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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Arabianisation of the Malaysian Muslims - A study

Assalamualaikum dear Muslims of the world.

Hope you are all in the best of health and striving to increase your wealth. Amin.

This posting is dedicated to the Malays of Nusantara. Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. Please take your time to digest what I am saying here and look at it positively.

The topic I am writing about is the Arabianisation of the Malays in Malaysia and the other Nusantara nations in South East Asia.

Some of you might think that I am bashing the Arabs here which is surely not my intention ; so wise up and read properly through the posting. The main contention is the social impact here.

I would like to address the matter of Arabianisation slowly creeping into and destroying the ancient and rich heritage of the Malays of this world where some Malays either out of religious inclinations or just plain ignorant to know how to differentiate between cultural assimilations and just copying each and every bit of the Arabian way of life.

This Arabianisation is slowly eroding the Malay culture and norms. I for one think it's not right.
I grew up in a Malay village , East of Jelutong, Penang Island, Malaysia. My childhood consisted of dressing up as a Malay, practicing the Malay culture and living life as an ordinary Malaysian Muslim.

The manner of dressing back then was the usual Malay baju kurung for the females , batik sarongs, baju kebayas, and just selendangs or shawls draped across one's head for the ladies.

Young kids wore blouses, skirts and slacks. None wore the 'tudung' back then. Only the adults or those who were a bit religious had worn the shawl over the heads.

Men wore slacks and trousers and were dressed in shirts, some short sleeved, some short sleeved. Kids like me wore short trousers, the kind you see being worn by P.Ramlee in his black and white movie @ Penarik Beca.

Being poor, saw me not having underwear to wear and sitting down wearing those flared shorts was a real hassle , in trying to keep my privates from peeping out!

Hahahahaha! Well aerated, one might say! Hehehehehe..those days!...only rich kids had their parents buy them 'spendar'... poor kids like me went 'au naturel' albeit wearing those flared shorts.

T shirts were not known then and the closest to that was the Chinese Pagoda white cotton short sleeved singlets or the singlet.

On Fridays, when it was time for prayers, we wore our Baju Melayu's or Baju Telok Belanga, complete with our 'songkoks'. Those who had gone to Makkah and performed their Hajj wore the white skull caps or wore 'serbans' and jubah's @ the long white flowing robes to the masjid.

As I got older, by the time I was in Standard Six, I had progressed to wearing long pants and grew ashamed to wearing shorts.

I came to realize that my 'aurat' needed to be covered and from then on, gave up wearing my shorts except when I went swimming in the sea or the rivers.

The 'aurat' or 'area of modesty' for a man is from his navel to the knee.

If a Male Muslim wanted to pray, he just had to keep his person covered from the navel to the knee and after taking ablution , he can pray to Allah provided he keeps his self covered and protected from other's view of him praying like that. Anyway, that is in the worst case scenario.

People living here in Malaysia are now not that poor anymore. Even a squatter living in squalid conditions can still afford to dress appropriately and has at least a sarong to wear and a shirt to clothe himself when he wants to pray.

Ladies need to cover themselves except their face, hands from the wrists below and the feet from their ankle downwards.

The usual attire for Malaysian Muslim women when in prayer is to wear their 'telekungs' or 'prayer attire for women' @ an all encompassing shroud like prayer garb that covers their whole self except the face and hands. even their feet are covered.

After prayer, both men and women can dress normally as the Malay form of dressing and based upon their culture.

The advent of the wearing of the 'tudung' here in Malaysia started with the 'Jama'ah Al Arqam' @ a movement started by Hj Ashaari Muhammad who started to dress in the signature Al- Arqam green robes and turbans , which was followed by his male followers and the all encompassing black colored or sombre looking robes by the female Al Arqam Muslimahs and their unique 'tudung labuh's', a longer form of tudung that distinguishes them from the ordinary Muslim females.
Before the advent of the Jama'ah al Arqam led by Ustaz Hj Ashaari, the general Malay populations dressed as the ordinary people of those times.

The ladies used to go about bareheaded or with hairdo's like beehives. Perms and coiffures were the fashions of the day and they used to compete with each other as to who had the latest hairdo's etcetera.

This is a reality that the Malays must accept. That the Arqam folks have caused a revolution in their life.
Soon, Malays in general started to wear these Jubah's and wear the tudungs to signify that they are Muslims who are following the commandment by Allah the Almighty God as per the Verses 30 and 31 in Surah An Nur commanding Believing Men and Women to dress appropriately when in public and certain limits when being in your own privacy.

Now, that's fine by me and I ascribe to the commandments of God for it elevates the stature of us Believers in Allah and raises our image in society by dressing well to cover our modesty and all that.

It is nice to see our Malay ladies wear the tudung nowadays. They look so sweet and pleasant to look at.
Here is a fine example of one of my Uptrend business builder friend who doesn't mind me placing her photo here for you to see.

