Malaysia–HRH Sultan of Johor: Be Malay not Arab

April 1, 2016

HRH Sultan of Johor: Be Malay not Arab

by Asia Sentinel

The current forced identification of all Malays with Islam makes a nonsense of Malay history and is insulting to them. It also destroys the once-joyous cultural milieu characterized by P. Ramlee, the singer, dancer and film director who died, ignored, in 1973. But so long as the nation is in the hands of venal and hypocritical politicians who use Islam and racial preferences as their tools, there is scant chance of a revival of a Malay Malaysia as a literary, trading and justifiably proud nation.–Asia Sentinel

Leader concerned about strictures of transplanted Arab culture

It is not often that modern Malaysian Sultans, least of all from Johor, make sage public statements. But a mix of wisdom and exasperation was evident in the recent words of HRH Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar:

“If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practice Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you,” he said, adding: “I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia. That is your right but I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture.”

He had been using Malay terms since he was a child and intended to go on using them, he said. Thus he was going to use the term Hari Raya Puasa rather than the Arabic Eid-el-Fitr for the festival at the end of Ramadan. Likewise the Malay term for Arabic Iftar, the fast-breaking meal during Ramadan, was Buka Puasa. The Sultan was noting the slavish following of Arabian practices that has spread in Malaysia over recent decades.

The Sultan also took issue with those criticizing him for shaking hands with many women during the annual Kembara Makhota, a travel tour in which he travels around the state to meet as many people as possible. “Why must I change? You do not have to be fanatic. If they are not sure, I ask if they want to shake my hands. If they do not want to shake my hands, there is no problem,” he added.

The Johor Royals:  Unafraid to be brutally frank

He also castigated the Public Works Department for putting up a sign on roadsides telling women it was a sin not to cover their hair. “It is not the business of government departments to worry about people’s dressing. Just do what you are paid to do and mind your own business.” Religion, he said, was not based on external criteria such as clothing.

The Sultan may have no great claim to religious expertise but the Johor Royal House can certainly claim pedigree when it comes to Malay customs and institutions. Johor was the successor to Melaka as Malay leader when the latter, itself a multinational trading hub, was seized by the Portuguese. Indeed it can claim links back to pre-Islamic Malay world of the Srivijayan empire.

The Sultan’s reference to clothing was also a reminder of how much Malay dress has changed in recent decades under the influence of the example of Iran and of Saudi money, from the comfortable sarong made famous in Hollywood movies to the full hijab in many cases. Royalty in Malaysia, and Johor above all, has a long tradition of fidelity to Malay customs combined with intermarriage with non-Malays.

The behavior of some of many Malay royals in recent years has undermined and eroded their influence as surely as the urbanization of the Malay population. But maybe they have a role in emphasizing Malay culture – not the exclusivist, racially-biased, narrow-minded Islamist version but that which in earlier times made the sultanates, not least Johor, cosmopolitan trading hubs.

They might even also interest today’s Malays in the achievements of their pre-Islamic forebears. For instance, Kedah, Dr Mahathir’s home state was a major trading center and part of the Srivijayan network centuries before its raja converted to Islam. That it was Hindu/Buddhist no more made it Indian than the arrival of Islam made it Arab. Yet official Malaysia cares little about the wealth of pre-Islamic history in the temples of Kedah’s Bujang valley – one was destroyed by a developer in 2013.

The great age of Malay writing had no problem with pre-Islamic times, even if some of it was mythology. The Sejarah Malayu (Malay annals) and Kedah’s own Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa both trace the royal bloodlines to the Macedonian Greek, Alexander the Great. So the Johor house itself partly has links via Melaka to Alexander (Iskandar).

Fact and fiction may be muddled but Johor like Kedah had a long Malay history before Islam and only ceased – along with the related Riau-Lingga sultanate now in Indonesia – to be an important port after the British took Singapore and Chinese and Europeans gradually supplanted Malays and Bugis in regional trade.

