Inspiring lessons from the 'not truly Malaysian' saga

Dr Nabilah Ali | .

I had more Chinese and Indian friends than I had Malay friends during my primary school years. There were 5 Joannes in my class; with different versions of the name : Jo Ann, Joanna and Joanne amongst others. The Siti, Nur and Aida were few and far in between.

I lived in a house fronting a very busy main road, that my father managed to buy relatively cheap because it was a definite 'hen dao mei '(bad luck). Not only was it No 4 (which incidentally is my favourite number!), it was exactly in front of a junction and my, that spot had witnessed many an accident in those days. The previous owner had sold it off in a jiffy.

My friends and I used to play galah panjang and batu seremban together during recess. They taught me a smattering of Hokkien and Mandarin and I used to sing along to the gay tune of .."In the city of Penang...."

I remember fondly too, a tall gangly Malay girl and a tiny, nimble Indian girl who would fight it out in the 100 metre dash while the rest of us brought up the rear, straggling past the line, one by one.

We had a very 'sui' (pretty), slender, Eurasian girl in our group as well. Once, she got injured during our rough and tumble play. Her dad came to bring her home but neither did we nor the teachers got ticked off. Those were the good ol' days.

My sister was the first to wear the tudung in secondary school. Ever the mischief, I used to lead my friends and boo her when she passed by. 'Botakhead' was our favourite taunt. Then, came my turn to wear the tudung in Standard Five.

I did look awkward in it while wearing my Brownies uniform but no one dared to tease me then. I was the teachers' pet, you see. The majority of teachers were non Malays. I was a prefect and the assistant head girl in Standard 6. We were one big happy Malaysian family. I neither felt intimidated nor discriminated for trying to be a practising Malay Muslim. And then I left for an all girls boarding school.

During my secondary school stint, my favourite teachers were also non Malays. We had an extremely sweet, soft spoken Mrs. Sarojini for English who still sent me aerogrammes (now probably an extinct species) when I went abroad. The letters stopped coming when she passed away due to cancer.

Mr Tan, as Chinese as they come, used to confuse me during Physics but I never slept in class after he perfected his 'chalk throwing at nodding heads' technique. It was probably due to that that I managed to squeak through an A for SPM.

In view of the vibrant and flourishing Muslim community in England, the English were very accommodating and receptive to Malaysian Muslims. I remember fondly an immensely charming, half French surgeon who would dish out less charming expletives in both French and English when things were not going his way.

However, he had no problems with me donning a headscarf nor wearing long sleeves in OT, as I would then gown up properly for the operation. He even allowed me, a fourth year medical student, with dirt still behind her ears, to scrub up with him for his varicose vein and hernia operations. He is one of those inspiring teachers that I have talked about.

Back then, I felt safe during the five mile trek home on foot from the railway station after the occasional trips out of Manchester. With my hijab, I know that I am perceived as a chaste, practising Muslim and had nothing to fear nor would I invite any untoward attention. Mind, this was way long before 9/11 and the recent Paris attacks.

Back in Malaysia, I have had my share of good and bad experiences in my working career. My best friends and worst foes are both non Malays. My good buddy is a tall,  suave, Sikh gynaecologist who voted for PAS in the recent elections.

I was inspired to pursue my Masters training by a few non Malay consultants. Among them, one enjoyed watching Islamic programmes on television while another quietly admitted to being a fan of  the revered Allahyarham Tuan Guru Dato' Bentara Setia Haji Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

I enjoyed the early years of my training in this busy, bustling hospital although I was heavily pregnant, with at times, five eod (every other day) calls. It was the norm to eat lunch at 5 o'clock after my working hours were over and going back home at 8 or 9 at night after finishing OT.

Occasionally, my Indian specialist would drop me off work instead of walking home as was my usual routine, since it was already late and my husband was using our only car outstation. Back then, our starting salary was less than RM2000.

I truly miss the camaraderie we shared then, whereby the more senior registrars would bear the brunt of scolding from the consultants and I, as the youngest in the brood, was spared the verbal onslaught.

And I never once, even before as a young house officer, or later as a medical officer, ever brought in my husband or my father to argue on my behalf for any injustice that I felt had been done towards me. This happens once every so often nowadays with the newer generation of doctors.  Perform well, and you will never have the opportunity to be reprimanded.

