Matters of opinion that enables me to understand or make some sense of my country- Malaysia

August 2, 2013

One of the cornerstones of the Malay culture is politeness and respect. This what made the Malays strong, so let’s settle our differences with words of kindness and not that of hate.


By Samir Harith

Righteous anger. That’s what they call it. Make a single slight against what I perceive to be my culture, my people and my religion, and I will make life extremely difficult for you. Or, I will get the authorities to make life difficult for you. Conform to my standards. Conform to my expectations. Conform to what I deem to be right and holy. And I might respect you.

I am writing this article to express my opinion about the wave of righteous anger the Malay community here has been experiencing. We just recently had a huge backlash of anger towards our infamous sex-blogging duo, Alvivi (as they are collectively known) who became the subject of our hatred and anger towards all things non-Malay.

Of course, to be fair the charge was led by members of our Chinese community but the Malays jumped on the bandwagon soon enough and eventually we locked them up good! Was such an action justified? Definitely. Because they insulted My Sensitive Sensitivities. Of course they deserved to be locked up.

Let them be a lesson to all those who dare even think about pulling off a stunt like that. Hah! Let the whole world see how heavy-handed my people are and let them see how much better our security resources are spent on a pair of attention-seeking web idiots.

Lets not forget, more recently, that brash Malay lady who is a dog trainer. What was she thinking uploading a Hari Raya video with dogs in it??? DOGS!!! The only other thing in this world which is more dirty than that is a pig!

Give me a while to focus my righteous anger. Let me put my entire focus into dealing with that huge insult of a video made three years ago.

Let me ignore the fact for a moment that nowhere does the Quran tell me that dogs are unholy. Let me ignore the obvious fact that dogs are Allah’s creation. Let me ignore the fact that the loyal faithful companion of the people of the cave (The Seven Sleepers in Christian Theology) who fled religious persecution was a loyal dog, as mentioned in Surah Al-Kahf, verse 18:

[18:18] You would think that they were awake, when they were in fact asleep. We turned them to the right side and the left side, while their dog stretched his arms in their midst. Had you looked at them, you would have fled from them, stricken with terror.

Ok, done focusing, now let me proceed to call her names like ‘tomboy’, ‘pengkid’, ‘an agent of the blasted Chinese’ and various other epithets which I cannot publish here. Or even better, let’s take a lesson from that Alvivi case and sic the authorities on her! Yeah! That will teach her for doing something she did three years ago! Justice delayed is still justice served!

Facing stigma

I generally try to ignore such sentiments, but as of late, we Malays have been using our righteous in extremely non-positive ways, which makes me wonder if that is what it means to be a ‘true’ Melayu?

As an individual, I spent a great deal of my youth struggling with my mixed heritage as I am partly Javanese-Chinese on my father’s side and Middle Eastern-Siamese on my mother’s side.

Of course, growing up in Malaysia, I was immediately identified as being Malay. With my Malay-ness being determined by the fact that I am Muslim, I can speak Malay and that I practice Malay culture.

Growing up with Western-educated parents, I personally did not know what it meant to be Malay and could not understand what Malay culture was all about.

Spending my youth in the urban heart of Petaling Jaya, Malays were few to come by, and those that I did mix with were often like me, English-speaking children of Western educated parents.

Me and other fellow PJ-Malays grew up in a predominantly Chinese community where practically everyone spoke English. Speaking in Malay was generally frowned upon as a sign of being un-educated and uncultured.

There was always a certain stigma that I faced due to my racial classification.

I still very clearly remember one day when I was in Standard 4, I placed 5th in my class and my teacher emphatically told my parents “Ok lah, he is good enough for a Malay boy,”. This did provoke feelings of anger from my parents but they did not raise any issue.

All that was left was for this Malay boy to prove his worth in the face of bigotry and close-mindedness.

I turned my righteous anger towards my studies, excelling in Mathematics and English, subjects traditionally dominated by non-Malays and establishing myself as the go-to person for all matters related to those subjects.

Leave behind budi and bahasa

That being so, the early stigma I faced for being a Malay still affected me for most of my youth. It affected me to the point I found it difficult to call myself a Malay because in my young mind, being Malay equated with notions of academic backwardness, of conservative thinking and of gullibility.

It wasn’t until I was married a Chinese girl did I begin to understand and appreciate my Malay culture.

My wife had grown up in a predominantly Malay community and it was her that first encouraged me to speak more Malay and improve my Malay language. She also introduced me to aspects of Malay culture which I had never known before.

It took me a few years in a Chinese family to understand and appreciate the flaws and shortcomings in their own culture, to realise that the grass is not greener on the other side and that there are many things that I can, and should be proud of for being Malay.

Over the years, I have learned what it means to be a Malay. One of the cornerstones of my culture is politeness and respect. Berbudi bahasa and bersopan santun. This is what made the Malays strong. Our ability to make friends, to get along, to avoid conflict and seek peaceful resolutions to situations.

