February 26, 2024


The Truth must be told no matter what so Justice can live!

Malay – Muslim Identity caught between Arabization, Modern Secularism & Traditional Heritage?

Day before yesterday, I happened to be at the Hospital Kuala Lumpur to give my blood samples prior to my scheduled left eye cataract surgery mid March @ next month.

There were three Malay guys seated at a table opposite me and there was this chap in his 50’s sort of preaching loudly to his table mates about how he hates people here in Malaysia who sport kopiah’s @ skull caps to show that they are Muslims!

The noisy fella was sporting a baseball cap and looked like one of those ‘men’s tonic’ peddlers you’d see around Chow Kit Road sidewalks. 

Sample image of a sidewalk peddler

I don’t know whether the idiot was referring to me but I just ignored him and continued with having my light breakfast after having given my first blood sample to the Pathology Lab (after refraining from food or drinks from the night before). 

I couldn’t get distracted or into an unnecessary argument with a dumb-ass like that for I would need to go give my blood sample again after having my meal. 

I know that if I responded or interjected to that brash talking loudmouth @ false prophet, it would be akin to the proverbial ‘wrestling with the swine’ scenario.

So, I just kept my cool and after my meal, returned to wait at the Pathology Lab. Sometimes, when we have more important matters to settle, it is better to just walk away from dealing with persons like that! We gain nothing but heart ache dealing with such kind.

In the Qur’an Surah Al-Hujurat Chapter 49 Verse 11, Allah Azza Wa Jalla reminds us :

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”

We have to admit that nowadays more and more Malays here in Malaysia tend to dress up looking like Arabs or Middle Eastern folks. There is no law prohibiting such adaptations or trends but in the long run, we might lose track of our time honored traditions and cultural heritage.

It is enjoined and permissible for Muslims to adopt the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam but it is discouraged for us who believe in Allah and His Messenger to imitate the norms and cultures of the Kaffirs @ Disbelievers in their customs and ways that have links to their Kufr @ Disbelief towards Allah the Almighty.

Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam clearly stated that it is forbidden to blindly imitate Non-Muslims. In one hadith, he over emphasized how blindly some Muslims will imitate [others] no matter how hard it may be. 

The Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam said, You will surely follow the ways, steps, or traditions of those who came before you, span by span and yard by yard (very closely) even if they entered into a lizard’s hole you will enter it.” 

The Sahabah’s asked, “O Prophet, you mean the Jews and Christians?” He replied, “Who else!?” [Reported by Imam Bukhari] 

In another hadith, he clearly prohibited imitation stating, “If one imitates another nation or people, he will be from them.” [Reported by Imam Abu-Dawud]

So, in this case @ of Malays imitating the Arabs or Middle Eastern traditions, there is no prohibition as per our Islamic teachings but culturally, we might in a way see an erosion of our time honored Malay heritage that has it’s own values and civilization which has been respected and honored by the learned scholars and historians of the world.
Personally as an Indian Muslim, I know nothing of what my forefathers traditions but from my research on the subject saw that they followed the usual dressing style of South Indians which were the wearing of the Sarong Pelikat and a shirt similar to what we now know as ‘business shirt’. Indian Muslim men wore a cap similar to what we call here as the Songkok but over in India they have those that are made of wool pr sheepskin. 

When I was a small boy growing up in a Malay kampong @ village back in Penang during the 60s, I usually wore sort pants and a short-sleeved shirt. There was no T shirts back then. 😛 I wore a pair of rubber soled slippers @ Japanese slippers. That was about it.

On Fridays, I would wear my Sarong Pelikat and a shirt to go to the Jelutong Masjid @ which was several villages away. On Hari Raya @ Eidul Fitri and Eidul Adha, I would wear my Baju Melayu but without the Kain Samping as we couldn’t afford that.
Life was simpler back then and no one batted an eyelid or ridiculed us who were quite poor and couldn’t afford to dress well like others. I just lived my simple life for I was happy enough with what bare necessities that I had back then. 

If you want to have an idea of how the Malays lived in the 1960’s just watch the old P.Ramlee black & white movies to see for yourselves the way people dressed and behaved?

I remember that back in the 60s, the Malays weren’t that religious. I mean the general population. We all know that alcohol is haram @ forbidden in our faith but back then there were the adults in my kampong who used to drink beer [albeit] not in front of the kampong people openly but out of the view of the villagers.

In fact there was even ads in Malay promoting the drinking of Guinness Stout! See it here : 

Don’t tell me that we did not have Mufti’s or the Sultans or the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s back then? They were and still are the ‘Heads of Islam’ over their respective Malay Sultanates and the Federation as in the case of our Supreme King @ the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.

Now, why did such advertisements get published or screened in our cinemas back then? Why was there no brouhaha over these ‘Guinness Stout’ is good for us commercials in those days? Anyone reading this able to share with us the reasons?

I remember seeing a news photo that shows our former 5th Premier handling what seems to be a bottle of alcohol if I am not mistaken. This blog clearly shows many of our notables today indulging what is clearly forbidden in our Islamic faith. I guess we can call it the Age of Ignorance of those concerned. That is part and parcel of life.