Thus, in my humble and limited experience, I can only deduce that the problems we have with regards to racial, religious and political disharmony in this country boils down to just three simple things: ignorance, egoistic or being selfish and greed.

We may fear and hate other people from different races, religions and denominations because we never bothered to talk to them, let alone find out about them and their religion.

Not long ago, a Malaysian Chinese activist made known on social media his findings of a small survey that the current generation of Chinese youths had minimal interaction and very few non-Chinese contacts outside their circle of Chinese friends.

This is probably why hudud and the syariah laws are misunderstood and feared, made worse by race oriented political parties who raise opposition, citing the rights of Malaysian citizens under the Malaysian law.

What rights are you talking about now, when reassurance has been given that these sacred laws will only be applicable to Muslims?

What about the Muslims' rights to be governed by their religious laws? And you talk about justice and prosperity for all.

Do non Muslims know that if we have been judged and punishment meted out in this world, we are deemed sin free and need not be punished anymore in the Hereafter?

Please don't tell me that you would not care less. Are you so selfish then that you wish to begrudge us this sacred lifeline?

It is an accepted fact that Muslim females of age who bare parts of their hair or body that should otherwise be covered, bear the brunt of hellfire according to Islam. For God fearing Muslim women, we try our best to adhere to this.

Greed comes in many shapes and sizes. Envious because another is rich and successful and we are not. So selfish that only employees of a certain race, religion, political affiliation and even rank, climb up the ladder of management not because of their merits but because of these other considerations. Similarly, reprimand the nurse, but never the doctor who also wears long sleeves.

Greedy because we wish that only our race or kin be happy, healthy, wealthy and knowledgeable at the expense of others. We even try to deny or take possession of other people's fortunes or standing.

This is 'hasad' as mentioned in the Holy Quran in the 113th Surah al Falaq (translated):

1. 'Say: I seek refuge with Allah, the Lord of the daybreak.'
2. 'From the evil of what He has created,
3. 'And from the evil of the darkening (night) as it comes with its darkness,
4. 'And from the evil of those who practise witchcraft when they blow in the knots,
5. 'And from the evil of the envier when he envies.'

Hasad has varying degrees; among which is one envies another to a degree that he covets what belongs to the other.

What is permissible in Islam is ghibtah, or being envious of another's fortunes which inspire them to strive harder to achieve similar success. But not ill wishing another nor scheme for that fortune to be taken away from them.

Ghibtah is permissible and discussed at great length by Islamic scholars. Muslim children learn this value at a young age; whether we practise it or not is altogether a different matter.

As professionals and especially practising Muslim professionals, we should condemn this and never agree to such blatant discrimination.

Allah SWT says in the Quran in Chapter 8 Surah Al Maidah, verse 8 (translated);

"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses for fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety, and fear Allah. For Allah is well acquainted with all that ye do."

So, what are the solutions to this great calamity that has befallen our nation, which used to be so harmonious decades ago?

One, adhere to a common national language policy. Empower it, speak it, write it, sing it, make a reality tv programme out of it and ensure that all citizens from all walks of life, ages and ranks speak the language well. For the heck of it, spend RM2.6 billion on this 'not Felda Global' venture.

Time and again, I have come across Malaysian patients, both young and old just shaking their heads while saying 'tatau cakap'. Aren't you ashamed to call yourself Malaysians while at the same time you demand your rights as a Malaysian citizen similar to a bumiputera Sabahan who speaks the language fluently, albeit with their lovely slang 'mbah'.

Our neighbouring country, Indonesia has  more than 18,000 islands, with its people spread out and inhabiting 6,000 of those islands. Did you know that a staggering 737 languages are spoken in this huge nation but they can still empower their Bahasa Indonesia?

The same goes for Thailand up north, whose people uphold the national language. Surprisingly, Malaysians who like to spout 'Malaysia Boleh' and attempt all sorts to get into that Malaysia Book of Records, all of a sudden, can't perform in this particular instance. Instead, they choose to 'anyoung haseyo' and 'sarang hae' and eat kimchi. Korean wave, my foot.

And these are the people who look down on the wave of foreigners flooding our shores and demand them to go home when these foreigners can pick up the language after just a few months. I feel ashamed for having to say this outright.

Don't get me wrong. I too, am worried about this influx of legal and illegal immigrants. I work in a hospital remember, I see and treat them everyday.