And, while Islam had existed in Malaysia for hundreds of years, it began to pick up momentum when the late Ayatollah Ali Khomeni, a Shia, sent shockwaves across the globe when he turned Iran into an Islamic state. Sunnis in Malaysia sat up and noticed. In 2001, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (with the willing helping hand of Anwar Ibrahim) sought to outflank the rural-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) by declaring that Malaysia was already an Islamic state. That catalyzed the growing turn to Arab-style Islam.

However, following Arabian examples is not only dangerous but often displays stunning ignorance of the diversity of Islamic experience and traditions. Knowledge of other Muslim countries is not a strong point of Malaysia’s religious authorities as witness the official attack on Christians using the name Allah to denote The One God, though this is used by Christians in the Arab world without objection – and also in Indonesia.

In such ignorant arrogance lie the seeds of the likes of the Taliban, destroyers of the great Buddhist monuments of Afghanistan, and of Daesh (Islamic State) which has destroyed much of the great pre-Islamic past of Palmyra in Syria. Of course the authorities in Malaysia are now far too rich and comfortable to go to such extremes. But the seeds are there.

The current forced identification of all Malays with Islam makes a nonsense of Malay history and is insulting to them. It also destroys the once-joyous cultural milieu characterized by P. Ramlee, the singer, dancer and film director who died, ignored, in 1973. But so long as the nation is in the hands of venal and hypocritical politicians who use Islam and racial preferences as their tools, there is scant chance of a revival of a Malay Malaysia as a literary, trading and justifiably proud nation.

28 thoughts on “Malaysia–HRH Sultan of Johor: Be Malay not Arab

  1. 1. God created human beings as various nations so that they know one another. No nation is better than another, except in point of reverence to the One True God.
    2. God sends his last prophet with a protected last scripture, the Quran, to guide all human beings. In that scripture, the belief in one Perfect God and sincere worship of Him (for man’s own good) is paramount.
    3. In the Quran, associating God with His creatures (including Prophet Muhammad) is an unpardonable sin, freedom of religion is to absolute, major crimes, like murder, are strictly prohibited, and sectarianism in prohibited, Shaking hands with women is NOT prohibited, nor is a woman’s hair part of her ‘aurat (nakedness). Thirty five years ago Muslim women in Malaysia did nor wear the tudung or head-cover. The innovation came with the so-called Islamic revolution in Iran.
    — Kassim Ahmad

  2. Fact is Islam do not play well with others, not since after the Golden Age. Since then, every design and practise of the religion is intended to be hegemonistic and hence unaccepting of others. It is impossible to separate the religion from its Arabic traditions and practises. The only rational option if the intention is not to be overwhelmed by Arabism then Secularity must be supreme governing principle and liberalism a necessary part of the Malay Muslim society. There is no other option.

  3. I am not a fan of Arabs culture but what I dont understand is that while we make a fuss about some people who want to copy Arabs culture ,we have no qualm by adopting wholeheartedly the Western culture .Just look the way women in Malaysia dressed themselves especially the Chinese women and ever increasing number of people with Christian names though they are not even Christians .Even the Sultan dressed in western attires most of the time and pick American hobby like owning the fancy truck.I guess we may sometime be blinded by our prejudice that we fail to see our own weakness sometimes.

  4. The declaration in 2001 that Malaysia is” already a Islamic State” by TDM
    is a treacheroius political hypocrisy. It violated not only the practice of the Malay culture, but also the multi-culturism of other Malaysians and the tenents of the Federal Constitution.

    HRH of Johor has clearly made his point with authority and correctness.

    Mahathir and those piliticians responsible should explain themselves.

  5. Quote:- “No nation is better than another, except in point of reverence to the One True God”

    Yea, same old I am holier than thou, or my God is godlier than your god.

    Grow up, please.

  6. ….In fact , Mahathir and those responsible must explain to the people, to sincerely help “Save Malaysia” from the misuse or abuse of power and position in misusing religion (here Islam)as a tool for personal or political mileage, resulting grave consequences to the country’s well-being.

