Are the Malays immigrants? A response to Drs Hazmi and Rahmat

Rama Ramanathan

Their article is infused with errors, selectivity and omissions. I’ll list ten examples.

Rama Ramanathan

Last week several dailies published an article titled “Were the Malays immigrants?”

The authors are two who teach law at national universities. The authors took a twisted path and arrived at an unexpected though welcome conclusion: non-Malays in Malaysia are no longer immigrants.

One author, Dr Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli, teaches Syariah and Law at University Sains Islam Malaysia; the other, Dr Rahmat Mohamad, teaches International Law at Universiti Teknologi Mara.

One purported goal of their article is to demonstrate that it is incorrect to call people of “the Malay race” immigrants. Yet they do not explicitly define the words “race” and “immigrant.”

A second purported goal of their article is to justify the constitutional guarantee of “the special position of the Malays in Malaysia, the ‘sons of the soil’ (bumiputras) of the nation” (Article 153).

Their article is infused with errors, selectivity and omissions. I’ll list ten examples:

First, they speak of a “Malay port” called Langkasuka, though Langkasuka is the Sanskrit name for a region.

Second, they define “Malays” as persons who lived in the Nusantara, the Malay Archipelago, which encompassed “the modern day Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore, southern Thailand, southern Philippines and Timor-Leste.” They bypass the constitutional definition of a Malay (Article 160):

“a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and – (a) was before Merdeka day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or is on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or (b) is the issue of such a person.”

Third, they conflate Malay with Islam – they say Chinese and Indians could not assimilate with “the Malays” because they did not profess Islam. Are they unaware that according to their “Nusantara” definition, the Hindu Balinese, who are assimilated in Muslim-majority Indonesia, are also Malays?

Fourth, they speak of “the Malay kingdom of Srivijaya,” seemingly oblivious of the fact that Srivijaya is, like Langkasuka, an Indian word.

Fifth, they expostulate that the demarcation of the Malay Archipelago was done by the British (and the Dutch) via the Anglo-Dutch treaty. They are silent over the fact that Malaya/Malaysia was also the creation of the British.

Sixth, they say nothing about the Orang Asli in West Malaysia. Why does the Malay language refer to those who live in the jungles as Orang Asli which means “native people?” Isn’t it vastly important that Malay is the language of the invader (worse than immigrant?), not of the native people?

Seventh, by asking “Were the Malays immigrants,” they frame the question in the past tense – to insinuate that Article 153 is a flag flown to recognize that Malays are not immigrants. Yet Article 153 was crafted to provide affirmative for the Malays for economic reasons, not because “Malays are not immigrants.”

Eighth, they say “Malay migrants” (i.e. those not from the peninsula, but from other parts of Nusantara), unlike Chinese and Indians, came with the intention of making Malaya their permanent home. They imply that Malay migrants “were not migrants” because they made themselves subject to the Malay rulers. Without offering any basis, they claim that only Malays consented to be subjects of the Rulers. They pass over the fact that Malay Rulers brought in Chinese coolies – who became loyal subjects.

Ninth, they appeal to the free movement of Malays within Nusantara as proof that Bugis, Javanese, etc. are Malays. They don’t mention that there were also wars within Nusantara. They also don’t mention how – if at all – Bugis, Javanese, etc. were treated differently from Chinese and Indians when they arrived at Malayan ports.

Tenth, they downplay the fact that Article 153 was inserted in order to convince elite Malays to accept the Chinese and Indians who wanted to make Malaya their permanent home!

Enough of the errors, selectivity and omissions which demonstrate historical revisionism in their article. I propose it is more useful to discuss specific examples of Malay immigrants.

I’ve chosen two stalwarts of Malay Superiority, both of them linked to Perkasa, the champion of Malay Superiority in Malaysia.

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