Even in our religious history before the revelation of the Quranic verses prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, we learned that the people in Makkah and Madinah who were the Kaffirs amongst the Quraysh used to drink alcohol and when they became Muslims smashed the barrels of beer and poured such liquor down the streets obeying the commandments of Allah Azza Wa Jalla. 

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you what they should spend. Say, “The excess [beyond needs].” Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.

Make no mistake. Everyone screws up in our lives. We can’t claim to be infallible. Verily it is Allah Who Chooses to Forgive and to Cleanse us of our sins. We can’t say that we are sinless. Our prayers are minuscule if compared to the Oceans of Mercy that our Supreme Creator showers upon us. Only by Allah’s Mercy can any of us escape the Fires of Hell. Insya Allah.

The Malays in Malaysia first started to become religious with the advent of the once highly successful and quite influential Dakwah @ Islamic Religious Missionary organisation called Al-Arqam. I wrote about this group in my blog here about 10 years ago. 

From a society that was somewhat steeped in trying to ape the West and indulged in unIslamic cultures and customs, the advent of the Al Arqam Islamic religious sect under the leadership of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad sparked a transformation amongst the Malays first in Damansara, Kuala Lumpur and then from their base at Kampong Sg.Penchala, Kuala Lumpur.

The women followers of Al Arqam wore very modest attire such as loose flowing robes and the lengthy Jilbab @ Hijab and completed covering their faces with a Niqab @ face veil. This was the start of the trend for the Malay women here in Malaysia to actually start complying with Allah’s Commandment for Believing Women to cover their areas of modesty as per the revelation in Chapter 24 Surah An Nur Verse 31:

When the group was banned by the Malaysian Government, the Al-Arqam women morphed into wearing more colorful attire to merge with the public. Here is one of their all female Nasyid group @ Mawaddah performing before the Raja and Sultanah of Perlis:

Before the coming of the Al Arqam group, the Malay womenfolk did not practice the wearing of the Hijab which was the head cover worn over their head, covering their hair and also their bosom. 

They just wore a shawl @ selendang (shown above) which seldom covered their chests or hair. Here are some photos of the past showing how they were:

You can say that it was an abrupt change or makeover for the way Malays here in Malaysia were in a subtle way forced to go with the flow of how a new sense of religious awareness started to spread and influence their usually easy going lifestyle. 

To get a glimpse of what happened to the Al-Arqam movement after it was banned, watch this documentary on them by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Al-Arqam came into our Malaysian Muslims lives as a shining guiding beacon but as it grew in size and influence, empirical dreams and lust seeped into the hearts and minds of its founders leading them to their own ruin.

What a shame!

Let’s move back to the way life was here for the general Malay population just after Independence from the British Colonials. P. Ramlee sort of immortalized that period of ignorance in his many classic films. 

Malays back then didn’t shy away from frequenting the nightclubs and bars or cabarets. Here’s a few clips from his films documenting that kind of unIslamic tendencies.

Everybody knows that even in the uniformed services there were still continued traditions of the British Colonial Administration of adjourning to the Officers Mess for a round of drinks @ hard liquor and beer in a spirit of camaraderie amongst the troops.

I managed to find an old photo showing several Malay officers having cold beer at their Officers Mess at Port Dickson back in those days. I have hidden their identities for obvious reasons.

Not to say that there aren’t any similar ignorance nowadays but if there are, we won’t see it plastered all over social media. To each their own, eh!

So, in a way the presence of Al Arqam was the turning point in the lives of Malaysian Muslims. Our time honored traditions of dressing and attitudes did in a way shift towards practicing cultures and traditions usually found in the Middle East. As Muslims we are enjoined to follow in the ways of our Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam but we are also allowed to live as per our traditions which are not contrary to our Islamic faith.

There is a growing trend nowadays for Malays to dress up in modern jubah’s @ robes that have a touch of Malaysian creativity in it. Check these out:

If you ask me, the attire worn by these young Malay Muslims are just a passing trend. The designers out there are just taking advantage of the current Malaysian Muslims inclination towards adopting the Middle Eastern robes but with their own interpretations. That’s all.

It’s just an external expression. As long as they are covering their modesty and behaving appropriately in accordance with what Islam demands of us who are Muslims, it’s alright with us.
We should also realize that there are also those amongst the Malays who are striving to preserve and bring back the glory days of Malay traditional wear and a renaissance of the true Malay identity. 

I am friends with the founders of this movement called Komuniti Keris Warisan who have renamed it to Alam Melayu

One of the founders is Johan Iskandar a.k.a. Nakhoda Hitam. I interviewed him at Dataran Underground below Dataran Merdeka where Johan and his group were holding a Malay Heritage exposition then. I highlighted them here.

Watch this too:

So, it is not right to say that the Malays are turning into Arab wannabes for as long as there are traditionalists like Johan Iskandar, Peniup Serunai, Pusaka Warisan Bangsa, Faizal Langsay, Faliq Faizal and others propagating their Malay Heritage to survive in this ever changing world of ours, the Malays will continue to be just that!

As legendary Malacca Warrior Admiral Datuk Laksamana Hang Tuah once said
 ‘Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia!‘ Meaning that the Malays will never disappear from this Earth!

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