Malay-Muslim & Chinese-Muslim Paradox

I have mentioned before that I will cover the topic of Chinese Muslims in Malaysia one of these daya but have not been able to do so mainly because of grad work. Plus I feel that opening up this topic would be equivalent to opening the Pandora’s box. I found this article while addresses some of the questions that I wanted to address.

Malay-Muslim & Chinese-Muslim Paradox.

by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin

In my observations, among the serious misunderstandings involving religion is the use of the term “Malay” as synonymous with Islam and “Chinese” with infidel.

There are Malays who describe a new Muslim convert as masuk Melayu (becoming Malay) or sometimes say that he is “not Muslim but Chinese!” For them, the Chinese represent the infidels and Malays embody the Muslims. 

To make matters worse, some Malays label the converted Chinese as mualaf and, more disparagingly in the northern Peninsula dialect, Mat Loh.

Malays assume they are the only pure Muslims, although Chinese Muslims may have stronger faith.

To some Malays, Chinese Muslims are not authentic and are seen merely as hitchhikers.

However, many Chinese who have converted to Islam are more pious, while many Muslim-born Malays are of questionable devotion. Malay attire such as kain pelikat, baju melayu and samping are not the garments worn by the Prophet.

But Malays perceive their clothing as Islamic because it is from Malay culture.

Islam does not impede a culture which is not against its teachings. In the past, Malays perceived the use of chopsticks as wrong because it was associated with Chinese culture.

Actually, there is no difference between eating with one’s fingers or using cutlery, or chopsticks. The Prophet called on Muslims to invoke Allah’s name, use their right hand and only eat permissible food.

The Prophet once told a young Umar Abi Salamah when the latter was about to eat: “Dear child, say Allah’s name, eat with your right hand and consume what is close to you.” (Hadith of al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Malays will normally ask Chinese Muslims to change to Arabic names, as if the name Ah Chong, Ah Seng, Lim or Koh would mean they were unIslamic.

Maybe because such names do not sound Arabic, the Malays feel awkward about them.

Sadly, the Malays do not feel the same way about names such as Awang, Leman, Seman and others which are not Arabic either. In reality, there are many Malay names which do not have any meaning in Arabic and some have bad meanings if they are translated.

Still, it is all right for the Malays because they are, after all, Malay names.

Again, are Malays Islam and Islam Malays? The Prophet did not ask those who embraced Islam to change their names as long as they did not have bad meanings.

For instance, the name Umar was used during the pre-Islamic Jahiliyyah period and remained when the person became a Muslim.

I do not stop any Chinese Muslim from changing his name, especially if the new name will make him feel closer to the Muslim community.

Still, they must be given the choice to do so. If the changed names only make non-Muslim Chinese afraid of embracing Islam and fearful that their families will disown them, is it wrong for them to maintain their Chinese names?

If Awang can keep his name, why not Ah Chong?

An assumption that Islam mirrors Malay characteristics has dire consequences in many areas, especially when some Malays themselves act against the teachings of Islam.

Fortunately, most Malays still adhere to the teachings of Islam.

A strong faith is the saving grace in the hereafter.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that many Malays practice syirik (polytheism) and ridicule Allah’s commandments and the Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet).

These Malays are only Muslim in name.

From the perspective of history, the majority of the Chinese in Malaysia are non-Muslims. The call of Islam does not seem to reach them. Perhaps this is because the Malays have not effectively imparted the correct form of dakwah (missionary work).

Instead, many Malays portray an attitude that is against Islam.

Although the Malays can discuss many things with the Chinese, including the political party they should vote for, the Malays do not seem capable of presenting the greatness of Islam and inviting the Chinese to follow their religion.

Since many Malays contradict the teachings of Islam, the majority of the Chinese have misconceptions about Islam or abhor the idea of embracing Islam.

Islam is against negative traits such as laziness, apathy, envy and the like. Unfortunately, many Malays possess such attributes.

For instance, many Malay students are left behind in their studies. If they are set against the Chinese, either at school or university, many of the Malays will lag.

Also, most Malays are not interested in acquiring true Islamic knowledge. They would rather listen to Israiliyyat stories (derived from the Bible and Jewish folklore, used to help “fill in” the details especially when the passage is a narrative piece, which were traditionally deemed helpful or at least not harmful but could cloud the meanings of the Quran), fables and advice which are not founded in the Quran and Sunnah.

They prefer easy instruction without research and thought. At public libraries, the number of Malays using these facilities is still small. Chinese students diligently acquire knowledge, whereas many of their Malay counterparts are distracted by other things.

