Zulfikar Shariff: What Is A Melayu?

What is a Melayu? A common mistake is to view Malayness by ancestry.

I have discussed this issue several times. A Melayu is not based on genetics. It is a nation.

This nation is defined by language, culture and Islam.

In his book “Kerajaan”, Anthony Milner provided some characteristics of the Melayu. He argued that unlike some other nations, the Malays never belonged to a single empire.

The Malays did not “consider themselves members of a race which owed its origins to a single ancestor or homeland.” But as Raffles noted, the Melayu nation is “one people, speaking one language, though spread over so wide a space, and preserving their character and customs.”

For Milner, even though the Malays did not belong to one race or empire, there is unity to the nation “that permits us to talk of a ‘Malay world’”.

Zainal Abidin Ahmad (also known as Za’ba), in 1917, stated that, any person “may be considered to be of the one Malay bloodline in the Malay World as long as they originate from the Indo-Malay archipelago, profess Islam as their religion, and adopt the Malay language, worldview, temperament, and customs” (Chong).

Milner provided similar assessments. He provided 3 conditions for Malayness: Malay culture, language and Islam.

Insha Allah in the next post, I will elaborate on the three conditions that Milner wrote about.

But we can here understand the concept of “masuk Melayu”.

The Malays is a welcoming and hospitable nation. They welcome others into their society. The Chinese traders, Indian merchants, Arab businessmen. They are all accepted into our society and accorded respect and welcome as is known of the Malays.

And if they are Muslims, speak the Malay language and follow our customs, they are accepted as a Malay.

Very few, if any, society has such openness and acceptance.

Chong, Jinn Winn. “” Mine, Yours or Ours?”: The Indonesia-Malaysia Disputes over Shared Cultural Heritage.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 27.1 (2012): 1-53.

Milner, Anthony Crothers. Kerajaan: Malay political culture on the eve of colonial rule. No. 40. University of Arizona Press, 1982.


Source: Zulfikar Shariff

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