In Defence of Indian Muslims Mahathir

 

the man with of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Youth Movement (Gepima)
 Mahathir’s mind, Indian Muslims have an essential choice: be Indian or be Muslim. He is not asking them to leave Islam, he is telling them that if they are less India-oriented and emphasise their Muslim identity more, they can enjoy the privileges associated with being a ‘Malay’. He might as well say: “Look at me… I am a Muslim and have become a Malay and the sky is the limit”. What an inspirational speech.
The problem is that Mahathir was speaking to Malaysians in 2008 and not 1948. In an intensely ‘racialised’ environment with a bureaucracy that is very ‘race-conscience’, it is simply not good enough to be more Muslim than Indian.
Many Indian Muslims have been asked to produce their parent’s birth certificates before they can qualify for privileges reserved for the ‘bumiputeras’. When it is learned that they have Indian parents, they fail to obtain the desired scholarships.
 It will be a long time before we can get away from framing our discourse in terms of race and religion. I am confident we can, if we all focus on justice, democracy and freedom. These issues unite us all and make race and religion quite irrelevant. I do not deny that race and religion define who we are. But that should not divide us.

If unity is our objective, then we need to get out of the race-religion mindset and focus on our common quest for justice, democracy and freedom. The Indian versus Muslim kind of argument is not helpful. The Mamaks can be both. They are already Malaysians, only that today we are all led by a regime that still uses the divide and rule means to retain power and keep us separate, each in our own cubicle. After 52 years, one would have thought we would have overcome the issue of identity in our politics.–Din Merican

Members of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Youth Movement (Gepima)

want to be known as Malays and not Indians.
And they do not think this is an outrageous request since the Federal Constitution states that an Indian is a Malay “if he professes the Muslim religion, habitually speaks Malay and conforms to Malay custom”.
These traits are practised by Muslims of Indian origin today, claimed Gepima president Mohamed Kader Ali.
“I am a second generation Malaysian and I can safely say that from wedding rituals to the food we eat and the language we speak, we conform to Malay customs all the way.

“As such, Gepima is appealing to the government to streamline the laws and recognise Muslims born after independence as Malays in their birth certificate.

“We have been facing this problem for the past 50 years.

“We have written several letters to the National Registration Department but it keeps saying that it can’t do anything about this.”

Kader’s son, 24-year-old Syed Osman Mohamed, cited an incident last August when he went to the Registrar of Companies to apply for a business permit.

“In the forms that I filled up, I stated Malay as my race and Islam as my religion. But the officer called me up and asked me to change it to Indian, based on how I looked.

“He only had my MyKad and it does not state there whether I am Indian or not,” Syed Osman said.

“We feel uncomfortable to be known as Indians, because people automatically think we are Hindus when we are actually Muslim.”

Kader added that Muslims of Indian origin suffered an inferiority complex by being regarded as Indians.

“Our children do not even know how to speak Tamil.

“They only converse in Malay and our wives wear baju kurung or kebaya nowadays, no more the saree.”

A section of the ethnic Indian Muslim community living inMalaysia want to be known as Malays rather than Indians and have petitioned the government to streamline the laws accordingly.

Members of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Youth Movement (Gepima) want to be known as Malays and not Indians since the the country’s constitution states that an Indian is a Malay “if he professes the Muslim religion, habitually speaks Malay and conforms to Malay custom”.
“I am a second generation Malaysian and I can safely say that from wedding rituals to the food we eat and the language we speak, we conform to Malay customs all the way,” said Gepima president Mohamed Kader Ali.
He said since these traits are widely practised by Muslims of Indian origin today, “Gepima is appealing to the government to streamline the laws and recognise Muslims born after independence as Malays in their birth certificate.”
“We have written several letters to the National Registration Department but it keeps saying that it can’t do anything about this,” Ali was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times online. “We have been facing this problem for the past 50 years.”
Ethnic Indians in Malaysia are mostly Hindus with origin from Tamil Nadu. They have become increasingly vocal with claims that they are marginalised in this multi-racial country.
Syed Osman Mohamed, Ali’s 24-year-old son, said we “feel uncomfortable to be known as Indians, because people automatically think we are Hindus when we are actually
Muslim.”
Ali said our children do not even know how to speak Tamil. “They only converse in Malay and our wives wear baju kurung or kebaya nowadays, no more the saree,” he said.