  7. 1. I have differentiated the true Islam of the Quran and the practice by Prophet Muhammad and the early republican-democratic caliphates, from the deviated one. The first created the first great civilization of Islam. The second has felled Islam to its low level now, beginning from the 15th century.
    2. The Malays existed long before they became Muslims. They are well-known for their famous dress: the men with their songkok and teluk belanga, the women with their baju kurung and kebaya. After Islam, they still wear the same dress. The Arab jubah is a recent phenomenon.
    3. In Islam, there is no contradiction between the religious and the secular. Both are not opposites, but pairs.
    4. Pluralism is upheld in the Quran. Various nationalities and religions can co-exist and have co-existed in Muslim countries, although Islam is the religion sanctioned by God. Again, no man is perfect. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have deviated from their scriptures.
    — Kassim Ahmad

  8. If you call TM Net at 100 to complain about your internet service, 9 out of 10 you will get a Filipino or an Indonesian answering your call in English and helping you along…. same for MAXIS and same for most Credit Cards “Press 2 for English”… ever ask why is there this tendency to hire Filipinos and Indonesians to handle the English queries, Dato?

  9. Wayne
    Nobody God is more holier than somebody else God because there is only one God for everybody.Please grow out of your cynicism.

  10. “The Malays long existed before they become Muslims” .
    The probem is in Malaysia,
    Some become politicians.
    They become God-Allah and make Malay=Muslim, Muslim=Malay.

  11. Arab refugees from conflict areas rather go to Europe than to other Arab states. No Arab refugees want to go to Saudi Arabia. And yet Malays want to emulate them. Go figure.

  12. Many people like Abdul Jalil above assume that the casual wear and corporate wear that most Malaysians have adopted are evidence of western culture. They do not realize that Europeans and Americans had abandoned their cultural dress even before the war. How many Scotsmen or Asians go strutting around in KL with Kilts and Tartans? Who goes to work with feathers in their Italian caps or German Suspenders and shorts with ankle-length stockings and leather boots ? Any ladies out there top-to-toe with bonnets, mother hubbards and dainty parasols ? Or wooden Clogs and Nelson hats with silk breeches ?

    The west had actually cast away their cultural appearances for a practical no-nonsense way of dressing in a neat fast-moving world . Bill Gates even started the trend of jeans, loafers and pullovers for office-wear. I would prefer fisherman sandals or Japanese slippers any day, with skimpy T-shirts and yoga pants. None of these are specifically Western by definition.

  13. Who the fcuk allow you to judge others. Just take care of yourself and stop being a busybody. Most posters here contradict themselves. Go look at what post.

  14. True religions unite the believer and non-believer.

    The problems with the Malays/Muslims are they politically obssessed. As everything is political to them, whatever they say or do, they are making a political statement eg. their ‘ view ‘ of what is proper, acceptable and/or decent clothing, food – halal/non-halal, proper and acceptable conduct and behavior and etc..

    The excessive use of race and religion by some Malay/Muslim’s politicians for narrow, divisive and destructive political purposes over the decades had destroyed trust and social cohesion.

  15. People like abdul jalil is the archetypal of malay muslim mentality. Wearing jeans and collecting trucks are ‘western way’ of doing things. Please get off the internet, switch your macbook off and bin your 50 inch hdtv first before making such idiotic and racist comment.”chinese girls in wear western clothing”.

    Until muslims in the world stop thinking that they are superior than others, most of our world problems are unsolvable.

  16. Why drag the chinese woman dressing into Arab culture. Did they make a fuss about Arab culture. What they like to wear is their freedom. Their religion n even their parent could not impose what to wear on them. Could anybody prove their wearing make them lag behind the others.

  17. sotong

    You must be naive to think that only Malay/Muslim politicians use race and
    religion.Every politician of various shades of colour uses race,religion and nationalism to garner support for themselves .Its not because they believe in whatever they are lauding for but these are just as means to achieve power for themselves.They may call it as national interests,preserving the cultural heritage of the Chinese/Indians or to protect the Ketuanan Melayu but the real motives behind all these are just to satisfy their cravings for power.Unfortunately there are people like you who actually believe in whatever they are sayings.

  18. All are to be blamed. Things have gone so bad that nothing we do can reverse the situation unless God Himself, if there is truly one.

