The Malay Story

The following is a speech I gave in the presence of attendees of the “Melayu 2.0” meetup, an interest group supported by Mendaki that sought to engage the community to write a better future for Singapore Malays.

Dear friends.

In the past 10 years of Malay history, our community has seen through many challenges that has made our progress difficult and minute. When we ask ourselves, what has the Malay people achieved, there is little that we can be proud of. When Natasha Nabila, a PSLE candidate from a working class family broke records, our community celebrated as if we, individually, had something to do with her success. A Malay adage would aptly describe, “Bak ayam telur sebiji, riuh sekampung”. That would probably show how desperate the Malay community needs a success story.

The community’s reputation in all kinds of problems, is too colourful, that it probably needs no introduction or elaboration. When it comes to misbehaving, the finger is conveniently pointed at us. In so many National Day rallies, our leaders often give special attention to address our “Malay problems”.

Today, there are some Malays that do not wish to associate themselves as Malays. They are successful, educated, and proud. Yes, they have broken away from the vicious cycle of the “Malay problem” that it would probably be apt to no longer call themselves Malay. Afterall, what is a Malay without problems?

Former Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir, wrote a book in 1969, titled “The Malay Dilemma”. In it, he posits that:

  1. The Malays are the indigenous people of Malaysia
  2. The sole national language is the Malay language and all other races are to learn it
  3. The tolerance and non-confrontational nature of the Malays has allowed them to be subjugated in their own land by other races, with British help.
  4. A program of affirmative action is required to “correct” the Malaysian Chinese hegemony in business, which contributed to the unequal distribution of wealth.

The dilemma was whether the Malays should accept this governmental aid, and to Dr Mahathir, they should.

If one were to compare his basic positions to the realities of Singapore, and superimpose them over to Singapore’s conditions, much similarities can be noticed on the fundamental and economic condition of the Malays here. We are the indigenous people of Singapore. Malay is the sole national language of Singapore. Our own nature has allowed us to be controlled by others. And it is no surprise who controls the economy.

So this, on top of our other problems like drugs, pre-adult marriage, delinquency, broken families, poverty and poor educational performance constitutes a dilemma. To any Malay, just staring at these issues is depressing. How then would we have not venerated a 12 year old girl for achieving the highest PSLE score ever? We desperately needed a hero. We needed a success story, and how sad is that?

What we Malays forget is the potential of our own success. That whether or not we are educated, broke records, or played a musical instrument, we have always had the potential to succeed. It is not the barriers that have been placed before us that prevents us from this success. It is only our lack of desire that stops us.

If a job requires Mandarin, then one should seek to learn it. Not complain about the inequality that persists. Personally, I agree that some of these Mandro-phile job requirements are just like a cow’s manure. But if we just sit there complaining, we’ll still be jobless tomorrow, and we will not get out of our poverty. Prophet Muhammad said, “Find knowledge even if it means going to China”. We should count ourselves lucky that China has decided to come to us.

If we are poor in Math, then we should seek to get better at it. I myself was a top class failure in Math. I kept scoring F9s consistently in secondary school. Until one day, I was inspired by the many Muslim mathematicians and scientists that created the modern number system and many complex Mathematical theories. I took 2 months away from my secondary 3 holidays, to do 1 ten year series each day. Eventually, I scored distinctions in my secondary 4 year and I passed my O levels with nothing less than B3 for all subjects. Success was attained with much sacrifice, and this is what we Malays lack sometimes.

Fandi Ahmad didn’t become a great footballer because he was born one. If you read his biography, he stayed back 1 hour each practice session to shoot at goal. He sacrificed 1 hour every day, when he could be enjoying himself, so that he could become the best, and indeed he still is.

Desire. Hunger. Sacrifice. Action. These are the keywords that will be provide impetus to Melayu 2.0, Forget the misgivings of the past. We shall not harp on it. Pondering on the Malay Dilemma will serve us no good. What we need is to create more success stories and the only way to do that is to believe in ourselves.

If I may borrow the words of President Barack Obama, “We, are the change we’ve been waiting for”. And that’s the difference of the Singapore Malay. We, wait for no one, and no government to help us. Self-help is a pillar in the Singapore Malay community, and we must help ourselves, not because there is no affirmative action, but because this betterment is what we seek for ourselves.

This cannot be done by me alone, nor can it be done by the good friends I have in the core team. This can only be done as a community, as one people, and that is why you matter. We want change. And your contribution towards this movement is critical. I’m sure like me, you’ve had enough. So I ask you to stand up and be counted. Because we are the change we’ve been looking for.

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