Some Malay parents will seek out blessed raisins and water for their children just before sitting for examinations to bring on good results. In the end, only those who study hard will excel, not the ones relying on blessed raisins and water.

The non-Muslim Chinese will reject Islam when they witness the Malays’ dependence on such practices but still fail to do well in their examinations.

Academically strong Muslims will not rely on water that was blessed with the Surah Yassin (one of the most important chapters in the Quran). Previous generations excelled because they stressed the importance of knowledge and were sincere in their efforts to acquire it. They were not merely focused on getting a certificate. Such qualities led to the creation of a powerful civilisation of knowledge in Islam.

Sometimes we as Muslims should praise the Chinese. Their children can still do well in their undertakings with neither high education nor paper qualifications. They either inherited the skills from their parents or from practical learning. Many successful Chinese businessmen are masters in their respective fields without having official paper qualifications. This trait is highly regarded by Islam. The religion urges its followers to rely on Allah and to increase their knowledge. In Surah Taha (verse 113) God says: “(Say Muhammad) Oh Lord, increase my knowledge.”

Based on what I have mentioned above, how can the Malays bring the non-Muslim Chinese closer to Islam and convince them that Islam has shaped the Malays to become noble human beings? The Chinese businessmen are better managers and portray strong positive traits compared with their Malay counterparts — to the extent that many Malays have more confidence in Chinese businessmen than their own. Where are people like Abd al-Rahman bin Auf, a Muslim role model of doing business? Maybe the Chinese, the majority of whom are non-Muslims, have a keener insight into Abd al-Rahman’s business acumen than the Malays.

There is much else that I can say, to the point that I am inclined to think that if the Malays were not Muslim, there would be little else they can be proud of. If the Chinese can receive Islam in its true form, they will have much to offer.

* The writer is the Mufti of Perlis.

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22 responses to “Malay-Muslim & Chinese-Muslim Paradox

  1. Assalamualaikum,

    Read this a while back.

    The notion of using chopsticks is sadly, not the only thing that is deemed as unIslamic. The vast understanding is that the Malay culture, immersed into our way of life to the point that people are unable to differentiate culture from religion.

    On account of Dr. Mohd Asri, a few other notable mentions of him are:

    1. His suggestion to the Education Ministry to construct a subject on Fiqh, Interactions between religions for the sake of instituting harmony amid the multi-racial/religious entities in Malaysia directly targeted for Muslim students.

    2. His support to the construction of a Chinese mosque in KL, whereby the activities, sermons etc. are in Mandarin.

    W’salam,
    Hajar

  2. Hi, it was a nice piece that put light on contradictions and paradoxes in the belief systems of many individual muslim societies, that they bracket themselves and thier culture as pure and pristine islam and reject the culture of other individual muslim societies, thought it do not contradict Islamic values rather another local expression of Islam. However, in between the article the writer’s perception on the habit of Muslims revering water blessed with Sura Yaseen or other prayers seems written without a thought over true islamic perceptions. it is true that hardwork is necessry for victory in exams and other things, but this never contradict with the various kind of prayers and thavakkul on Allah the almighty’s blessing. After all though we try hard, Allah’s belssings are necessory to achieve anything. Prophet’s saying is there that you tie the camel with a rope on a tree then depend on Allah.. So respecting and revering things and great people Allah revered is a must on Muslims, and without respect one’s belief will not complete.

  3. Nice post, i think i might nudge some Malay friends towards it.

    Just one thing, Dawah= missionary work is an incorrect idea.

  4. Zubair::

    The interpretation I had on “Academically strong Muslims … Surah Yassin.” differs as that statement is an extension of the points aforementioned.

    Figuring that the author was expressing a behavior existing in the Malay society, reverence here is not accompanied with hardwork.

    W’salam,
    Hajar

  5. Salams,

    Malaysia is going through a paradigm shift as we speak, firstly, Malysia is one of the fastest developing countires in the world (independance since 1957 – so it is about 52 years since then) During the earlier periods of the nation till Tun Dr Mahathir era especially, there was a tremendous vision the nation was seen adopting under his leadership – Vision 2020, then came the latter Abdullah Badawi in which he realises, the grass roots ie fundamentals/mind set, spiritual aspects etc. was very lacking amongst the nation, in order words a vacumm was created in between these 2 leaders period of leadership (1 was visionary, & the other grass roots & fundamentals) , and so filling in the gap is the current situation we are now in…pls see Malaysian news from web.