  19. Prophet Mohammed wore dress of his time and so did Jesus.

    If the Prophet were to be reborn some 50 years back, he would probably have gone to the US to obtain a Masters or PhD in comparative religions and go on with his excellent missionary work of spreading Islam. What would his dress code be? Full suit or Arabic robes depending on the place and audience he is addressing like the many highly respected Islamic preachers and scholars do in the West and elsewhere.

    Changing with time is unchangeable and the template comprises a mixture or fusion of the old and new.

  20. All great truths begin as blasphemies – George Bernard Shaw

    Why do billions of people still cling to superstitions and medieval beliefs? When it is pitch dark at night, one is reasonable and sensible to depend on a blind man to help one move around. However, when day breaks, it will be a stupid person who continues to depend on the blind man to move around.

    Modern science and knowledge has given many answers to phenomena we once attributed to the wrath of god or god’s will or action. We don’t burn witches anymore for diseases or illnesses – understanding of viruses and germ theories saw to that. We don’t sacrifice people any more to appease god when earthquakes and volcanoes erupted – plate tectonics and understanding of geology saw to that.

    Yet much of the religious nonsense still abound. Why do people in Malaysia cover themselves a la the Arabs? It makes sense for the Arabs to keep the dust and desert sand out of one’s eyes and hair.

    Do we want to “wash” our bottom with sand after a dump as the desert people do?
    Do we want to drink camel urine?

  21. George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said ”All great truths begin as blasphemies”. If I read his mind right, he could have, in the same vein, also meant that all blasphemies end up as canned untruths. In our part of the world, the Muslim community, I believe, totally rejects the notion of being gifted with 72 virgins at the next world for every jihadist act committed in the name of Islam. There has not been one known case of such instance here. But in the Arab world it may be different with many jihadists deaths.

    If we leave out the Arab world, we may see a different picture. All Asians, including the Muslims, do not die for religion as per se. They may sacrifice their lives for other causes that masy have nothing to do with religion – The Japanese Kamikaze pilots (for country), the self-immolating Buddhists monks in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, (for country against American aggression) and Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (for an independant country of their own)

    It is funny that the Westerners do not figure in any such suicidal heroics at all.

  22. The

    You seem to base everything on so called rational thinking.You question why the Muslims in Malaysia want to wear Arab clothings and I am wondering the same thing too but I also question why in God’s name that people in the tropical climate with its hot and humid climate dont seem to mind wearing suits and ties while I am sweating like crazy wearing a short-sleeve shirt?I guess different people have different idols they would like to imitate and it doesnt matter if it makes any sense at all.

  23. /// Abdul Jalil April 2, 2016 at 5:23 pm
    You seem to base everything on so called rational thinking. ///

    Mea culpa. But I can’t think of other way of thinking or unthinking. Do you prefer irrational thinking and superstitions? Or blind faith.

  24. Superfluous religious garments are always subject to constraints of law. There is no stopping a Muslim man from wearing a burqa-like outfit with the face veiled like some Muslim women do. It may be an individual’s right too. It may not matter to the individual when others look at him askance. But when it comes to public identification and checks he has to unveil himself, religious strictures not withstanding.

    People here may wear suit for style and looks but more importantly for the air-condition comfort available in office and shopping mall complexes. Coat and tie was invented by the Europeans to keep themselves cozy and comfortable during long periods of winter and autumn. When this nice-feeling environment is replicated in confined spaces in the tropics by air-conditioning, suit becoming a dress-code choice for many is not surprising. It has no religious connotation.

  25. Hawking Eye

    Isnt it silly to make your aircond so cold in tropical climate and then wear coat and tie to keep youself warm?

  26. @ Abdul Jalil

    What a bright question to ask.

    Even Arabs in dessert lands wear suits to cool themselves in aircon comfort and so do the high heeled Muslims (and others) in Malaysia. It may be silly when you wear suit when there is only high ceiling fans as was the case in government offices in Malaya and Singapore in the 1940′ and 50’s.

    Airconditioners were introduced in the tropics for a purpose.

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