Malaysia turned 55 last weekend. Although the electronic and social media platforms are filled with rancorous exchanges, the general population is nice to each other, no matter the political leaning.
We come from a somewhat mixed family. My father was attended to by an Amahwhen he was little. His eldest sister married a wonderful Chinese man whose last words were, “Tell the world that I lived and died as a Muslim.” Two Chinese and an Indian were married into my family.
Slightly more than four decades ago I went to a Chinese kindergarten somewhere in Melaka. It was just a couple of years after 13 May 1969 but the relationship between races then was good, or so it seemed to this little boy then. Although I cannot recall any of my schoolmates’ name, we played together. Almost every evening my father would take me to Uncle Ah Boon’s house where I would converse with them in beginner’s Mandarin before stopping for some Putu Piring at the foot of Bukit Peringgit.
I went to the St John’s Primary School on Jalan Bukit Nanas and had great classmates such as Yong Choon Wah, Chow Kah Sung, Michael Foo. While waiting for the bus to go home, Choon Wah and I and a few others would go up and down the escalators at the neighbouring AIA building where an A&W outlet was once located until the Sikh jaganabbed us and threatened to send us to the police station. Not once did my friends and I see each other, other than as fellow Malaysians.
That jagabecame famous on 4 August 1975 when he was shot beneath the eye by a Japanese Red Army terrorist who had taken 35 people there as hostages. His name was Sukdave Singh.
My favourite Nasi Lemak from then till now is the Nasi Lemak Tanglin. I often jogged to where it was located, a small stall in front of a Chinese kopitiam and a plate of Nasi Lemak accompanied by the kopitiam’s glass of Sirap Ais and Lengkung were the highlight of my week, almost every week.
A few years later when I was at The Malay College, I realised that 80 percent of the teachers there then were Chinese. Ask any MCKK alumni who went there between 1972 to 2005 and they can tell you that the Additional Mathematics guru then was Mr Tan Gim Hoe. Every one of his students would remember his famous “Tatapa. Tatapa” (Tak Apa, Tak Apa) as he tries his best to make you understand his lesson. He even wrote the Additional Mathematics textbook! MCKK was Mr Tan’s first and only posting, and in the 33 years and 10 months that he was there he helped produce brilliant Malay students such as the former Khazanah head Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar. I used to meet Mr Tan in town every Saturday for Add Maths tuition when I was in Form 4. While some of the boys would be upstairs at Kuala Kangsar’s famous Yut Loy restaurant for a quick smoke, I would be with my Pau Daging, Add Maths books and Mr Tan.
Unlike back in the 1970s, we hardly see Malays and Chinese dine together these days. Not only do we look at each other with contempt, we also now question each other’s rights that are enshrined in the Federal Constitution. I blame the education system – the Arabisation of the National Schools, and the existence of vernacular schools. Children who do not grow up together will never learn about each other.
Just when everything seems bleak, my wife and I made a road trip along the coastal road in Selangor to attend a wedding in Sabak Bernam. We stopped for breakfast at a nice kopitiam in Kuala Selangor. For tea, we crossed into lower Perak where we found a kampung sundry shop that doubles as a kopitiam that has a mix of Malay and Indian clientele.
Michael, the second-generation proprietor, spoke to us in lower Perak Malay accent. He told us that the suppliers of the Nasi Lemak, noodles and kuih are local Malays. “It is the way of life here. We live in our community where we don’t see each other as Malay, Chinese or Indian,” he stressed. Prosper thy neighbouris his motto.
“Come back tomorrow morning for some Char Kuay,” he said before we left. “I’ll make them fresh for you.” And we did! Michael and his son CJ served us one of the best Char Kuay ever, complemented by his homemade Seri Kaya. But it was not just the food and kampung coffee that had us in awe, it was how Michael and his clients enjoy their banter.
It was there and then that I was transported back to the 1970s, where Malaysians eat and drink and joke together, without a hint of any political divide.