Indian or Muslim, you cannot be both to be Malaysian!
Just when one hopes for clarity of vision or some astute observation from our senior statesmen, out comes this really strange statement. But to be fair, what was the context and what was the situation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad was referring to?
Former premier Mahathir never minces his words. He tells it as it is. He also does not need the government to “protect” him. He calls a spade a spade. He gives as good as he gets.
In this case, he was speaking at a function organised by the Kadayalannur Muslim Society, telling a group of people who still define themselves by their place of origin to be less tied to their ‘homeland’ and instead focus on being more Malaysian.
He said that for 1Malaysia to succeed, those of migrant origins must be less attached to their homelands. By this, he was referring to a metaphysical attachment to the “mother country”, the reference point that migrant societies often use to anchor their new-found identities in their country of adoption.
To be Malaysian, to Mahathir, means giving up this emotional link to one’s country of origin. He also said that the Indian Muslims must decide whether to be Indian or Muslim. In the context of his speech, this means deciding whether one was Indian as an ethnic category or Malay, as Muslims are defined constitutionally.
Almost immediately, Mahathir was condemned as racist and Islamically “unenlightened”. To my mind, our ex-premier was merely stating a fact when speaking about Indian Muslims. He could very well be referring to himself or speaking from self-experience.
To be or not to be
Malaysia is a very diverse country with a very complex history. Indian Muslim refers to a very wide group. It could refer to a person of Indian ancestry who is also a Muslim; or it can refer to a long-time domiciled group whose way of life is the result of many years of integration and, who at some point in time, have been accepted to be part of the wider Malay Muslim community.
Readers must also be reminded that Mahathir was speaking in Penang, where there is a large Indian Muslim community that have for more than 200 years contributed to the development of the state, particularly in Georgetown.
Like the Peranakan Chinese in Malacca, some Indian Muslims no longer speak Tamil or their inherited ‘mother-tongue’. Constitutionally, they can be considered ‘Malays’. What is particularly interesting here is that historically the definition of Malay as “a person who habitually speaks Malay, practices a Malay way of life and is a Muslim” was created in Penang in the 1920s.
In fact, the Penang Malay Association (now called Pemenang) defined its members in this fashion to avoid the more exclusionary definition then prevailing in Singapore.
In those days, the British colonial government accepted representations from various ‘ethnic’ groups and it was worthwhile for the more urbanised ‘Malays’ of Arab and Indian ancestry to identify themselves as ‘Malays’.
When we became an independent country with the introduction of electoral politics and race-based parties, it became imperative that the ‘Malay’ category be boosted by co-opting groups that may not previously be considered Malay. In fact, in the pre-World War II Pan-Malayan Malay Convention, the Penang Malay Association was excluded precisely on the grounds that its members were not ‘Malays’.
So, to Mahathir’s mind, Indian Muslims have an essential choice: be Indian or be Muslim. He is not asking them to leave Islam, he is telling them that if they are less India-oriented and emphasise their Muslim identity more, they can enjoy the privileges associated with being a ‘Malay’. He might as well say: “Look at me… I am a Muslim and have become a Malay and the sky is the limit”. What an inspirational speech.
The problem is that Mahathir was speaking to Malaysians in 2008 and not 1948. In an intensely ‘racialised’ environment with a bureaucracy that is very ‘race-conscience’, it is simply not good enough to be more Muslim than Indian.
Many Indian Muslims have been asked to produce their parent’s birth certificates before they can qualify for privileges reserved for the ‘bumiputeras’. When it is learned that they have Indian parents, they fail to obtain the desired scholarships.