Malay politeness is so legendary that the ancient Malaccan empire won the Chinese empire over as regional allies, causing our Siamese rivals to respect the strength of our political relations.

I also have often heard a quote from the colonial periods, with the British describing the Malays as the ‘perfect gentlemen’, which perhaps led to a rise of the number of Malays in the colonial civil service. Malay politeness extends itself to one of our most celebrated practices, ‘Berbalas Pantun’ where debates and arguments are resolved via rhyming verse and song, instead of physical violence.

The worth of a man in Malay culture is not measured by the amount of wealth he has accumulated but it is measured by the amount of quality time he spends with his family. He is measured by how often he spends teaching his children art, religion and other worldly knowledge.

He is also measured by how well respected he is in the community and by his willingness to share his thoughts, jokes and even food with his neighbours, regardless of their race or religion.

Comfort and peace are central to Malay culture as ours is a pacifistic culture which seeks to resolve conflict through consensus and open discussion. Righteous anger does form a part of this culture as when our values are under threat, we need to respond accordingly.

But the response is rarely violent and the rules of engagement are strictly dictated by Islamic teachings which set clear guidelines on the boundaries of reprisal.

The reawakening of my inner Malay comes at a time where, for the life of me, I cannot understand why all my other fellow Malays are so keen to leave their budi and bahasa at their doorstep and come rushing, shouting in loud voices, using coarse language and generally acting un-Malay in an attempt to safeguard what they deem to be their core values, which in reality are just silly sensitivities.

Insulting our legacy

The more we react to these issues, the more we lose touch with our culture. Every time we get angry without knowing the full story, we insult the legacy left behind by our ancestors who would have given the other party the benefit of the doubt, and heard out their side of the story.

Each time we take to the streets, we turn our back on the proud heritage of resolving our differences through poetry and song. Every foul word we use to express our anger smears the beautiful Malay language which is already struggling to find its footing in this modern world.

Playing up these issues does not make us a ‘true’ Melayu in every sense of the word. The more we play up these issues, the more we are bound to draw ire and disrespect from other communities and cultures from around the world.

We need to be smarter and we need to know where to direct our collective anger, should there be a real and credible threat to our way of life. Perhaps the conclusion of the last election, which was racially charged, has left many Malays trapped in a ‘siege mentality’ and extremely reactive towards all and any perceived slights at our culture.

If we keep getting angry at everything and anything, soon enough other people won’t take our righteous anger seriously. If we keep abusing our anger like this, people won’t hear us out when we need to be heard out.

I am not entirely sure why a fervent wave of righteous anger has hit the Malay community so hard. Could it be that there truly is an attack on Malay culture? Is there some insidious conspiracy to destroy Malay values from the inside out?

Or perhaps, more likely, it’s just that many other young Malays, like myself are struggling to find their identity, as a ‘true’ Melayu.

Unfortunately this has led to many of us jumping on the bandwagon of hate to profess the strength of our commitment to our Bangsa Melayu.

Ramadan is coming to an end and the last 10 days are said to be the holiest of all days. Let us spend this time to reflect on our actions and seek forgiveness from Allah for our past actions and seek guidance from Him for our future actions so that they may make us better Muslims and strengthen our Malay culture.

Aidilfitri is just around the corner, a day where we put aside all our differences and seek forgiveness from one another, so let us put our pointless bickering aside and focus on how we can be kind to one another.

Let us spread our budi and bahasa to all of our friends, of all different races, religions and backgrounds and settle our differences with words of kindness and not that of hate. For that is what it means to be a true Melayu.

Samir Harith is a FMT contributor.



Lewynd Nishel ·  Top Commenter · Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This reminds me of a quote in movie Lincoln by the Fernando Wood which goes a little something like this “We shall oppose this amendment, and any legislation that so affronts natural law, insulting to God as to man! Congress must never declare equal those whom God created unequal!” That or something equivalent to that quote had been drilled into the heads into a majority of the Malay community in Malaysia. Somehow, someway, the government had convinced the Malays that they’re ‘the Master Race’ ala-Nazi style with the whole ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ notion and that nothing and no one under God’s blue sky can question, challenge let alone insult their racial supremacy over the other races. Now I’m no genius, but the writer mentioned that it’s a racial stereotype to label the Malays for their academic backwardness, of conservative thinking and of gullibility but wouldn’t it take someone completely and utterly backward, conservative and gullible to buy into this ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ thing? To be convinced that they’re better than others and therefore need to treat others like trash? Even the Malays have a saying for these ‘people’, they call them ‘Jaguh Kampung’ who’re known for their ‘perangai kampung’, what does that tell you? I bet if you ask one of them honestly why he’s behaving the way he does, he’ll reply “Tak tahu, semua orang buat macam ni, saya pun buatlah!”

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