QUICK TAKE: An Umno blog’s prejudiced take in recent days implying that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad – his family hails from Kerala, southwest India – was not a “real Malay” begs the question of who a “real Malay” is.
Three misconceptions arise here.
Firstly, there’s a misconception that since there’s a Malay language, there must be a Malay race. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Malay was created from a Cambodian dialect as a lingua franca, for the archipelago, by Hindus and Buddhists from India. Malai in Tamil means hill, denoting the hill country from where the Cambodian dialect originated.
Secondly, there’s a misconception that only people from the archipelago and Arabs could be Malays. If Arabs could be Malays, why not other people?
Thirdly, there’s a misconception that Malays are Bumiputera (sons of the soil) in the peninsula. If the Malays are not Orang Asal in the peninsula, how could they be Bumiputera?
Only the Orang Asli in the peninsula are Bumiputera – the Federal Constitution uses the term Aborigine – just as only the Orang Asal in Sabah and Sarawak are Bumiputera.
The fact is that the term Malay was codified, for administrative reasons, by the British in Malaya as an umbrella term to cover the Muslims in the peninsula and Singapore who used Malay to communicate with each other.
These Muslims knew themselves as Bugis, Javanese, Minang, Aceh and “Others” and for many years resisted the Malay term as applied to them.
Not so long ago, even as late as in the years before the May 13 1969 searing race riots, a “Malay” would punch anyone in the face if referred to as “Melayu”.
Mahathir listed himself down as Indian Muslim when he applied to the University of Malaya in Singapore to do medicine. The proverbial cat was out of the bag when the late Lee Kuan Yew reportedly gave the late Sultan of Johor a copy of Mahathir’s application form to enter the university in Singapore.
In any case, this is not so important except to illustrate the fact that Malay was not a term universally accepted by among those people who the British insisted on calling Malays for administrative reasons.
The term Malay has been defined under Article 160 of the Federal Constitution:
“Malay” means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and – (a) was before Merdeka Day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or is on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or (b) is the issue of such a person.
Obviously, this means that not every Tom, Dick and Harry, although Muslim and speaking Malay, can be regarded as Malay.
Birth and place of birth and descent determines who is Malay and who isn’t. Unless it can be proven that Mahathir, 90, was in fact not born in Malaya or Singapore before Merdeka and/or does not meet the other criteria stated in the Federal Constitution, it can’t be said that he’s not a “real Malay”. – The Ant Daily