I asked Abdullah Waggie, a Cape Malay, what does it mean to be a Malay and why he is seeking the Malays. He replied that he was once asked the same question when he was in Indonesia, and he answered that when you find a true malay, you will find a true Islam. To him, being a Malay means that you are a muslim and therefore it is intertwine with each other. After all, it is unlikely for a Malay not to be recognize as a muslim and this is the same when Malay Kings back then embrace Islam, all of his subjects becomes a muslim too. The Malay King then adopted the term ‘Sultan’ to remove himself from any association with Allah swt. At the time, the Malay Kings uses titles like ‘Dewa’ or ‘Maha’ that refers to God like association. Therefore, ‘Sultan ‘ was use to replace these names for it is in the teachings of Islam not to associate with other than Allah swt what more calls himself God like ‘Dewa’ and ‘Maha’. In Arabic language, ‘Sultan’ refers to ‘Strength’, ‘Authority’ and ‘Rulership’ and since the influence of Islam was said to come from Arab merchants that is likely to come during the Ottoman period, it is natural for the King to adopt the name ‘Sultan’ to replace its former name.
Abdullah Waggie answer on the Malays strike me to question about myself, born as a Malay and in a muslim family , what does it mean by being Malay? Is it how I wear my Malay dress? Is it by speaking Malay? Is it by the food? I didn’t have an answer. But one thing I was sure of, is that being a Malay means that I need to be able to know who I am first and recognize my own heritage. It seems like very few people wants to be a Malay and tries to separate themselves from being a Malay and a Muslim as two different thing.
When in reality, being a Malay is not separable from being a Muslim. For when Islam came and the Malay King embrace Islam, so does the Sultan integrated Islam in all aspects of their life. Sultan Muhammad Shah (1424-1444) who later applies Islam teaching in his administration by integrating it into the Malay custom, royal protocols, commerce and even the Laws such as ‘Undang-undang Laut Melaka’ use during 1400-1511 which I myself have had the opportunity to read the translated version Liaw Yock Fang when I wrote a paper on the usage of gold as currency during Malacca Sultanate period . This law gave birth to other Malay Sultanate Law such as Undang-Undang Johor, and Undang-Undang Pahang whom the Malacca Sultanate descendants were sent to become the Sultan in the respective land.
Mosques were set up, religious scholar were brought in to teach the Malay Sultan family and also his subjects, other laws such as Hukum Kanun Melaka also had a very strong influence of Islamic Law applied to the Malacca legal system. Hence, the Malay tradition also was modified to ensure that it does not go out of Islamic teaching. So much so that at one point, people associated becoming a muslim means becoming a Malay which is almost true. Assimilation to the local custom is nothing new and still happens until today, for example the Baba & Nyonya of the Malacca and Penang Peranakan also adopted some of the Malay custom without embracing Islam into their way of cooking, their dress and language but still maintains some of their Chinese custom and culture.
In modern day, many Malays have also adopted western culture and some Arab culture into their life. So much so that even the Sultan of Johor spoke of the tendency of Malays to adopt Arab culture. Not to forget the Korean wave that strongly influence some of the Korean fans in Malaysia which invited criticism by non-Korean fan towards these K-poppers.
So who are the Malays? And what does Being Malay is about? By definition, in Malaysia Law Article 160, Malays means those who:
- A Muslim
- Speaks Malays
- Practices Malay custom
So if you are at least two of these three, you are 2/3 Malay already, and if you are a muslim, you are by definition considered a Malay. But the very fact that one has to be a Muslim gives the Malays an identity that one cannot run away from, a Muslim.
So to be a Malay, one has to first know who they are born as, a Muslim and the teaching of Islam has already been a practice in Malay custom. So to be Malay, not only means, we need to know what being a muslim is, but what are the teachings in Islam. And to be a muslim, one has to learn about Islam, to learn Islam means, one had to know who is the One who created us.
Because, you can never see a Malay without seeing Islam in them and whenever one act of a Malay goes viral, automatically people will associate it with his or her identity not to reflect what Islam is. Similarly when we go abroad, Muslims regardless where they come from , are associated with Islam wherever they go. Therefore one bad act of a Muslim, those who is ignorant about Islamic teaching will associate such act with Islam. So, being a Malay is not something that we should be ashamed of or feel superior about but an identity that should be celebrated and proud of our heritage that goes a long way back historically. How Malay Kingdom like Aceh, Malacca, Pattani, Riau Lingga expanded their empire to the rest of Nusantara or Malay Archipelagos and even the Malay’s in Capetown whom in 1645 was exiled by the Dutch company to curb Islam rising and then able to spread Islam in Capetown instead by building their own Malay community.
Therefore, being a Malay is a heritage that each of us should find out our roots and origins instead of trying to remove ourselves from who we are because wherever we go, we take ourselves with us, else, there won’t be proverbs like “Bagaikan kacang lupakan kulitnya”
The skin is what protects our body from the sunlight, to ‘whiten’ our skin so that we look ‘whiter’ and fairer’ , our heritage and culture is what makes us Malay. So celebrate our heritage, a beautiful ‘Sawo Matang’ or ‘Hitam Manis’ (brown skin or sweet dark skin coloured), petit , mostly black hair who would generously go out of their way to help people and feed them, who is never afraid of obstacles and brave to explore the world, who wherever you throw to or life throw at us we survive , because “Benih yang baik bila dicampak / jatuh ke laut, menjadi pulau” (Good seed when they are thrown anywhere, will become an island ), who despite climbing the mountain and reaching the top, would never look down on people and like the proverb “Bawa resmi padi, semakin berisi semakin tunduk” or paddy rice the heavier they grow, the lower they bow and become more humble and giving to the community around them instead, who is soft spoken and yet knows when to stand on their ground, who protects their family and people around them when one is threatened by harm, who cooks for the people and welcome the guest with their hospitality, im sure that at least one of these traits has been passed down from one family to their children throughout their childhood until now. Think of how our parents taught us and you will find a lot of Malay culture are in fact has a lot of Islam influence on how Islam taught us to behave and treat those around us in a way that pleases Allah swt.
* In return, Abdullah Waggie asked me what does the word ‘Melayu’ means and its origin,well, thats going to take one separate article