (rice wrapped in fragrant leaf) - and some of my Twitter followers were drooling with envy.

"Is there any difference if a Christian Dusun cooked Dusun dishes?" I asked.

"They'll cook the food the same way. Perhaps they might cook some of the dish with pork," said Datuk Amisah Yasin, Masidi's political secretary, who hosted the lunch.

"For example, for the soup sinalau tambang, they might use sinalau bakas (smoked wild pig)."

We wrapped up the Dusun feast with teh tarik Masidi (a popular teh tarik concoction by Masidi that is only sold in a mamak shop in Ranau town). It seems teh tarik Masidi ignites your imagination.

The Ranau parliamentary constituency, about 4.5 times bigger than the state of Perlis and wider than Malacca. About 90 per cent of its 39,053 voters are Dusun. Half of the Dusun voters are Muslims and the other half are Christians.

The rest of the voters in the parliamentary seat are mostly Chinese.

"Ranau is unique," said Amisah, a Dusun Muslim who wears a tudung. "It is 50/50 (in terms of Muslim and Christian ratio) here, but we don't have any (religious) problems here.

"For example, my dad and mum are Chris­tians. My family celebrate Christmas, Hari Ra­ya, Chinese New Year. The only celebration we don't celebrate is Deepavali as there is no Indian (Hindu) in the family," said the 60-year-old Ranau Umno Wanita chief.

Amisah's family is typical of the Ranau demography.

Her late dad was a Sino Dusun named Wong Ah Seng. During musim Jepun (World War II), he was afraid that the Japanese would kill Chinese so he changed his name to Yasin (rhymes with Ah Seng). The late Yasin had 10 children. Seven of them are Christians and the rest are Muslims.

"The three of us converted to Islam because we married Muslims," she said.

In Ranau, according to Amisah, the people can't afford to have religious problems, as no family is 100 per cent Christian or 100 per cent Muslim.

"Can you imagine, just because of religion that we fight?" said the vocal Amisah.

She continued: "In FB, they say that Muslims can't say Merry Christmas. I said, 'you are real nuts!' When I follow Datuk Masidi (during his programmes in his state constituency of Karanan in the Ranau parliamentary seat), I would go to churches. It is not as if when we enter a church, we will become Christians!"

The next day I met Masidi, who loves to tweet photographs of gorgeous sunset in Sabah, in a hotel in Kota Kinabalu that has one of the best views of the sunset.

"Is religion an issue in Ranau politics?" I asked the third-term Karanan assemblyman who is a Dusun Muslim.

"Yes. But it is not what we are doing in Sa­bah but it comes from what politicians in Penin­­sular Malaysia are talking about. They do not understand that when they talk about religion, it has a repercussion in Sabah," he said.

"What kind of talk?" I asked.

"For example, somewhere and somehow when Perkasa talks about issues such as Allah, it has an affect on how Sabahans view the central government," he said.

Sabah and Sarawak, Masidi said, were important states for Barisan Nasional.

"If for some reason, the Christians stop supporting Barisan, there will be dire repercussion in seats that Barisan has won in Sabah and Sarawak. It is a serious matter.

"Let's look at the micro level, the Allah issue had a big impact in the voting pattern in Ranau during GE13," the Ranau Umno chief said.

Masidi had observed that Barisan lost in most of the non-Muslim voter streams.

"The feedback I got was that non-Muslims were voting against Barisan because of the Allah issue," he said.

"We could have lost the Ranau MP seat. Fortunately, Umno members overcame the deficit. About 30 per cent of the Umno members in Ranau are Christians and they continued to remain loyal to Barisan and that tipped the balance."

In the Ranau parliamentary seat, Barisan's Datuk Ewon Ebin of Upko received 15,434 votes, Jonathan Yasin of PKR and the brother of Amisah got 11,823 votes, Julianah Situn @Widya Julia of Sabah Star 2,559 and Yazid Sahjinan, an independent, 914.

If you compare his votes (15,434) against the total opposition votes (15,296), Ewon barely won. This trend is reflective of other Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus seats in Sabah such as Keningau and Kota Marudu.

Masidi said it was difficult to convince Christians that they were allowed to use the word Allah in Sabah and Sarawak especially with the noise the extremists were making in peninsular Malaysia.