Monday, 5 May 2008

The "Mamak" Dilemma


"We are all Muslims. In the mosque, we pray behind the same imam, recite the same prayers and after we finish, we 'bersalaman' (shake hands). Yet, when we leave the mosque, our children are not given the same educational and economic opportunities. And we become divided."

- Hj. Dhajudeen Shahul Hameed, Sec Gen of PERMIM.

"Our children are literally like Muslim Malays .... contributing to to the country's economy and welfare and we have always supported the ruling government. All we ask for is the Bumiputra status so that our children can get into the public higher institution of learning."
- Dr. Hj. Syed Ibrahim, President of PERMIM.

"The Malays have three characteristics which form the basis of their strength.
Firstly, Malay is not an ethnic but a cultural entity. Everybody can become a Malay as long as they have the three characteristics: first is Islam, second - they speak Malay, and third, they adopt the Malay culture & tradition. If they have these three elements, even a European can be Malay."
- Professor Hashim Musa.


The above were quoted in the May 08 issue of Forward Magazine. Three different articles were written to highlight the "plight" of the Malaysian Indian Muslim community (click here for website).
The articles were entitled :-
  1. Give us Bumiputra status and we can be one - Indian Muslims, by Zakiah Koya.
  2. The 'Mamak' Complex , by Shahfizal Musa.
  3. Uniting Factor: Race or Religion? - by Shahfizal Musa.
What I'd gather from the above is, Indian Muslim community in Malaysia are indeed feeling a little conflicted.
On one hand, they wish to be part of the Indian community so as to be able to preserve their rich heritage, and on the other, wish to be recognized as part of the Malay or Bumiputra community.
They have also taken their argument for the bumiputra status to the next level - by projecting the need for Muslim solidarity (and rightfully so).

While I applaud their pride in their heritage (unlike some UMNO Baru members who'd go to great lengths to do otherwise), it strikes me that the arguments presented are at best shallow, and hypocritical.

Despite their eloquence in demanding for their assimilation into "mainstream" Bumiputra/Malay community (while insisting on carrying the cultural baggage along) for the sake of economic gains, there was no arguments to condemn the very "evil" that has denied them the benefits of equal right.
On the contrary, they have justified the very evils (on religious unity/ grounds), by coveting the fruits of Racism and economic apartheid (which I thought was unIslamic). Maybe the short-cut to economic prosperity is too tempting .....

In all the arguments presented, there was hardly any argument presented with regard to the need for a Malaysian Malaysia.
Many have conveniently forgotten or have chosen to ignore the reality and evil, that has fractured the Nation as a whole over the last 25 yrs.
Many Indian Muslims today conveniently forget why the Muslims in MIC were sidelined, and thus not being able to enjoy the fruits of this corrupt system of divide and rule. They forget (or ignore) the reasons as to why why the Hindu majority sought to keep whatever little they had to themselves.
As a result of being dispossessed within the political power structure of MIC, they have chosen to "jump ship", and now seek membership in Malay political organisations (read Umno/ Umno Baru).

Mr. Dhajudeen and Dr. Syed say that they have contributed to the economy!
How sweet - Now can I know which community hasn't?
As for wanting access to education, I'd like to know if there's any community that doesn't want the same!
How convenient to demand it in the name of Islamic solidarity, while ignoring the Non-Muslims ....

Have any of them acknowledged the evils of Racism and Religious bigotry practised under the veil of the NEP (or the MDP)?
No they haven't!
They have ignored the evil that has successfully punished them for preserving their identity and heritage, and now stake a claim to their right to be part of it. In fact, they subtly claim that the Govt is unfair to them, for disregarding their "Muslim identity", which is equated to "being Malay".
Instead they have gone on to quote history, about how they brought lots of Indian culture, Islam to the Malays and being pioneers in MIC.

Many have also chosen to deny their heritage - as Zakiah said,"Many of those who had joined Umno but deemed to be Muslims of Indian origin, altogether refuse to acknowledge their ancestry for fear that this might sideline them in the Malay Party".
(We all know at least one person who fits this description, right?)
While many Malays who are accommodating may accept the Indian Muslims into their fold, to demand that they accept even those who carry plenty of cultural baggage is I believe a little far fetched.

Look at the Kuttys or the Maideens or Moideens .... they have successfully cut off all links to their rich heritage and embraced the Malay culture whole-heartedly.
In fact, many of these guys who have so successfully assimilated themselves into the Malay community that they can hardly speak their Malayalam or Tamil mother-tongue anymore. They not only speak like Malays, they even think and look like Malays (I'm not sure if everybody in Umno fits this description, though ....) - and voila - they are Bumiputras, who are entitled to the God-ordained "halal" percentage of shares, quotas and discounts of the NEP!
That's the way you do it, Mr. Dhajudeen/ Dr. Syed Ibrahim - not by being proud Indians or Malaysians!
Not by condemning the evils that destroy the nation, but by joining them in their exploits - Islamic/ethical or not. You need to be able to deny your heritage completely, and embrace something new!

Moving on, I'd like to give my two cents worth on Prof Hashim's comment on Malayness being a "cultural" & not an ethnic entity.
Apparently Being Malay consists of being Muslim, speaking Malay and practicing Malay traditions/customs. I've got no problems with the latter two .... but Islam as a crucial determinant of race & culture?
I do agree that it does play a role in determining the evolution of the cultural practices that characterizes a "race". However, that it is the prime determinant of a "race" or "Malayness" - I have my doubts.

Many Malay customs/traditions and cultural practices and arts aren't necessarily Islamic.
How is it that one can be practising "unIslamic" customs, and yet have Islam as a criteria for Malayness?
Would the Malays of old (the ancestors of todays Muslim Malays) who were Hindus, be today be considered Non-Malay?
Or is it that the "Malay" only came into existence upon embracing Islam?
What would a person be, (eg. Lina Joy, or Ayah Pin followers) should he/she renounce Islam?
Would they become this alien cultural entity called Non-Malay/ Non-Bumiputra?
I would really appreciate it if somebody could enlighten me on these matters.

Lastly, I'd urge the Indian Muslim community to take pride in being who they are, look at the big picture and reject the very evils that have alienated them from many an economic benefits, rather than being party to it.
Do not sell out your heritage, or sense of justice and fair play for economic gains.
Embrace Humanity and pluralism, and reject economic apartheid.
Refrain from joining a club of robbers, just becos you were robbed of your human rights by them.
If you do so, you would join the rest of Malaysians who see the ills of the nation, and are trying to make a change.
Remember that you are not alone in this struggle for justice.
Let us work together for a better future for all and sundry - not just the privileged few.
Thank you.

The usage of the Term "Mamak" in the Title of this write-up, isn't meant to offend any Malaysian in the Indian Muslim community.
It was only a repetition of the term used in the article entitled the "The Mamak Complex", and thus isn't intended as anything more than what the title meant in Forward magazine.

If anyone deems it "offensive", I'd edit it upon request.
Thank You.