She looks so demure and clean, doesn't she?

A great business team leader - single and available :P

She is a fine example of how a good Muslim lady should be and she is a 100% aware of how she needs to dress in public and maintain her purity as a Mukminah! Alhamdulillah.

Back to the topic. The one thing that I find a bit discomforting is to see the culture of the Malays fast being eroded by the creeping in of the Arabian way of dressing into the mainstream way of life that we have enjoyed all these years here in Malaysia.

I have nothing against my Arab brethren and I respect their culture tremendously. Wallahi!

Only thing I am starting to get uncomfortable with is the way some parents here sort of lose their sense of tradition and start suffocating their young babies with tudungs and press on the skull caps on kids who are too young to know what is aurat and what it is not?

I am all for the raising of our kids properly and teaching them to cover their modesty well and all that but why do we have to dress them as Arabs?
We are Malays and no matter if we dress ourselves with Arabian garb, we will always still be Malays!
I am an Indian Muslim by birth but my culture is a 100% Malay!
I do not know any Indian Muslim culture for as much as I know there simply is none!
Indian Muslims either follow the thin line between the Indian subcontinent culture or they follow the Malays in their ways. Those of us here in Malaysia opt for the latter.

I am appalled to see my fellow Malaysians here start to forget and fail to preserve the traditional heritage and culture of the Malays !
I am further saddened to see many, many Malays foolishly ape the fashions of either the decadent West or go extremely overboard with trying to out Arab the Arabs!

Malays must be proud of their cultures and wear their traditional clothes with confidence.
The Malay dress is both of high standards and well fashioned. Most suitable for the Malaysian climate and surroundings.
It doesn't have to mean that by not dressing as the Arabs, you are any less a Muslim! No sirree!

This erosion of the Malay culture is further expounded by the manner of speech and behaviorism of those who call themselves as Ustaz and Ustazah's !

They go around speaking 'Ana' ; 'Anta ; and so on to 'show' that they are more Arabic than the average Malay!
Who are they trying to fool? A Malay will always be a Malay! There is no need to try and be somebody else! We are all equal before Allah! No more no less! Don't you think so?

I hope that the Malays of this ancient land will realize what they have inherited is far too precious and priceless to just let it all go to oblivion in the folds of Time.
They must preserve and keep alive their forefathers traditions and social cultures that do not go against the faith of Al Islam.

We can all be good Muslims and yet live proudly by practicing our time tested and much honored Malay traditional customs and mannerism of dressing and behaviors.

As it is , nowadays, the Malays are divided into two extremes. One tries to be as Western as they can whilst the other tries to out Arab the Arabs!
These kids are all dressed in their Baju Melayu's and Baju Kurung's. Don't they look nice and presentable?

Why do they need to copy any other cultures when their own traditions and social history is so very rich and precious?

Let all Malays who get to read this know for sure that amongst the major cultures of the whole world, the traditional way of life of the Malays is considered to be the best where values of the East and fitting the religious principles of Islam , Ad Deen ul Haqq are best suited like a jigsaw puzzle.
Be yourselves and not Arab wannabes! You're perfect as you are!
May Allah SWT guide the Malays accordingly. Amin. Wassalamualaikum!


Jeffrey Hardy Quah said...

I'm just glad I'm not the only one feeling the same way. Thanks for writing about this.

mahaguru58 said...

I have been itching to write about this for so long but just got to doing it today.

Many people misunderstand the requirements of our faith. Being a Muslim does not mean one has to dress like an Arab or dress a certain fashion.

Anyone can be a Muslim yet retain his or her social and cultural tradition as long as it is not contrary to the tenets of Islam.

The Malays need to be stopped from blindly following this slide into the abyss of losing their traditional heritage and sense of being.

All I am asking is for commonsense to prevail and for the Malays to wise up.

Emmanuel said...


Glad to know some Malays like you still exist.Nowadays if we Christians or anyone other than a Muslim respectable ones, such as yourself voice out these concerns , only then it may be heard.

To me inter religious dialogue is just about that.That is,Expressing each others' concerns and not dictating to each other or quoting verses expounding the virtues of tolerance, when these very 'peace-brokers' are the hypocrites who go back to their temple/church/mosque and start bashing other religions.

Just as you feel, I feel a cultural erosion going on here.Its not just amongst Muslims, but us of other faiths as well.It seems the trend is to follow the majority of that religion.

mahaguru58 said...

Well, sometimes we just have to take the lead and start highlighting the subject failing which people will just go with the flow and lose all sense of identity preservations.

Malaysians must never forget our traditions and social heritage.

The Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnicities all have rich legacies to protect and preserve.

Once gone, they will be hard to restore.

Religion apart, such social identities must be preserved and practiced!