And that made it the most beautiful Malaysia Day ever.
Two nights ago I sat at a dinner table with four other strangers. One gentleman from the North is five years older than I am while the rest were in their 40s. What the gentleman in his 50s and I spoke about was of the way the various races interacted in the early 1970s fresh after the most devastating racial clashes in the history of Malaysia.
Those were the times when we all looked at each other as family rather than by race or religion. We went to school together and played together.
Interestingly, the gentleman is a Senior Pastor, his wife, while the rest at the table were Muslims. Apart from my wife and I, one was from Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor, the other was from PAS.
There were people of other faiths as well such as Sikh, Hindu, and the Buddhist. Church representatives and members from Sabah and Sarawak, too, were there. What surprised me was the presence of representatives from PERKASA, MAPIM and ISMA including Ibrahim Ali.
The Senior Pastor pointed out how children nowadays go to separate school and do not speak the same language. To bring about unity, children must grow up together and speak the same language. The Senior Pastor is Chinese. He still enjoys the company of his former school mates who are mostly Malay whenever he goes back to his hometown.
We were at the 2nd National Peace and Harmony Dinner organised by the Christians for Peace and Harmony in Malaysia CPHM) that was a full-house affair.
I wrote about unity not too long ago (Lighting The Wrong Path – 6 September 2016) and touched on the importance of children growing up together, speaking the same language, and the importance of understanding the Federal Constitution. While I gave the nation at least three generation before we could see some form of unity, the Senior Pastor was very sceptical. Schools have become places to divide our children according to their ethnicity – something that was rare in my days although existed. For as long as we do not unite our children, we will continue to be diversified and divided.
Chairman of the CPHM, Reverend Wong Kim Jong in his speech called for a better understanding of all faiths and races, and better unity among Malaysians.
He even went on to propose a National Mediation Council be formed to settle misunderstandings and disputes between religions and races.
In his keynote address to the CPHM, Prime Minister Najib Razak quoted a verse from the Bible:
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” – Matthew 5:9
He said in order for Malaysia to achieve its target of becoming a top 20 nation by 2050, as envisioned under the 2050 Transformation Plan (TN50), Malaysians must become true believers of their respective faiths as he answer to becoming a great nation lies in the teachings of every religion which promotes harmony and peace.
“To become a top 20 nation by 2050, we need social harmony and one of the ways to achieve it is through faith. Go back to your own faith and the answers are all there. You must be a true believer no matter what your religion is, whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim or a Buddhist,” he added.
Quoting a Malay proverb “Tak kenal maka tak cinta” that was said by Ibrahim Ali during a previous meeting between PERKASA and CPHM, Najib said that there is a need for the people to understand one other in order for them to appreciate and love.
“I would also like to emphasise on humility, or the importance of being humble. It means we must admit and accept our differences,” pointed Najib.
The Prime Minister also related how the forefathers discussed the social contract in the prelude to Merdeka and had ensured that although Islam is the religion of the Federation, the rights of those who practice other religions are protected in the Federal Constitution.
Therefore, understanding the spirit of the Federal Constitution is also very important to understand, appreciate and love.
I wrote at length about why the sanctity of Islam is regarded as being more sensitive in the Peninsular compared to in Sabah and Sarawak and had given the historical background to it. I even wrote about the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, 1965 and how it would not affect the non-Muslims.
And Muslims especially in the Peninsular have a lot to learn from and emulate values shown by the congregation of both the Masjid An-Naim and the Parish of Good Shepherd that co-exist beautifully on Jalan Pasar Lutong in Miri, as well as that of the committee of the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq in Bangsar that held a Chinese New Year open house for all at its premise.
This is what is meant by understanding the Federal Constitution in order to gain respect, appreciation and love through the respect for others.