    The nation has been under various foreign occupation since 1511 in general ie (Portuguese/Dutch/English/Japan/English) in which was a both a good/bad thing because it builds the nation as what it is now but are the younger generation able to cope with the much developement of the nation with current globisation mindset? in other words, there is a large vacumm in souls of the younger generation especially the muslims, that is why ALLAH allows this situation in Malaysia to happen in order for them to evaluate,learn, experience etc in order for them to be called back to the original teachings through Rasullulllah SAW….they are searching deep now as we speak…

    Expose to poor leadership, materials distractions, unruly behaviour in the political scenario and social etc…and most important poor coordination/unity and weak understanding/poor implementation of islamic programmes/activities/ etc…it is chaotic, anyway the whole world is also but insyallah, there will be tranquility after the storm.

    I blame myself if my children do not do correctly in their life, i try to better my ahlak, do my doas for them, fidiyah the surah Al Fatihah to both their body/souls….and what do you know ALLAH has a better plan for them….Ya Rabbi alamin !

    remember the hadith saying..”to know oneself is to know Allah”
    includes reminders “your body is your masjid” and with various intepretations from other religions – Hiduism “your body is the light” – Christianity “your body is your holy temple or holy vessel” and Buddhism also in similar quotes too.

    in other words, we muslims MUST search deep within ourselves..because the light is in us, the TRUTH is in us, once we can understand its true meaning, insyallah, our lives will be much better in line with us just like the sun with the planets in our universe, one slight mistake can cause a chain of events with it in which applies the same with us because it also affects our families/friends/neighbours & even working place too.

    The new generation of Malays in general have gone through many transitions & not forgetting assimilations of various races (* pls check Malay Archipeleango history) ie Arabs (may have mixture of European/Jew/Arab etc bloodline), Chinese (Moghul/Han/Arab/Russian) bloodline, Indians (Tamils/Paskitani/Jew Kashmir/Moghul/Macedonian) bloodline & even in places like Phillipines ie Spanish / Vietnam ie French / etc the list go on because the Malay Archipeleango has been 1 of the attractions for many various reasons.

    Well there are in a sleepy state now ie blinded by material wealth etc, distarcted, etc. All they have to do is seek Allahs guidance and teachings through Rasullullah SAW, the the key will open the hearts once again, insyaalah (* all can this can be prove true DNA testings etc, and the best attributes from all races will come out from them with Allah’s grace alone)

    PS : also pls check indigo / crstallised children input fr web & refer to the aspects of Islam…there is TRUTH and it is happening NOW

    Salams

  6. Pingback: “Assalaamu’alaikum, Ah Chong!” « k h á y á L·

  7. Assalaamualaikum brother,

    I am a Malay, and I totally agree that most Malays are ignorant in terms of the history of Islam in China. Just because they thought we are Muslims earlier then the Chinese, some will just shrug off any Chinese Muslim statements in Malaysia when it comes to Islam, even though they have firm hujjah!

    Brother, I am happy to say that, from yesterday, a friend and I have come to China for a tour for 9 days, partly to see for ourselves the Islamic heritage here!

    Are you leaving in Beijing?

    If you are not busy, maybe we could interact through email: y4ku24@hotmail.com

    JazakAllah, and peace be upon you!

  8. Unfortunately, the article by the (now former) mufti does not give any suggestions as to what to do, nor how to do it.

    In the end, it is just another political statement complaining against the xisting regime, and calling for some sort of ambiguous “reformation”.

    I used to think he was bigger than this. Then I realised that he’s just another politician gunning to be the first Grand Mufti if the ruling party gets toppled.

    How sad….

  9. salam sister,

    nice to see another chinese muslim on the blog. will spend time browsing through ur blog.

    pls do visit me as well.

    thanks.

  10. I’m Chinese, most of my frens are malays, thus I’ve better understanding in muslim rather than the malay culture itself.

    Recently, my family and religion has this negative perception about Muslim and thus it has separated me & my bf, I’ve been set apart from him because my family is unable to accept muslim. To them, me converting to muslim is like leaving them or leave them behind..why it has to be so cruel..because of religion i’ve lost someone that loved me and someone i loved..

    I’m not sure about other countries, but in malaysia, i think most chinese have the wrong perception towards muslim.

    I do really need some advice, i do not want to lose someone that i love so much just because of religion difference. Its a battle ground for me now.

    • Dear Yan, I have exactly the same problem as you!! My boyfriend is a muslim and I am in the process of converting to Islam (for me, not for him) and my mother has such a hard time accepting it (I’m Chinese as well) and she too, has a very misguided perception of Islam and Muslims. It’s been very tough but InshaAllah things will go our way. If you would like to talk, you can email or msn me! everything happens for a reason as allowed by our creator :).

