Celebrating Diversity as One Family: The Story of Tan Sri Zaleha

Naomi Yakawich
March 6, 2018

“We are all Malaysian, even if we have different religions.”

—Tan Sri Zaleha

Diversity has been generally defined by many as a circumstance that results when people from different races, nationalities, religions and sexes come together to form a group. But there is one woman who is inspiring Malaysia to look beyond this general perception of diversity to bring about true understanding and unity in her community and nation.

“We don’t even look at it as diversity; we always look at it as unity,” said a smiling Tan Sri Zaleha, mother of three.

Growing up in Malaysia, no matter where you live, you are always able to get in touch with people of different races, from the Chinese man who ran the grocery store to the Indian lady who sold food down the street and the Malay Mak Cik who sells kuih every evening. To Tan Sri Zaleha, the diversity in Malaysia is not something that people have to always emphasize, but was always there in reality.

Not a stranger to diversity, Malaysia is home to people from many different racial backgrounds. Even as a young child, Tan Sri Zaleha went to school with other students of different races as most Malaysian children still do today.

Growing up, playing with other children was never a problem to Tan Sri Zaleha. Children are pure, she observed. They do not judge one another by race or religion. If we were able to mingle when we were younger, why would there be problem when we grow up?

As the chairwoman of Global Peace Foundation Malaysia, she values the vision of “One Family Under God.” Tan Sri Zaleha herself is a Muslim. Whatever the religious beliefs of those around her, she is a strong advocate of respect towards all.

“To others, they have there own God in different name. With the vision of One Family Under God, it brings us to have interfaith, creating good relationships and cooperation with each other,” Tan Sri Zaleha elaborated.

“God created us in this way. I believe God purposely created us in different races, different areas, etc. God aims to teach us to work together. If you are able to work together, then it becomes meaningful to live. God has created the world, created us, not only for one race, one religion or one group. Otherwise He would not have created all of us.”

Status and position has never been a motive for Tan Sri Zaleha. She was a radio jockey at Radio Malaya when she was only 15 years old and was selected as one of 20 youth leaders in Southeast Asia for a youth leadership program in the United States. She would later go on to become the Minister of National Unity and Social Development in 1995.

The world is here for us to share. As Tan Sri said, we are able to achieve great things together through cooperation amidst diversity.

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