Of course there will be those who will continue to flog the issue as long as they can all laugh at the end of it when the very fabric of society is torn apart, such as the person below:
If the person above is a Christian, she is probably a Christian because it is trendy not to light up joss sticks for dead relatives or parents. A true believer would believe in the Bible and especially Romans 13 that calls for the respect for the auhorities as they have been placed there by God.
The above verse is the same as in the Quran (An-Nisaa’ 59) that calls for obedience to authority.
Those who do not subscribe to the above are NOT peacemakers. And for Christians, they are not the children of God, but of His antithesis.
As said in the Bible:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” – James 1:26
So you can choose whether to be a peacemaker, and if you’re a Christian be a child of God, or, you can be the child of the antithesis of God as people like the above.
52 years it has been since the time when four parts of this region joined together to form the Federation of Malaysia (although two years later Singapore was expelled). We have seen the nation go through some ups and downs, but we always pull through together. Lately, we only see the constant superfluous jeremiad coming from all sorts of people and I wonder if we have all become a bunch of whiners who prefer to do nothing but expect everything in return?
Up until the early 1980s there were still areas especially in the Peninsular that either did not have running water and electricity, or had electricity for only 12 hours in a day. Those days no one complained about having to fetch a pail or two of water to be used for cooking or to wash clothes. Then came the supply of treated water and life became much easier. Then when there is a disruption on supply, they blame the government for not providing them with water.
We whine about everything – especially about other races. The Malays would blame the Chinese for their woes; the Chinese blame the Malays for the privileges that the latter get; the Indians would blame everyone else for their misfortunes. I don’t remember us being this divided even five years after the 13th May tragedy.
I went to a Christian missionary primary school, now a National school (Sekolah Kebangsaan). In my class then we had almost the same number of Malay and Chinese students, and several from the Indian diaspora. We learned together, ate together, played together, got punished together. What is more important is that we grew up together.
Now, we have National schools that are predominantly Malay, while the Chinese and Indians prefer to send their kids to vernacular schools. When kids don’t grow up together, they don’t learn about each other. When they don’t learn about each other, that is when they grow up not understanding each other. Then we will always have the Yellow shirts and the Red shirts doing rallies, opposing each other.
This is why I am for the abolishing of vernacular schools. Some were quick to jump on me saying that I am against diversity.
Far from it!
I said, schools. And it is not about diversity, but division!
All schools should be National-type schools. Where children regardless of race and religion grow up together and learn things together. These schools should start at 8am daily and finish at 6pm. They study together from 8am until lunch at 1pm. Then they attend vernacular classes or religious classes in the afternoon until 6pm. They should not grow up separately.
That is all I wish for, unity in diversity, as far as education is concerned. The beneficiaries of such a change would be my grandchildren and yours. Only then could we truly be Malaysian.
As long as we are not willing to let our children grow up together, we will continue to remain divided.
The roles of the Rulers (or sometimes referred to as the Malay Rulers) in this blessed nation are somewhat misunderstood. While many often think that the Institution of the Rulers mirror that of the British’s Westminster-style monarchy, it is not. Britain had undergone a period of regicide and for a moment was a republic under Oliver Cromwell, but monarchy was reinstalled with the ascension of Charles II guided by the British Parliament with laws made and passed solely by the Parliament. Here, we have Rulers who, until 1957, ruled the land (although much of the administration was passed to British advisers through various treaties who were on the Rulers’ payroll). It was only on 31st August 1957 that the executive powers of the Rulers were handed over to a civilian government chosen by the majority of the people of the Federation of Malaya. The Rulers, as owners of this land, continue to enjoy their position with their income regulated by the respective laws, and receive advice from the Menteris Besar (or in the case of the Yang DiPertuan Agong, the Prime Minister). This is evident in Article 181(1) of the Federal Constitution which states:
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution,” the “sovereignty, prerogatives, powers and jurisdiction of the Rulers…as hitherto had and enjoyed shall remain unaffected.”