      • Dear Lotusbleu, I am a malay guy and dating a chinese girl. We’ve been dating for a year and she mentioned about wanting to convert to Islam (for herself, because we’re still in process of knowing each other). The problem is, she doesn’t know how to explain to her parents and I hope you can give me some advice about your experience in converting to Islam. If you already do, alhamdulillah..

      • Salaamwalaikum br, alhumddulillah I have been a Muslim for almost 3 years now and it has been the best thing in my life. My sincere advice, if your friend is serious about accepting Islam then you should take her to the masjid and let her take the Shahada. We don’t know when we will die so it is better that we die as a Muslim. When we decide to become a Muslim we do not wait to ask for our parents’ permission or anyone’s permission because it has nothing to do with them. And this is what happened with me. Of course I had to break the news eventually but tell her to do it gently and be ready to explain why. She should be brave and ready to accept the worse reaction and comments from her family but she should be strong and you need to support her and introduce her to more sisters (esp. revert sisters like ourselves). The support from other Muslims is crucial in the time of a new revert because we start to have a barrier with our families and friends and some even on the verge of losing them. But we have to be patient and kind to our parents, this is what Allah tells us in the Qur’an. And we should not obey our parents if they ask us to disobey Allah. Lastly, she must be sure that she is doing this for herself and not for you or for anyone else. If she is not at this stage yet then maybe you can do more dawah to her :) If you like, you can ask her to message me directly for advice or just someone to talk to.

  11. While the author makes some salient points, he has conveniently left out why Malays think Malay equals Muslim.

    Although there have been Chinese in Malaysia for 500 years, the majority of those in Malaysia came during the British rule, originally to provide labour for various mining operations. Later the Chinese came to be predominant in cities and towns, and the Malays were mainly in the villages, due to the British policy of ‘divide and rule’, because if people do not fraternise and get to know each other, they are easier to keep in order.

    This attitude, in my opinion, still prevails today. My parents were uncomfortable that my friends were mainly non-Malays. I always thought I had to apologise for my race’s misunderstanding of the other races in Malaysia, the Chinese and the Indians. Mind you, I did not choose my friends because of their ethnicity, rather I was looking for kindred spirits.

    This was until I lived abroad and had my eyes opened.

    I realised that part of the reason that the Malays are a bit uncomfortable with the Chinese is that some of them harbour a superiority complex over Muslims. My English teacher who was Chinese gave me a hard time when I started wearing the hijab to school. She thought it was a pity that a smart young girl was being ‘all covered up’. At the beginning of te school term, she had me pegged as ‘another Malay girl who does not know how to speak English’. Another Chinese friend proudly proclaimed that she does not speak Malay the way the Malays do, as though to speak the language well is something to be ashamed of. Some of my Chinese teachers made comments to the effect that made me uncomfortable to be Muslim. Many Chinese do not bother to find out about their Muslim neighbours either (a few still think Eid Fitr is a New Year celebration!). Others would charge Malays a different, higher price for their goods and services.

    Perhaps the changing to a Muslim name is good, for Muslims in Malaysia can be subject to a few different laws then non-Muslims, for example in inheritance and burials. There have been many cases where conversions are not notifed to their non-Muslim families, and all hell breaks lose when people from the local mosque turn up to give the janazah a Muslim burial.

    Anyway, if all people are seen as equal, why the suspicion and boycotting of Chinese who convert to Islam? Why should it be a shame to have a relative who is Muslim? A cousin who posted about her love for Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wassalam on her site, was harrassed by her sister’s non-Muslim in-laws (Chinese) for ‘bringing religion into everything’, and ‘being disrespectful of others’. This despite the fact that my cousin is half Chinese anyway!

    Now I am not saying that all Chinese are like this, I have enough lovely non-Muslim Chinese friends and neighbours to know otherwise. But while the (now ex)Mufti points out what we as Malay Muslims should be doing for our non-Muslim brethren, I thought I should also point out that racism sometimes cuts both ways. Not only the Muslims should open their hearts and minds, the non-Muslim has to as well, in the spirit of brotherhood.

  12. how to respond if 1 chinese guy give a reason not to convert :not to disapoint his parents because of they sacrifices a lot to him. Plz advise…

  13. Salam,

    I guess Malays too should examine the level Chinese nationalism ideology in every Chinese self. being a Chinese does not mean solely by being a citizen of China. It is their adherent toward ancestral customs, culture, and language.

    I was born in a “Malay” family of northern Malaysia and later find out that my paternal line was not a real “Malay” family but of Yemeni descent who were forced to assimilize into mainstream Malay society. So goes with my maternal line where we have Southern Chinese blood in ourselves beside some portion of Malay blood. I made my own step by learning Chinese culture although I am not a Chinese and learning Chinese myself.

