(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=f!=void 0?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(f==void 0)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=e>0?new b(e):new b;window.jstiming={Timer:b,load:p};if(a){var c=a.navigationStart;c>0&&e>=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; c>0&&e>=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.chrome.csi().startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a==null&&window.gtbExternal&&(a=window.gtbExternal.pageT()),a==null&&window.external&&(a=window.external.pageT,d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.external.startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a&&(window.jstiming.pt=a)}catch(g){}})();window.tickAboveFold=function(b){var a=0;if(b.offsetParent){do a+=b.offsetTop;while(b=b.offsetParent)}b=a;b<=750&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

 Race, Religion, And Royalty:  The Barnacles On Malay Society


Second of Four Parts


Introduction:   The Race Barnacle


Racial conflict is a recent phenomenon in Malaysia, the consequence of the influx of Indian and Chinese immigrants brought in by the British colonials during the early part of the 20th Century to man their tin mines and rubber plantations.


The worst racial “incident” was the May 1969 race riot, worst both in terms of the number of casualties as well as the impact it had on the nation’s collective psyche. The latter in part was because it took place at the center of power of the new nation.


Today, conflict over race is displayed under the euphemistic banner of Ketuanan Melayu, or crudely put, Malay hegemony. Visit the many huge shopping malls of Klang Valley during Hari Raya, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. The lavishness of Christmas and Chinese New Year eclipses that of Hari Raya, making Ketuanan Melayu but a cruel hoax. Likewise, drive through the major cities of Malaysia and you would have to look hard to see signs of Malay enterprises.


Nonetheless Malay nationalists, the intelligent and sophisticated as well the ones less so, pin their hope and legitimacy on that long-ago geographic name of Peninsular Malaysia, Tanah Melayu–Land of the Malays–to justify their Ketuanan Melayuaspirations. Much less clear is what exactly do those nationalists want with their Ketuanan Melayu. Pogrom against non-Malays? Deprive them of their properties and citizenship?


Before the arrival of the immigrants, there were of course no racial conflicts. Conveniently forgotten however, were the frequent and on a much lesser scale inter-tribal and inter-clan clashes among Malays. The deadliest and most protracted occurred across the Strait of Malacca in Sumatra–the Aceh Civil War. That started way back during the heyday of Dutch colonial rule and ended, at least officially, only in 2005, nearly a century and a half later.


Less noted was the religious component to that conflict. The Aceh fervently believed that their interpretation of Islam was the only valid one, the rest were but adulterations of the faith. That confirms my central thesis that when the second element is injected, in this case variations within Islamic theology, the conflict becomes more deadly, protracted, and volatile.


The Religious Barnacle

Less recent and less traumatic was the conflict over Islam among Malays early in the last century, between the more progressive Kaum Muda (The Young Generation) and the (not unexpected) more conservative Kaum Tua (Old Generation). Their skirmishes were less physical, more theological, with their proponents championing their causes and polemics in their respective publications and religious institutions, not on the streets or in the kampungs.


Today that conflict is being resurrected, only this time the labels have changed to “liberal” or “progressive” Islam versus the conservatives and the orthodox. Unlike the earlier Kaum Muda/Kaum Tua conflict, this time the other two equally incendiary elements of race and royalty, as well as socioeconomic class, are being injected into it, making the schism potentially that much more dangerous.


Islam is more than a religion for Malays; it defines Malayness. The constitution is explicit in that a Malay is someone who professes Islam. Malayness is thus not only a social, cultural, or biological construct in Malaysia but also legal.


There is more. Unlike other Malaysians, Malays are subject to, in addition to the country’s secular laws, the Syariah. In the beginning, the Syariah courts were but a minor and very junior player in the country’s judicial system, concerned primarily with inheritance and aspects of family law among Muslims. Today, in tandem with the increasing Islamization, Syariah courts are on par with secular ones. There are those, and not just the zealots, who would have the Syariah override the constitution, on the specious argument that the former is “God’s laws,” the latter, man-made. Even more remarkable, there are few restraints or expressed opposition (except not unexpectedly from non-Muslims) to that aspiration.


When Islam entered the Malay world in the 13th Century, its assimilation into local society was peaceful and seamless. Both ruler and the ruled saw the evident superiority of this new belief and embraced it with great enthusiasm. The change between pre-Islamic and Islamic Malay society and culture was even more dramatic and transformational, a shift from animist and polytheistic belief into a monotheistic one. Islam also brought in the written word into the hitherto oral-only Malay tradition. Anytime that happens, it brings about a transformational change for the better to that culture.


Those observations notwithstanding, the reality is that Islam is not synonymous with Malay. My earliest culture shock came as a young boy holidaying with my family in Port Dickson in the 1950s when the country was still under colonial rule. One evening while strolling on the beach I saw a group of young Malay girls chatting away but dressed in the traditional black nun’s habit. This was the days when Malay women had not yet taken on the hijab. In case I had any doubt that they were not Muslims, they all carried the Holy Bible in their hands, and hung across their chests, their very visible crucifixes.


They were Christian Malays from across the Strait of Malacca in Sumatra. They were no less a Malay than I am.


With heavy state involvement at all levels in Malaysia today, Islam is also a massive bureaucracy, with religious functionaries held in high esteem not because of their piety or knowledge but because of their state imprimatur. Peruse the civil honor lists at both state and federal levels. A disproportionate number goes to these religious functionaries. They have become the handmaidens of their political masters, a manifestation of a vast and fast expanding pernicious ulama-state complex. When there was an unexpected change in government as following the 2018 General Election, the whole religious bureaucracy at all levels was disrupted.


This elevated status accorded to religious functionaries extends to other institutions. The honor of being a Professor Emeritus is heaped disproportionately on those from the Islamic Studies Departments. Young Malays could secure a scholarship for religious studies in Egypt much easier than for an engineering course at a local university.


Those with religious credentials are well compensated by the state. What is surprising and not widely acknowledged is that those few in the private sector, especially banking, are also well rewarded for putting their blessings on financial instruments and transactions to make them “Syariah compliant.” Never mind that they know zilch about economics or modern business and financial practices. If they become too stringent or try to be a purist, the banks could always hire another religious scholar. There is no shortage of them. All that Citibank needs to tap the Islamic market and offer “Syariah-compliant” mortgages and loans is to have these ulama certify their products as such, and magically they would become halal.


Never mind that those Syariah-compliant financial products cost customers much more than the usual commercial ones. “Interest-free” Syariah-complaint “Islamic” mortgages cost as much as 300 basis points more than conventional loans. Comparisons are made much more difficult if not impossible as those interest-free loans have myriad hidden administrative fees tagged on.


Despite that, these Islamic financial products are popular. Islam sells with Malays; hence the rush by “secular” banks to enter the field.


Next:  Pernicious influence of Islamism on Education (Third of Four Parts)


Post a Comment

<< Home