The same was noted by Mark R Gillen of the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria (Gillen 1994:7). In the words of the late Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, former Lord President, it is:
“a mistake to think that the role of a King, like that of a President, is confined to what is laid down by the Constitution, His role far exceeds those constitutional provisions” (Azlan Shah 1986:89)
As history have shown, time and time again, the strength and weakness of the Rulers lie in the strength or weakness of those responsible to advise the Rulers. Those appointed as the Prime Minister and Menteris Besar are expected to be sincere, wise and knowledgeable, truthful and forthcoming no matter how bitter the advice may be, so that the Rulers can act with just with their feet firmly on the ground, or in the Malay saying:
Supaya Raja tidak dibuai dalam khayalan; tidak diulit gurindam pujian
Why I have not referred to the Rulers in this particular post as the Malay Rulers is deliberate, with references made to various research papers on this subject. Before the entrance of the British advisers, each of the Ruler was the Ruler of all he surveyed and was the enjoyer of all he surveyed. This means that there were no state boundaries as we now have to show the dominion of each Ruler, and the people whom we collectively refer to as the Malays (as the Chinese and Indians are back in China and India are) used to refer to themselves as people of where they originated: orang Muar, orang Jasin, orang Pekan so on and so forth. Their loyalty is to the Ruler who has dominance over their area. With the introduction of the Chinese and Indian immigrants by the British, the role of the Ruler transcended protector of the Malays, as protector of the immigrant subjects as well. The Hikayat Johor of the early 20th century lauds Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor for “looking after the Chinese subjects living in the state.” There is also mention of Chinese and Indians welcoming the Sultan home from an overseas journey (Anthony Milner, Australian National University, Milner 2002:214).
Even a left-wing Malay who wanted to unite a Raja-less Malaya with Batavia (Jakarta), Ibrahim Yaacob, referred to a Kelantan Ruler bestowing a prestigious title on a Chinese merchant and observed that the Johor state council building looked like a Chinese audience hall because it was decorated Chinese writing. When Ibrahim Yaacob asked what was the writing about, he was told that it recorded the personal service of wealthy Chinese people to the Ruler (Milner 2002:261). Ibrahim Yaacob later served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Japanese Giyuugun (Volunteer Army) and fled Malaya for Batavia and served under Sukarno taking up the name Iskandar Kamel Agastya (SeaDemon: Road to Merdeka – Persekutuan Tanah China (6th September 2011).
When racial strife hit Malaysia on 13th May 1969, the Sultan of Terengganu as well as other Rulers took steps to protect their non-Malay rakyats (Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian, Faculty of Humanities, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Kobkua 2011:364). This goes to affirm the special press statement made by the Conference of Rulers in October 2008 explaining that the Institution of Rulers is a “protective umbrella ensuring impartiality among the citizens.” The statement itself explains the Rulers’ constitutional role respecting the so-called “Social Contract” between Malays and non-Malays, and assures the non-Malays that there is no need to “harbour any apprehension or worry over their genuine rights.” (Kobkua 2011:425-426).
When the British wanted the Sultan of Selangor to banish a Chinese man, Ho Chick Kwan, (Ho Chick Kwan v Honourable British Resident Selangor, Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 1931), Ho was described as a “natural born subject of the Ruler of the State of Negeri Sembilan, and his adopted mother Lui Ho described herself as owing “true allegiance to His Highness the Sultan of Selangor.”
Such is the role of the Rulers in unifying the rakyat, and such was how the non-Malays back then were loyal subjects of the Rulers as the Malays were – a far cry compared to what we have today.
As mentioned in the fifth paragraph above, the strength and weakness of the Ruler depends on the strengths, weaknesses, sincerity, truthfulness, and knowledge of their adviser, namely the Prime Minister and the Menteris Besar. The recent fiasco in Johor shows how a weak adviser can put the Ruler in harm’s way. When the British acted as advisers and administered the states of behalf of their respective Rules, many of the Malays, including Ibrahim bin Yaacob, Burhanuddin Helmy et al saw no need for the monarchy to remain as an institution, hence the desire to make Malaya a republic united with Batavia. UMNO then took over as the linchpin of the Malays from the Rulers with the formation of the Malayan Union.