I will keep writing about this till people take notice. Hope you too will do the same.

Let's return to our rich social customs and norms yet be as modern as we want to be.

Malays need to realise their folly.

Shazlan said...


This is my first comment here :) I was moved when I first read your post from MT.

Anyhow, I'm not sure what's the fuss about dressing as an Arab. Neither could I see anything wrong dressing as one. There huge number of Malays who are dressing like the West - revealing almost everything. Maybe, your next article should be on that as well :)

Have you seen people dressed like Elvis, to show that they are a big fan of Elvis? or maybe as some other pop stars or high profile sportsman/woman? Nobody comment on that. However, when some people dressed like how the prophet did, sheesss... so many voices saying this and that. What's the different between those two groups? Why can the former show their support and 'love' for the worldly characters and the latter can't? without being looked down upon, that is.

Whether we like it or not, Islam started in Arab. Thus, there are some Islamic cultures being absorbed into the Arabs in those days and vice versa. Many of these cultures and tradition stays until today. Those Malays, whom you mentioned, are merely trying to practice the sunnahs of the Prophet - it is an easy way to acquire pahala maa... Just because people like you and myself do not share much of their passion, as a Muslim, we know (from various sources from the Hadiths) Islam recommends the practices. So, instead of saying they are wrong yada yada yada, I believe we should be encouraging them. It's their choice anyway. Similarly, it is the parent's choice to dress their children however they want.

I agree with you that some of the practices are solely Arab's. I was even told some years back a list of crappy Arab cultures that has nothing to do with Islam (in fact, Islam objects some of them) - This when I was discussing the crappiness of cultures with a group of international students. Unfortunately, I could only recall a few nowadays :) But the point is I do not think we should simply strike out or condemn Arab cultures, just because they are related to the Arabs. I believe we should be selective - leave out the crappy Arab-only cultures and retain the Islamic culture. Maybe, since you have much time to do studies, you should embark on this as well :)

Aight, that's all from me.

mahaguru58 said...

Wa'alaikumsalam Shazlan,

The subject matter is Arabianisation of the Malays here in Malaysia.

My point of contention is that aspect from the social and cultural angle.

Not dismissing the religious connection of us as Muslims needing to follow the Sunnah of Rasul Sallalahu Alaihi Wassallam.

As a Da'ee, I hold my ties to Muhammad ibni Abdullah to be worth more than my own life.

Malays have a heritage that is unique and fits in the requirements of being Muslim to a 'T'.

Thus, there is no need to neglect or forget the rich heritage of the Malays and slowly but surely stop practicing or wearing Malay traditional attire and adopt Arabian jubahs and kaffiyehs in order to look as the Arabs.

On the other hand, many Malays today try to out Arab the Arabs by wearing their form of dressing whereas the Malay form of attire is good enough to conform to the requirements to cover our Aurat.

My argument is that if we do not stop this trend, very soon, Malaysia's rich traditions of social cultures and precious Malay heritage of attire inherited from our forefathers will be relegated to being just showcases in museums.

When I say 'our forefathers' I speak as one who is practicing Malay culture and upkeeping of the traditional forms of social mannerisms and 'adat resam'.

I don't claim to be Malay in blood but as one raised as a Malay and who has come to love the Malay traditions which do not run contrary to the tenets of Islam, I am all for preserving our Malay heritage as best as we can.

This is Malaysia. Malays are unique in their own ways and must never forget that!

Wearing the serban and the jubahs when one is going to pray at the mosque is admirable and acceptable as keeping to the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam.

I still have my jubah and serban and wear them when I attend any religious events and majlis 'ilm.

I do however wear my Baju Melayu, sampin songket and songkok to the mosque on Fridays or when I go to wedding occasions of family members and close relatives or friends.

I however regret to see some folks ride their motorcycles wearing the serbans which clearly puts them at risk of serious head injuries in the unforseeable tragedy of a road accident!

They ought to be rational and wear a crash helmet and strap the harness proper to minimise the injuries.

Coming back to the subject, the Malays can be as Muslim as others by preserving their heritage without having to don Arabian attire all the time.

That's what I see is taking place here. As for the ones trying to out western the Westerners, the topic will be broached in my future postings.

And for your saying that since I have more time to study all these, you are wrong.

I beg to differ. I have my hands full with so many things and my business management stuff, etcetera.

I do however realize that I must also write about topics I feel so strongly about and this is just one of them.

So please, let me be as I am and if I write about anything, just take them as they come. Thank you.

Wabillahi taufeek walhidayah.

Wassalamualaikum wr wb.

Shazlan said...


Heh, no offense aight? Neither do I have anything against you or your blog. Your reply has made your stance clearer... at least to myself :) Thanks for the clarification.

