Forgotten Traits of the Malays

Dome, KLCC – Amidst the melting pot of ethnicities in the hustle and bustle of modern Kuala Lumpur, the fate of the Malays has been one of the most concerning issues raised time and again. In a keynote address for the “The Malay Dilemma: Perspective and Conclusion” symposium, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made an honest statement that the Malays today are caught in the shackles of dilemma where they are apprehensive in voicing out their interests due to fear of being dubbed as racists.

More often than not, the Malays who retain their identity are subjected to be perceived in negative nuances – lazy, green eyed, vengeful, busybody and also another term that Tun Mahathir would always use; dilemma. Even though we do encounter such traits, not every Malay would fit this depiction. All of those commonly highlighted denominators have reflected that the Malay culture and identity lack positive and civilisational characteristics. It is as if to say that when one portrays his Malayness, he is weak, backward or humiliating. Perhaps this explains why some Malays opt to present themselves other than their Malay identity.

Many have forgotten that the Malay culture is rich with positive values and altruistic norms that are in parallel with Islamic values. Culture is a set of ideological and material products of a society that is inherited from one generation to another. It gives a person a form of guidance on the best ways of leading his daily life and it also influences his sense of individuality.

As in the context of the Malay culture, positive values are also illuminated in its traditional linguistic inheritances such as the pepatah Melayu, pantun, syair or folklorics tales. These textual sources would evince that actually respect, altruism and “berhalus” are the key elements of the Malay culture whether in the aspects of communication or behaviour. Nevertheless, it is a pity that these crucial elements have recently ceased to be projected as the true Malay culture and identity.

The preservation of a society’s culture is pertinent because it is a representation of the society’s identity that makes it distinctive from other ethnic groups in the world. The Quran has mentioned that :

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” – (49:13)

Allah has created different races for us to recognise each other and also as proof of His Greatness as the Creator of this realm. Each race has its own inherent advantages which may be caused by their genetics or culture. For example, it is said that the Arabs were chosen to spread Islam because of their strong brotherhood spirit in their qabilah system and their amazing memorisation capabilities, hence the initial transmission of Quran and Hadeeth through memorisation without scripture. No race in this world is perfect but there are always the pros and cons to everything in this world. The only perfect existence is its Creator.

In touring a few states in The Republic of China last year, I was impressed by the Chinese people as a whole. The people of China are highly dilligent in preserving their arts, culture and identity; be it the Hans or other minority groups. You can see how they adopt the ancient Chinese wisdoms formulated by Sun Tzu, Confucianism and other social or royal scholars that they have inherited for thousands of years. They practice it in their business strategies, decision-making and even Public Relations. The people of China are very respectful towards others and they really emphasize the elements of their culture in everything. Even their dining spoons are culturally artistic with exquisite oriental touch.

In the evolution of civilization which is susceptible to the usurpation of modern life, societies must alter their attitudes in order to stay competitive in this changing world. However, change does not mean we must lose our distinctive features because our uniqueness is actually our most valuable asset of international survival. Just like extinct species of flora and fauna, they are needed to sustain the stability of the ecological system.

It is undeniable that the Malays do have its flaws but it is also our responsibility to restore the Malay ethics and morality that our predecessors have long taught us. Rather than reiterating negative characteristics, let us together incalculate the traditions of adab and budi bahasa in our future generation. Let us find ways of curing diseases such as laziness or vengance and build a positive culture amongst us for the sake of our religion and nation. May Allah give us Guidance, insyaAllah.

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