It is easy to understand why the Rulers agreed to the formation of the Malayan Union: weakened by the pompous nature of their British advisers who departed when the Japanese arrived, the Japanese relegated the Rulers into nothing more than deputy advisers in the administration of the Malay customs and religion. Imagine what it was like for a Johor commoner to see his Sultan being scolded by the Japanese for leaning on his stick. Seen working with the Japanese in World War Two, and weak in the eyes of the Malays, the Rulers did not have much choice but to succumb to the demands of the British. But the Tunku was quick in restoring the faith of the Malays in the Rulers. He recalled that:
“At all costs I wanted to avoid having a split with the Rulers.” (Simon C Smith, Professor of International History, University of Hull, Smith 1995:183)
The seemingly weak administrations of both Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, and the digression of UMNO from its original intended path of protecting Islam, the Malays and Bumiputras and its inherent weakness in dealing with various right-wing Chinese and Indian organisations that have thrived under weak administrations have led to the formation of right-wing Malay groups such as the PERKASA and ISMA. Najib seems to have given in to a lot of demands from people who will never ever support him nor his party, promising uncontrolled legal reforms thence setting up the left-leaning National Unity Consultative Council. The National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill proposed by the NUCC is seen as a clear and present danger to a society that is already on the edge of destruction.
In Section 6 (1) (iii) of this Bill, will render the Rulers powerless in selecting the Menteri Besar for their respective state; the Agong will not have the power to select his Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, his Inspector-General of Police, or his Chief of Armed Forces even. You Malays and Bumiputras may think that Article 153 can protect you, but you should also read Article 153(5) of the Federal Constitution and see what it says, and tell me if what I have written in this paragraph is not true.
Section 7 (1) (ii) even allows people of the LGBT group to hold important positions. Gender equal opportunity is already in effect, but regardless of sexual orientation? I have gay friends and some are good friends of mine. Even they cringe whenever their lifestyle is brought under the spotlight by glamour-seeking peers. It is not that they are not talented but will this not tear the fabric of our society? May I ask the so-called religious Muslims and Christians if they agree with this? In the name of Human Rights, we are beginning to fight to become animals, where unnatural ways are to become the norm of our society. I wonder how long would the Christian church in Malaysia be able to resist same-sex marriages with this Bill coming into effect. Removal of the Sedition Act would certainly act as a catalyst to destruction, much as the removal of the Internal Security Act has contributed to the worsening condition of the country. There is nothing wrong with either Act. Mere tweaking to prevent the laws from being abused by politicians would have been sufficient.
I fear for the future of this nation. We must not let extremism prevail.
This is where the Rulers can play a role in holding the fragile fabric of this divisive society, to once again play a pivotal role in bringing this nation back to its senses. We can no longer rely on weak Prime Ministers and Menteris Besar to protect this society from falling apart, all in the name of Human Rights (and the desire to please non-believers thinking you can get votes by kow-towing to their demands). The Rulers also need to keep their conduct, and that of their families, in check. There is no use correcting the society when they and those related to them do not behave with the utmost decorum. And as history has proven again and again, the Rulers can act independently from their weak and self-interested advisers.
In the words of Sultan Nazrin Muizuddin Shah of Perak in July 2011:
“Rulers must use wisdom to calm situations, but they do not have a ‘magic lamp’ to keep unity, especially when the situation has become chaotic.“
I was an Officer of the Armed Forces of Malaysia, my loyalty has always been for my King and Country. I humbly beg His Royal Highnesses to intervene and override weak and destructive suggestions of the government of the day. Again in the words of Sultan Nazrin:
“Unity requires a willingness to sacrifice, accept defeat willingly and celebrate victory with humility.”