I agree with you. It is just that I became a little tired of seeing posts condemning anything related to Arab and Islam. It seems that the Islamophobia is spreading rapidly. That's why, when I read your post, I was shocked since I do believe that you are one of the many bloggers that adhere to the Deen. I rarely post comments, unless I really want to push some points across or seek clarifications :)

Anyhow, again, please accept my apology should you feel the previous post is a little sarcastic... My bad :)

Keep up the good work and hopefully, our path will cross (in a good way, that is) in the future!


thegoz said...

well written. a pleasure to read in deed. oh well, these things happen. I mean, take Jawi for an instance. Isn't that our writing before rumi? And where is it now? Besides the weekly (as in ONCE a week) Utusan Melayu, I can't remember a piece of writing which is written in jawi and not being ABOUT jawi itself and published commercially. The point i'm trying to put forth here is, cultural erosions happen. And yes, I do feel that is our responsible to keep it alive. Plus, baju melayu looks cool. ;)

iwanz said...

so sad, write in english. i dont thing this is our adat resam.orang melayu dulu kala tulis jawi.

you pakai neck tie,sama je macam all the executive kat wat street.

makan pakai sudu dan garpu, budaya kitakah itu?

weekend you bawak family ke shopping complex...budaya arabkah itu?

shame on you.

mahaguru58 said...

Assalamualaikum saudaraku Iwanz,

Betapa sedih saya membaca nukilan saudara!

Inilah yang dikatakan betapa saudara tidak faham erti dan intipati tajuk penulisan saya.

Tajuknya berkenaan Melayu sekarang yang lupa kepada tradisi sendiri.

Blog saya ini memang didalam Bahasa Inggeris. Jika saudara hendak membaca blog saya yang didalam Bahasa Melayu, maka dengan penuh hormat dipersilakan iwanz melawati dan juga

Kedua blog itu saya pengarangnya. Namun kesuntukan masa membuatkan saya tidak terupaya menulis 3 blog didalam sehari.

Tajuk perkara diatas adalah 'Arabianisation of the Malaysian Muslims'.

Apa iwanz mahu membantah perkara ini?

Ini blog saya didalam Bahasa Inggeris. Saudara boleh saja menulis didalam BAHASA MELAYU kepada saya dan hantar ke

Insya Allah, akan saya baca.

Tentang bab pakai talileher dan kot, itu tak jadi hal bilamana saya ditempat urusniaga syarikat saya.

Bak kata pepatah, masuk kandang kambing mengembek, masuk kandang kerbau menguak'.

Iwanz nak pergi ke pejabat pakai baju melayu, bersongkok, bersampin?

Takde siapa yang hendak melarang.

Cumanya tak kena tempat dan keadaan.

Maksud tulisan saya ini adalah tentang segelintir orang orang Melayu yang cuba berpakaian seperti Tok Syaikh tok syaikh Arab sepanjang masa dan bertutur didalam anta ente sepanjang masa.

Ini yang saya tekankan. Kita kan boleh bercakap sesama kita dengan Bahasa Melayu kita yang tidak kurang eloknya.

Yang iwanz dok merapu tentang sudu dan garpu kenapa?

Iwanz lari punca sebenarnya.

Saya kekadang malas juga nak melayan tuduhan tuduhan melulu macam ini tetapi memandangkan saudara iwanz agak berani menampilkan diri mengata saya tanpa SAUDARA KENAL SAYA SECARA PERIBADI, maka saya terpanggil membela diri.

Dosa yang ada tak sempat kita memohon taubat; janganlah ditambah dengan angkara minda yang kurang sempurna dan sabar.

Terlajak perahu boleh tarik balik saudara. Terlajak kata ; tanggung sahaja dosanya.

Ini perangai segelintir Melayu yang tidak elok sekali. Suka berburuk sangka dan terburu melempar kata.

Manakan maju dirimu saudaraku jika begini sekali tingkah lakumu.

Sebagai seorang bapa, saudara perlu banyak bersabar dan tahu tentang keadaan sebenarnya sebelum maju melontar cerca dan menghina.

Apakah ini sifat dan peribadi contoh yang saudara mahu diri saudara dikenali pembaca blog ini?

Usah berburuk sangka sahabatku.

Saudara boleh saja menyatakan pendapat secara bernas dan berhemah. Ini tidak.

Awal bicara sudah berburuk kata.

Saya harap saudara sedar keadaan sebenarnya dan berkata secara bijak.

Saya tidak mahu bersengketa tanpa perlu.

Di hari Juma'at nan mulia ini, saya berdo'a agar Allah SWT membimbing kita bersama ke arah se ia sekata, sematlamat sempurna demi sesama kita.

Insya allah. Sekiranya terkasar bahasa , tercarik jiwa saudara, saya mohon maaf diatas keterbukaan saya.

Wabillahi taufeek walhidayah.

Wassalamualaikum warahmatullah!