Zulfikar Shariff: What is a Malay?

Seperkara yang selalu dibahaskan ialah concept Melayu/ Islam.

Ada yang menyatukan keduany (Melayu itu Islam), ada yang beranggapan keduanya tidak sama (Melayu itu bangsa dan Islam agama), ada yang merasakan menyatukan kedua perkara tidak wajar dan wajib dipisahkan.

Insha Allah post ini akan memberi sedikit pencerahan tentang bangsa Melayu. Ada yang lebih ariff dan insha Allah I hope they can expand on the issue further.

Bangsa Melayu tidak boleh difahamkan seperti suku. Suku ialah identiti melalui genetic. It is based on ancestry.

Bangsa Melayu is not simply genetic but characteristic. Orang Melayu ialah seseorang yang diterima masyarakat Melayu sebagai Melayu.

Penerimaan ini berdasarkan penggunaan bahasa Melayu, mengikut adat resam Melayu dan beragama Islam.

That is how the Malays have identified themselves the last several hundred years.

Not by ancestry, but through Islam, culture and language.

The problem arose when the British arrived in the region. They could not understand how a race is based on characteristics that are seen to be dynamic. It also went against their understanding of race and ethnicity to accept the possibility that someone can “Masuk Melayu”. Since their understanding of themselves is based on ancestry, the British could not accept the nature of the Malay bangsa.

For example, Abdullah Munsyi was ethnically an Indian. But he spoke for the Malays and was accepted by the Malays as a Malay.

Such identification was normal for the Malays. But the British rejected it. It was only late in the 19th century that Malayness began to be taken as ethnicity with Islam being held as distinct.

As Diana Carroll argued, “while it may be correct to say that Abdullah would not have appeared to be Malay by mid-twentieth century standards, this cannot be assumed to be the case when Abdullah was growing up.”

Rather than accept simply how the British and the west defined Malayness, we should return to our own definition.

Not every Muslim is a Malay. But every Malay is a Muslim.

Diana Carroll. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
Vol. 72, No. 2 (277), JOHN M. GULLICK FESTSCHRIFT (1999), pp. 91-129


Source: Zulfikar Shariff

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