Jawi is a divisive issue only because of Dong Zong

Fatihah Jamhari, Free Malaysia Today

No one needs to reiterate the status of the Malay language in Malaysia. It stands as our national as well as official language pursuant to Articles 152 and 161 of the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act 1963/67.

Its adoption into Article 11A of the Constitution of the State of Sabah also highlights the formulation of a unified national identity throughout our protected national territory.

There is no need to reiterate simply because no one seems to care anyway. Not those in Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (the authoritative body governing Malay lexicology), certainly not the rakyat of this country who are unable to use and promote the language as our unifying language, not even our MPs who still speak the language as if they only landed on the shores of Melaka a moment ago.

Be it in informal settings or in formal meetings, it is becoming more and more cogent that Bahasa Melayu as our national and official language is a dying provision. The usage is forced and only after receiving backlash from netizens, who often insist on a proper respect accorded to the language because writing in Chinese (language and characters – Hanzi) only conveys the intended message to a very select portion of our society.

That ministers in the Cabinet still issue statements in languages other than Bahasa Melayu is completely outrageous, disrespectful and plain illegal.

The rakyat in 1967 initiated #Keranda152 movement to voice their concerns to the government, stating clearly that it was time for the government to be serious about respecting Bahasa Melayu as envisioned under Article 152 (and Article 161) of our Federal Constitution.

Yet, 52 years on, we are still begging like leprous vermin at the footsteps of the high and mighty government to honour our laws.

What is so hard about using and interacting in Bahasa Melayu? Why the resistance?

It is out of sheer disrespect and mere contempt that our own rakyat is opposing its usage. With this disrespect and contempt, these rakyat advocate ways to undermine our national language, camouflaging it as cultural preservation and the loaded modern term “freedom of expression”.

Let’s not speak of unity when the medium of instruction in our national schools is still up for a very heated, albeit purporseless, debate.

Our government has always kowtowed to powerful lobbyists with strong purse-strings.

Having one or two ministers who are vocal about their desire to assert the position of Bahasa Melayu has not changed the situation. At this rate, nothing will. Legal provisions remain toothless, lifeless and barren.

What’s the big hullabaloo about learning Jawi calligraphy?

Jawi only functions as a script to write Bahasa Melayu in. This is a statement of fact. Just like writing in Hanzi will not turn a Malay into a Chinese Buddhist, writing in Jawi will not turn a Chinese Christian into a Malay Muslim.

The fact that there is a need to continuously repeat this statement by all supporters of Jawi script shows how ignorant and arrogant the opponents to the script are.

Learning Jawi and calligraphy is not meant to be profitable, although many argue that it can be. Just look at how industrious Randuk’s business model is. Just like learning other forms of art is not meant only for the sake of commerce, introducing Jawi calligraphy into the Malaysian syllabus is not meant to equip our Malaysian students with supernatural powers that transform them into cash-cows in 10 to 20 years.

Students are children who are developing their skills –analytical and creative skills that are good to have. Stop these obsessive trends that see our students as mere products that must be manufactured perfectly for the global market. Let them learn.

Obsessive parents who only think of education as an investment tool to reap benefits when the students enter the workforce have truly missed the spirit of learning.

Let students develop soft skills that allow them to interact in the real world with respect, honour and kindness. Stop obsessing over how much they can make out of Jawi calligraphy and start teaching them that all forms of art can develop creativity and analytical skills. This way, when they enter the workforce, they can cogently analyse the real issues in our world and apply efficient solutions to resolve them.

Teach them also to appreciate, respect and honour any move to strengthen their core values as a student, a child and a Malaysian. Maybe in 10 to 20 years, we won’t have to see MPs in Parliament who can barely formulate a discernible Bahasa Melayu sentence even though the rules of the houses clearly state that Bahasa Melayu is the official language, which must be used in all debates held in the houses.

Legal standing

Although before the coming of Islam to the Malay Archipelago, the Malay language used to be written in Pallava, Kawi and Rencong scripts, none of these writing systems received the same legal standing as Jawi.

Under Section 9 of Act 32, although Rumi is recognised as the script in which our national language is officially written, the Jawi script is not barred from use.

This is where it gets interesting. Although Section 9 of Act 32 provides for such, Section 10 of Act 32 goes further to state that “the form of numerals in the national language shall be the Arabic form of numerals”.

The effect of these two provisions read together is that where there is a need to make an official statement in our national language, in which a figure must appear, the Bahasa Melayu sentence must be written in both Rumi and in Jawi (for numerals).

Objecting to Malaysian identity is treason

If a citizen wishes to fully adopt his identity as a Malaysian, it can only be right and proper that he must respect and adopt all legal provisions aimed to socially engineer a united and lively Malaysia.

This includes the respect that must be accorded to the usage of Jawi as a proper script to write Bahasa Melayu.

Any action that questions any initiative to introduce a unified Malaysian identity into our school system is treason, plain and simple.

Yet, with no weapons but the mighty pens in their hands, it is hard to see this form of subversion. They continue to mask their disdain for anything that is Malaysian while reaping millions of ringgit for their coffers.

They have made millions, in not billions, from transacting with fellow Malaysians yet they see anything that resembles a Malaysian identity as abhorrent. This is the very definition of treachery yet they continue to exist in our country, with the protection of law – the very law that they spit on.

Sins of the Malays

All things said, we must know that the sins committed in terms of the Jawi script are not the sins of the non-Malays, who look at the script with pessimism and distrust, worried that their cultural and religious standings will be compromised.

No, it is in fact the sins of the Malays, who have long murdered the script.

Let’s not forget, it was not a Chinese or an Indian who slowly killed Jawi in the Malaysian syllabus. It was the late Mohamed Khir Johari, who in 1966 as the education minister, decided to abolish the teaching and learning of the Malay language in Jawi script at national schools.

As a result, generation after generation of Malaysian Malays cannot even spell out Malay words written in Jawi – how much less should we hope for a Chinese or an Indian to be able to read the script?

Let us all admit the painful truth: the sins of the Malays against our identity are many times greater than the wrongdoings of some non-Malays who oppose the preservation of anything ethnically associated with the Malays.

Let not the introduction of Jawi script into our schools be a divisive issue. It can only be divisive if we allow it to be.

Accept and embrace the introduction with kindness. There are enough issues for fellow Malaysians to squabble over.

Fatihah Jamhari is part of the International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq).