When I became Prime Minister in 1981, Malaysia had a population of 13 million, of whom seven million were Malays. Today the population is 25 million, nearly twice the number in 1981. The proportion of Malays has increased somewhat but their contribution is not commensurate with their number. They have responded to my appeal to play a bigger role in the development of this country but they need to do more. People in developing countries all over the world speak highly of the rate of malaysia’s progress. I am proud, but it is a pride tinged with sadness. We can do better. The Malays can do better. I know they can. In retirement, apart from appealing to them, I can do very little. I pray, but I know that ALLAH will not change the fate of any people UNLESS they seriously attempt to change it themselves.
I worry about the Malay’s and fear for their future, but that does not change the fact that I am proud to be a Malay. I would not want to be anything else. In earlier time a Roman, wherever he went in the world, was always proud to declare himself a Roman citizen. For my part I wanted to be able to go anywhere in the world and say with equal pride, ‘I am a Malay’.
Tun dr Mahathir bin Mohamad
Ref: A doctor in the house.
The memoirs of Tun dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The story of the Malays.
The story of the Malays.
To understand the Malays were need first to examine their origins and the journey they have taken to reach they are today. I began my study early, knowing that if I was to champion their cause, I would need to know them more intimately.
What I had been taught in school was very sketchy. Apart from text books, I read books on Malayan history by British administrators such as Sir Richard Winstedt Sir frank Swettenham and many academics. I also read the Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals, the Hikayat Hang Tuah ang Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. In world story, the Malays are mentions in documents going as far back as the time of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and mathematician of the first century of the Commen Era, referred to the Peninsula as the ‘Golden Chersonese’. To the Indians it was Suvarnadvipa, ‘the Golden Peninsula’. The Portuguese apothecary Tome pires wrote that Malacca was of such importance and profit that it had not equal in the world. The peninsula had a reputation for being rich in gold.
From these reading I discovered that the Malay people who inhabited the peninsula form ancient times were believed to have made their way there from southern China. To this day they are people of the same physiognomy in the Yunnan Province of China. They apparently emigrated down to the peninsula, which formed the southernmost part of the Asian land mass. Some even crossed the seas to the island of the huge archipelago, which has today become the Republic of Indonesia and the Philippines. Others apparently traversed vast oceans to settle in the Easter islands, Hawaii and Madagascar.
Eventually, the Malays people developed a complex and distinctive civilization based upon the institution of hereditary ruler who set up principalities. Apart of indigenous animism, the inhabitants were also influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religions and culture of India. Indian merchants had voyaged to the peninsula from as early as 1,700 years ago, and they brought with them the ideas of Hindu-Buddhist teachings. These elevated the princely rulers to the status of god-like kings who commanded the complete obedience of their subjects. Life centred upon the court of Raja, the hereditary ruler. His god-like status was enhanced by elaborate rituals and ceremonies. His subject even the most senior members of court literally had to crawl on all fours to make obeisance to him.
The remained the situation until the arrival of Islam in the region. Islam did not so much replace the Hindu-Buddhist cultural world as graft itself upon that older social order. But it also introduced changes. Far from subscribing to the caste system which had become common practice, Islam preached equality before god. It must have been difficult for the Malays Rajas in the peninsula and the archipelago to accept this egalitarian principle, but the Muslim traders from Arabian peninsula and India who introduced Islam into the region were rich, successful and intelligent, and therefore very influential. Especially since the goods they brought were highly sought after by the Malays. With certain exceptions, they were willing to accept Islam’s moral egalitarianism, even while maintaining much of their old ways.
The Rajas traded jungle produce gathered by their subject for the silk, lacquer ware, brassware, gold and so on that the traders brought. Personal relationship must have developed (as they do even today) between the rich traders and the Malay Rajas. Eventually most of the Malays Rajas converted to Islam, interpreted in a way that maintained their high positions and most of the old court practice. But they ceased to claim that they were gods and accepted that like everyone else, they were ‘Hamba Allah’, the ‘slaves of Allah’. While it was a big step down for them, they remained the anointed group.
To be continued
Ref: A doctor in the house
Memoirs of Tun dr Mahathir bin Mohamad
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