The conundrum of 1Malaysia

Mahathir is not racist. He cannot be because he does not believe in race. As a medical doctor and a man of science, he knows that scientific research into the human gnome has made race theories, even the ones employed in his famous book ‘The Malay Dilemma’, obsolete.
His most recent statement about Indian Muslims confirms this but he should go one step further and help UMNO make the transformation from a ‘Malay’ to a ‘Malaysian’ party.
After all, if one can be less ‘Indian’ and more ‘Muslim’, surely a ‘Malay’ than be less ‘Malay’ and more ‘Malaysian’? Of course, Mahathir will say that being Malay is being Malaysian.
Here is the conundrum: the 1Malaysia formula is an integrative one – where everyone should come together based on our common national experience. If that was true, then we all have to give a little. This means everyone – the Malays included.
Confused? It now seems that the 1Malaysia rhetoric has managed to create ambivalence. This is the only way the government can win back the middle ground and yet retain the race-based political set-up.
But you cannot fool all the people all of the time. The reality is that so long as the political structure is based onoutdated interpretations of ‘race’, and is therefore very narrowly race-based, nobody will be “allowed” to be more Malaysian.
Action speaks louder than words, even when one does not mince one’s words. For the BN to truly reflect their own 1Malaysia rhetoric, they have to become more integrated. The political parties in the BN must bite the bullet just as Pakatan Rakyat has done in its first convention. The BN really does not have a choice. It must lead by example – integrate or bite the dust.
As for the Indian Muslims, in a non-sectarian society, theywould not have to make the choice that Mahathir has put to them. They can be both Indian Muslim and Malaysian.
One can only hope that the scales have fallen from the eyes of all Malaysians. None of us need to set aside our ethnic heritage for scholarships or other privileges, and Indian Muslims would not have to be asked to be less ‘Indian’ and more ‘Muslim/Malay’.
NEIL KHOR has recently completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge. He is co-author of ‘Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia’ (2008).
.Coming to the issuse of “Indians”.Let’s annalyse the term “Indian”.This term was coined to have a collective indentity against the colonial british.In reality it’s fusion of many races Aryans,dravidans,mouguals (if you are going to include muslims,there are signifiant number of them in india with moorish,arab,persian blood-line from coastal cities like kerala,maharastra and etc).They speak very diverse lauguage aryan laugages like hindi,sindhi,punjabhi and dravidan lauguage like tamil,telenku and so on.In short datuk samy velu and karpal singh, both their ancestors had a entirely different DNA,lauguages and customs.even before the pre-colonial era,deepavali was not widely celebrated throghout india.In states like tamil nadu,their main festival celebrated was pongal,in kerela,it was onam,in punjab,it was vasisakhi..later on indian govt forged a common indenity to nationalise “deepavali” to be celebrated by all hindus.The term “Hindu” is very diverse,consisting of many religions like shaivatisim (worship of sivan),vaishanavisim (worship of vishnu) and so on..The reality there are many people,who might have indian ancestor’s like dr mahatir but they eat and breathe malay.today,the term “indian” which was used to indentify people with indian ancestors in singapore and malaysia.Back,in india it’s only one’s nationality,not your race.I do agree there might be some ethnic tamil muslim not tamil speaking muslims.who would like to portray themself as malay.It is bit odd.About me, my grandfather (married my grandma who was malay)came from sindh,which was initially part of india,evetually become pakistan.I am muslim with arab,punjabhi and some malay blood.I might be more related to karpal singh than samy velu,I mean from my DNA.I can’t indetify myself with ethnic tamil or punjabhi’s.So,I would have go to my closest kinsman,that is the malays.
I don’t think it’s fair to label me as a indian.There are also significant number of tamil-speaking muslims,not ethnic tamil muslims..there is difference.some of them can speak tamil,but their dna is arab,moorish(it’s race orginating from northen africa,they are as dark as tamils,they are used by many ancient muslim kingdoms in india as sepoys)they are not ethnic tamils,some of them even have malay blood-line.so the term “indian” remain quite contervisal.end of the day,whom u indetify with that alone matters.I know of many ethnic tamil muslim who are proud of their tamil roots,have vast knowledge in this field

 

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