    Chinese nationalism is just an ideology, the same like the ideology of Malay nationalism or pan-Arab nationalism. But in the term of our faith, we are related to each other. No one is different in the view of Allah.

  14. I am a Muslim Malay. I am proud to be one. I am proud to be a muslim.
    I suggest both Malay and Chinese should open both their hearts and mind and learn each other’s history.

    There’s hikmah towards everything Allah S.W.T. creates. Allah S.W.T. have created Malaysia to be a well-diverse country with islam as it’s official religion. There’s malay, chinese, indian and other religion.

    Now, there’s a reason as to why He have put both Malay and Chinese together to live in one peaceful country.
    Is so that both can learn about each other. Now, don;t be so shallow minded as to ‘not bothered’ about learning abt each other’s own historical background, cultures, ancestors and customs. It’s a way for us to truly and purely understand each other ways as a way to keep nation peace together. When this happens, there should be high tolerance with each other. The same goes for all ethnics in Malaysia. One should remember to always keep in open mnd and open heart.

    This should never seen as soemthing complicated.

    WE are all THE SAME AS ALLAH S.W.T CREATED.

    Nobody is superior, inferior or better than one another.

    Everyone must see this in a wider perspective.

  15. Salam,
    A very bias article that needs reviewing and an opinion of a Malay. Oh wait, there is one right now! Me! It is very bias, stereotypical and one sided. You are ganging upon the Malays.

    Truth be told, my Grandmother is Chinese, convert to Islam. Married my Grandfather who is Malay. I don’t think we ended up like you claim. You have to meet one to get to know one.

  16. THE FACT STILL REMAINS THAT MALAYS ARE LAZY,VERY PROMISCUOUS IN NATURE,THEIR MEN AND WOMEN HAVING AMOROUS AFFAIRS EVEN WHEN THEY ARE MARRIED.MALAYS ARE NOT TYPICAL MUSLIMS BECAUSE ABOUT 90 PERCENT OF THEM STILL PRACTICE SOME SORT OF VOODOO AND MAGIC WHICH DOES NOT CONFORM TO THE TEACHINGS OF ISLAM.

    AS FOR BRINGING THE MIND SET OF MALAYS IN TERMS OF EXPOSURE AND INTELLIGENCE TO COME IN TANDEM TO THE LEVEL OF DEVELOPMENT IN THE COUNTRY,THE GOVERNMENT HAS A VERY CRUCIAL ROLE TO PLAY ESPECIALLY IN THE EDUCATIONAL SECTOR.
    A WHOLE LOT OF MALAYS FAIL THEIR EXAMS AND TESTS IN SCHOOL BUT AT THE END OF THE SEMESTER YOU SEE THEM HAVING 3.5 AND ABOVE.CURTSY THE MALAY LECTURERS AND HEADS OF DEPARTMENTS.

    THIS SINGULAR ACTS KILLS THE FUTURE LEADERS OF THE COUNTRY BECAUSE YOU WILL FIND OUT ONE DAY THAT THE SO CALLED DOCTORS IN THE HOSPITALS ARE NOT EVEN QUALIFIED TO BE QUACKS AND THEY ARE ALL OVER THE PLACE PLAYING WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES .

    FURTHERMORE,THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD MAKE ENGLISH LANGUAGE A MUST FOR ALL THE MALAYS BECAUSE THE BAHASA MELAYU THEY USE IN BASIC EDUCATION MAKES THEM DUMB AND RETARDED IN TERMS OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION. WEATHER THEY LIKE I OR NOT,ENGLISH IS THE NUMBER ONE LANGUAGE ALL OVER THE WORLD AND SHOULD BE LEARNT IN ORDER TO COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

    IMAGINE MEETING A 25 YEAR OLD MALAY LADY AND SAYING EXCUSE ME DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE TWIN TOWER IS, AND SHE WILL START SMILING LIKE A CAMEL AND THE NEXT YOU HEAR FROM HER IS ENGLISH TATAU .THAT IS A VERY SHAMEFUL THING AND I HAVE COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE RULING ELITES IN THE SOCIETY USES THAT AS A LEVERAGE IN ORDER TO CONTROL THE REMAINING DUMB ONES WHO LACK THE EFFECTIVE USE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE !

  17. Malay will never get along with Islam. To be more specific, Adat Melayu will never get along with Syariah Islam. Part of Adat Melayu is against the teaching of Syariah Islam, and part of Syarah Islam is against practises of Adat Melayu. By admiting you are Malay and uphold the Adat Melayu, is saying you won’t uphold part of Syariah Islam, and vice versa.

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