Who is a Malay?
For most of my life I have been a Malay. Now and then I did hear my father and uncles speak about our Bugis ancestors but that was not something we dwell upon. Amongst my relatives were some who were more dark skinned than me and some lighter. There were some with Arabic links - with a 'Syed' here and a 'Syed' there. I remember an Uncle who married a Chinese and another who married a Japanese. In time their spouses and children became Malays and if they or their children were able to speak any Chinese or Japanese, we would regard that as a plus rather than to view it as a threat to our Malay ways.
Outside our circle of families and relatives we saw people who were different from us. They dress different and ate different food. If we hear them speak Malay it too was different from how we speak Malay. They worshipped in Temples and prayed to Tokpekongs and at altars with statues adorned with flowing robes, spears and other artifacts. They even bury their dead different from us....and some (horrors of horrors!), we were told, even burned their dead and kept their ashes in urns left on the shelves of their houses.
Life for any young Malay growing up in the 50's and 60's was bewildering but full of wonderment as you adjust to a life different from what you know at home. There was no attempt by anyone to blend in or integrate - you do your thing and I do mine. Accentuate the differences and to hell with blending in....but everyone spoke Malay or knew enough Malay to get by.
I grew up for a while in Kampong Kassipilay, Sentul. My grandfather lived there and for a while so did we. We had Chinese and Indians for neighbors...but mostly Indians. There were enough Indians to warrant the presence of a toddy shop and much merriment was there for everyone to enjoy while watching the antics of toddy drinkers bila dapat gaji!
The groceries shops were owned by the Chinese but there was an Indian laundry at the back of my grand parents house and the barber shop at the entrance of Kampong Kassipilay was managed by Indians. Not one Malay had a shop that I can remember of in Kampong Kassipilay. Not even a Nasi Lemak stall then. There was the odd Jawa here and there....and I remember calling them 'Pak' whenever there was occasion for us to talk. The roads then was not paved and every time it rained there were puddles and mud everywhere.
Outside Kampong Kassipilay I recalled that the Minister of Finance was Tan Siew Sin - a Chinese. Tunku was the Perdana Menteri but politics did not matter in my scheme of things. What mattered was that we were a multi racial lot going about our lives the best way we can. Different in so many ways from each other and yet tolerant and respectful of each others choices in life.
Today I and many many Malaysians find ourselves having to define our racial and religious inclinations before all else.
Who is a Malay?
Do you need to live in Malaysia to be a Malay? Must you speak, write and think in a certain way to be a Malay? What about your religion and your political inclinations - do these define your Malay self? Are you a royalists? Where do your loyalties lies in agama, bangsa dan negara? WIll you insists and claim for yourself Ketuanan Melayu? Who are you? How well do you know yourself?
Let me explain my confusion.
See the following video. It is of Azzez Abdul Rahman - Chairman of Tabung Haji, A Member of Parliament, a Muslim...a Malay.
Jokes aside...Azeez Abdul Rahman is a Malay. Really?
My question of who is a Malay is not because as a Malay I want to claim Bumiputra status. Nor do I want to say that Malaysia is MY country or that I am first amongst equals amongst those who call Malaysia home. I just want to know if I really am a Malay - after all my ancestors are Bugis who immigrated to Malaysia many many years ago. In truth, today, being a Malay has no relevance to the life that I now live because I no longer live in Malaysia.
But unfortunately for Malaysians, who you are today is critical to how you will be treated as you go about living your life!
For those living in Malaysia the question of who you are is of utmost importance.
If you look again to the above video of Azeez Abdul Rahman - take away his status as a Malay - what is left? He is an Indian. He will not be Chairman of Tabung Haij, he will not be in Umno and most probably he will not be an MP. If he is an MP he will not be an Umno - a Barisan MP perhaps but certainly not an Umno MP. Being a Malay had made a difference to who Azeez is today. Race matters if you live in Malaysia!
When race matters, than religion too, matters. From these two things that matters so much in Malaysia today stems the conundrum our nation and our people faces. Even in the best of times there is no clear right answer or good solutions to the problems that race and religion will bring - what more in Malaysia where race and religion colors our thinking, our way of life and our tolerance of others.
And when we have a sitting government that accentuates these differences not negate them - then what chance does our nation have to go beyond the myopic limitations that Umno now imposes upon our lives and our future?
For now the solution to the problems we have of race and religion is not within the ability or capability of our present political leaders to resolve. They lack the political will to work towards the inclusiveness required for change.
That will not come for many more years. It will not be for another two or three generations - not until a generation are educated to understand that we are a nation characterized by diversity and we have to work towards the need to respect, accept and revere each others differences. Use this diversity to unify and inspire our people to all be Malaysians. Diversity must be in our national character and be national strength.
Then no one can tell us that one race or religion is a treat to another. No one will tells us that there is no place in Malaysia for those of us who dare to voice their dissent to any political parties or factions. Then no one will speak and make others believe that any race or any religion has precedent over any other race or religion in matters concerning our nation. Then we will treat each other with dignity respecting each others culture and heritage.
And who are Malaysians?
If you call Malaysia your home then you are Malaysian. Your color, race and religion matters not. Where you were born, who your family are, your social status, what work you do is your own business but you must be prepared to fight for the dignity of our nation against any others that threatens our security and sovereignty. And when all that is done you must be prepared to fight for your rights and the way of life that you aspire to if that also is threatened from within.
All this will be in the future but it has to start now during our lifetime. To not do so will damm our future generations to many more decades of politics as we know it now. The politics of hate, greed, arrogance and of the self! This is something we do not want for ourselves....why damm it upon our own children and their children's children?