Saturday, February 13, 2010

Malay Racial Identity Fear

Allah row reflects Malay racial identity fear

By Vaudine England
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Some have questioned whether faiths can peacefully co-exist in Malaysia

Malay, Chinese and Indian Malaysians, thrown together by a colourful past, have often managed a mutual accommodation of each other's different faiths and cultures.

But the recent argument over the use of the word "Allah" has provoked strident - and divergent - views both within the Muslim community and outside it.

So too has the labelling of Indian and Chinese Malaysians as "pendatang", or immigrants, by a senior ruling party member, Nasir Safar.

He lost his job as adviser to the Prime Minister Najib Razak 12 hours later.

Meanwhile, the cancellation of a concert by US singer Beyonce, the arrest of young unmarried couples for "close proximity" and the caning sentence given to a mother for drinking beer have all attracted international attention.

Such rows call into question whether Malaysia is a state in which different races and faiths live in equality and comfort with each other, or whether the country is becoming more conservatively Muslim at the expense of others.

Change of direction

The results of the 2008 elections ramped up the tension.

The ruling coalition still won, but with a much reduced majority in the worst result in 50 years.

Muslim protesters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Jan 2010)
Many Muslims were angry non-Muslims were allowed to refer to God as Allah

Norani Othman, a professor at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, says that after independence, there was a national emphasis on consensus-building and equality.

That was adapted, after race riots in 1969, to more overtly pro-Malay policies.

As Muslim nations around the world struggled to modernise, yet not lose touch with their traditional roots, the influence of Islamist parties expanded.

In Malaysia, that pitted the ruling United National Malays Organisation (Umno) against the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) with the result that the 1980s saw a deliberate process of Islamisation.

What were once affirmative action policies geared to help Malays "catch up" with other Malaysians became policies enshrining Malay primacy or ascendancy, and being Malay meant being Muslim.

Institutions deemed to conform with Islamic principles and values were created - Islamic banks, Islamic insurance, Islamic university - there was even talk of "Islamising knowledge".

The list of matters judged to be under the jurisdiction of Islamic laws has expanded over the decades.

Just as the so-called race riots of 1969 were in fact a sign of systemic breakdown, as Australian academic Clive Kessler argues, so do the current tensions pose a direct challenge to Malaysia's founding aspirations of a diverse and democratic nation, argues Prof Othman.


The trend, she says, is clear: "It is one of a steady increase in religious authoritarianism and intolerance, emanating from many key sectors and influential levels of Malaysian Muslim society."

National citizenship training has sparked recent controversy, with some critics saying it was contributing to an apparently unstoppable rise of race and faith-based exclusivity.


Participants report they are told that the only thing left for the Malay community is power, because they are a majority, and that any loss of power could mean they become something like an American Indian in their own country, one source said.

Shoring up that power involves "the projecting of the Other, the non-Malay, as always conspiring or wanting to take over", she said.

That siege mentality is expressed in the claim that non-Muslims using the word Allah might convert Muslims - even when figures suggest that Islam is the fastest growing faith in the country.

A new group called Perkasa - meaning strengthen - is avowedly pro-Malay. Critics call it chauvinistic.

Its founder, Ibrahim Ali, says: "If the Malays are not happy, then it will become a problem."

Rising stars such as Idris Haron, MP for Melaka and a member of Umno's Supreme Council, has supported party colleagues who describe non-Malays as "immigrants".

"Yes the fundamental structure of the country is race-based," says Mr Haron.

"It is the Malaysian way of life that a Malay must be a Muslim," he says - and that Malays are rightfully "the top priority when it comes to political development".

Mr Haron argues that the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia live far better than they would in other countries, thanks to Malay tolerance and generosity.

One Malaysia?

But the determination of one's rights according to one's race and religion profoundly worries not only Malaysia's many more liberal minds - it bothers the strategists behind the ruling coalition too.

They know that loyal non-Malays no longer see them as representative of a pluralist centre of Malaysian life.Read more


eddy said...

Bro, how do you even start to explain to some one who does not understand the Malay who is a Muslim. A Malay Muslim believe in ALLAH the one and only God who does not beget nor is begotten. This is about belief in one's God and nothing to do about race.

No matter how we explain it, there are those who would not or refuse to understand the issue at hand.

SM said...

Bro Eddy,

This is not a matter of Religion, it is a matter of "ease" (for want of a better word).
The BN having spoon-fed the Malays with the "NEP" (Never Ending Policy) have made the Malays scared of their own shadows (i.e. they see the other races waiting to "Take over" Malaysia & destroy them or whatever crap UMNO is telling them).
From the time a Non-Malay child is born he (I use he here for both Genders) is told that he has to work hard & fight to survive if he wants to "make it" in Malaysia as the Government isn't going to give him "squat".
The Malays however know that the Government will "help" them. No need to to be the best the Govt, will help.
Bro HL has said that Malaysians should stop their "subsidised" mentality & the Govt. should stop subsiding Msians.
Well, start with the NEP!
Just wait...take away the NEP now & there may be some pains BUT watch. A few years down the road just see the Malays "grow" leaps & bounds. When that time comes, the Malays will be able to compete with anyone without seeing "daggers" hidden in the dark!BUt UMNO will never take away the NEP because they want the Malays to continue to depend on the Govt. For UMNO, as long the Malay Grassroots are weak, UMNO will continue to be in power!

eddy said...

1.Bro SM, the Malays and the Bumiputras of this country have grown leap and bounds with the help of the NEP in spite of the so called few elites who had taken advantage to get rich. Those elite few also include Malays,Chinese and Indians who got fantastic concessions from the Government.

2.The ALLAH isssue to a Muslim Malay is about aqidah, one's believe to the oneness of God. Nothing to do about being the Malay race and nothing to do with linguistics.TQ.

SM said...

Bro Eddy,

Are you sure? It's only in Malaysia that the Non-Muslims are banned from using the word Allah.
So you tell me that it's to do with aquidah? Where in the Quran or Hadith does it say Non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah?Sorry bro, I disagree with you...the Malays in Msia are like the proverbial "Katak di-bawah tempurung"!
And before anyone goes & says I'm anti-Malay or anti-Muslim or I don't know the Malays, let me point out that my best friends are Malays (I actually have very few Non-Malay friends), my business partners are Malays & my Mentor is a Malay too. The only reason I did not marry a Malay was because in Msia you can't have mixed marriages with Muslims.
The NEP may have helped a whole lot of people but it has out-grown its usefullness.
We need "Need-based Policies" & NOT "Race-based Policies" (if the NEP was/is such a success, then why are the Malays "supposed" to still be behind the other Races? Or is this another UMNO lie?) in Msia if we want to ever get out of this Racial & Religious backwardness we find ourselves in.

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