Sunday, April 04, 2010

Malay or Malaysian?

April 4 — We all have multiple identities.

A person can be a Malay, a Muslim and a Malaysian at the same time, or for that matter, a Chinese-Malaysian, a Buddhist and a Malaysian. The first is one’s ethnic identity, the second one’s religious identity and the third, one’s citizenship or nationality.

Most of the time these identities, which express themselves in different ways and at different levels, do not conflict with one another. As a Malay, Rusdi may be fond of pantuns; as a Muslim, he may be meticulous about his daily prayers; and as a Malaysian, he may be proud of the nation’s multi-cultural mosaic. Of course, there may be extraordinary circumstances that may lead to a clash of identities. Many Chinese-Malaysians may feel the need for ethnic solidarity but to achieve that solidarity one may have to compromise values such as integrity and honesty cherished in Buddhism. Or, a segment of the Chinese-Malaysian community may want to elevate Chinese education to such a level that it jeopardises the role of Malay as the language of national integration. It is in this sense that the articulation of ethnic identity can sometimes be inimical to the quest for a national identity.

One of the monumental challenges facing the nation is the evolution of a shared Malaysian identity that all ethnic communities are comfortable with. It has to be an identity that transcends specific ethnic identities, and yet celebrates our tremendous ethnic diversity. No community should feel threatened by such an all-encompassing national identity.

In this regard, Malays, and indeed all Malaysians, should realise that there is an intimate nexus between Malay identity and Malaysian nationality. Article 160(2) of the Malaysian Constitution defines a Malay as someone who professes Islam, habitually speaks Malay, and conforms to Malay customs. Two of these characteristics actually define the identity of the Malaysian nation. Islam is the religion of the Federation (Article 3) and Malay is the language of the land (Article 152). This is why it is absurd to see Malaysian nationality as antithetical to Malay identity, as some Malay newspaper commentators have. On the contrary, Malaysian nationality is conterminous with Malay identity.

Of course, Malaysian nationality also embraces other ethnic identities. What this means is that the religions, languages and cultures of the non-Malay communities are integral to the Malaysian landscape — a fact recognised by the Constitution. The Constitution also upholds the economic rights and the political roles of these communities. A Malay who is committed to the Constitution, and appreciates Malaysian nationality, would defend the rights of all religious and cultural communities, and their economic and political roles.

Likewise, a Chinese or Indian Malaysian who is passionate about his Malaysian nationality would not only champion his community’s own rights and roles as envisaged in the Constitution but also demonstrate a commitment to the economic well-being of the Malays and other Bumiputras. He would be enthusiastic about propagating Malay as the national language and strengthening the Bahasa-based national school as the school of first choice for all Malaysians. An appreciation of the role of Islam as the religion of the Federation would also be part of his outlook.

This ability to understand and empathise with the position of the other — apart from defending one’s own ethnic interests and identity — is a vital prerequisite for the growth of a Malaysian nationality. Empathy for one another is the need of the hour. It explains why Yayasan 1 Malaysia(YIM) regards the nurturing of inter-ethnic empathy as its mission.

* Written by Dr Chandra Muzaffar. This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified. Courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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