Second, there should be more integration of all races from early childhood. I understand that our SJK (C) and SJK (T) schools are here to stay, and I have nothing against these schools or our Sekolah Agama Rakyat. But this is where multiracial children who should actually be playing together, instead congregate among their own races and keep within their circle of friends.

I don't care two hoots about the numerous festivals held to promote tourism in the country; whereby Malaysia is being portrayed as an excellent blend of races, cultures and even biodiversity.

We get a medley of people of all races dancing to several different tunes, swirls of beautiful colours and costumes on Merdeka Day celebrations and foreigners oohing and aahing away, admiring the harmony. On the ground and in reality though, certain groups of the population still resist change and prefer to remain in their comfort zones.

BERSIH sort of changed that for a while but old habits die hard. I tested this out a few weeks ago while laboriously waiting at the JPJ office to renew my driving license.

I tried earnestly to strike up a conversation with a Chinese guy my age beside me, but I only managed to gather that he came all the way from Kepong with his friend and he had waited for two hours. My attempt at further conversation felt strained and I gave up after some time.

I would probably have made better progress with a baseball cap wearing African American youth or a Scottish grandfather than my fellow citizen!

Having said that, I have met several friendly Chinese pensioners during trips to Malacca. The elderly couples frequenting my neighbourhood for early morning walks were friendly and always had a greeting for us. People working for big, established companies and the government sector with a good mix of races also interact well together.

There is probably still hope then. It is the younger generation that I am worried about, who have dealings with others mostly via social media, pursue their own business ventures and remain within their own circle of familiar and similar faces.

Thirdly, Islamic institutions should be more open and encourage interest and questions from both Muslims and non Muslims. Mosques for example, in their quest for attracting Muslim youths should also open their doors to non Muslims. I mean, why not organize those 'Hari Bertemu Pelanggan' commonly practised by government agencies, especially catering to the non Muslims?

Hold a drive and welcome trips of school children from national schools and your SJKs. Let them see how prayers are performed, allow Muslim children to act out friday prayers and hold sermons for their non Muslim friends to appreciate. You can even have plays depicting the hajj, complete with the ihram.

Let them listen to recitations of the Holy Quran along with their translations, and send them home with little trinklets of Islamic sayings or other souvenirs.

Invite non Muslim friends to witness the 'Qorban', join in Iftar in the evenings and Sahur in the early mornings.

I have seen some non Muslims from other countries take up Khat writing as a hobby. They even come all the way to Malaysia to enter Khat competitions. Have we done enough in our own country to educate the non Muslims about Islam? Not to convert them to Islam but to enhance their understanding of the religion.

I think we have held more than enough Musabaqah Al Quran annually, but even Muslims seem to drift further away from the religion and the teachings of the Quran. Maybe we should rethink how we do things in this country. Surely, we should vote in a new leadership to initiate changes.

If the current government can promote the brand 1Malaysia, KR1M, Klinik 1 Malaysia, BR1M etc, they can jolly well promote Hudud1Malaysia as well, right? 2.6 billion should be more than enough to organize a drive, promote it on television and radio, enact case scenarios and blast it on the social media just like how they are cramming 1Malaysia down our throats.

If there is a will, there is a way. But for the current government of the day and certain sections of the community, there is no political will.

I rest my case.

Being a doctor, and not a political science graduate, I have run out of ideas in my quest to see a 'TRULY MALAYSIA' nation. But the desire to see this become a reality burns strongly within.

So, why not everyone chip in and jump onto our MyHackathon bandwagon scheduled this 19th and 20th of December and ferment this idea some more? Non Muslims are truly, warmly welcomed for the betterment of our future.

Fellow Malaysians, in this melting pot of nation that we call Malaysia, I truly believe that those values called decency, goodwill, accountability, unity, respect, acceptance and loving fellow citizens no matter who they are, still exist deep within our hearts.

Despite all odds, it is just a matter of time before it spills over.

P.S. During my morning rounds, I met this lovely Sabahan lady who claims to be from the Cocos tribe. Apparently, their descendants migrated from Australia and married the local people. Sigh, I am also guilty of ignorance. She told me that there had been a documentary about her tribe on television before. Fancy that. Maybe I should watch more television.

Dr. Nabilah is a medical doctor and a loyal Malaysian citizen who believes that Islam is the way forward for this beloved nation. She is an IPRO (Persatuan Graduan UK dan Eire) member and remains istiqamah with PAS.

*Editor's note: This article was written in the middle of last month (December 2015).

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