Sunday, June 15, 2014

Letter to my non-Bumi daughter

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By a father: Abdar Rahman Koya

Dear Salma

I still remember your first week in kindergarten. We were standing outside your classroom, looking at your extra sharp nose standing out among all the others. I know how it feels to have a generously endowed nose among those who hardly have. 

You had then asked me, “Why are all my friends small-eyed? Their eyes are so small.”  We told you, “Don’t say that in front of others, especially that aunty you always meet outside.” But we couldn’t stop laughing. You must have been very confused. - 
Then one day, as I fetched you from kindy, your teacher asked me, “May I know what your race is? We are doing this class activity and I am not sure what to put her race as.”
I told her “Indian”. But you never bothered to ask me about it.
I went home that day, thinking of the day I registered your birth at the National Registration Department. The officer had then asked me what to put your race as. People don’t ask that in other countries. If your parents are Indian, then surely you must be Indian.
Maybe the clerk was expecting me to ask that you be registered as Malay. Just like your cousins’ parents did. Just like many of our non-Malay Muslim friends did.
Some are so dark, but are Malay. Some still visit their relatives in India, but are Malay. There is also one or two who didn’t want to go to the NRD to register their newborn baby.
Instead, they delegated their Malay friends to do it for them, worried that their non-Malay look would lessen their child’s chance of being registered as Malay.
So fearful they are of what would happen to them as non-Malays. I know that some had repeatedly performed the pilgrimage in Mecca, yet came back without a clue about God’s signs. But Malcolm X had only to go once to Mecca to transform his whole perspective on race and equality.
I, too, am Malay by definition of Article 160. I was born in Malaysia and am Muslim – and a Shafi’ite Muslim at that – just like the other Malays.
I habitually speak the Malay language with an accent that could put even a curry-phobic, petai-munching Malay to shame. And I conform – well, more or less – to Malay customs.
I even like belacan and all the fishy lauk. My only giveaway is that I love mutton so much, and don’t watch Malay movies (but, then again, neither do many of my brown friends).
Salma, I know all this is confusing to you. “So what?” you might even ask. But you are in Malaysia.  You need to know all this nonsense about race. It’s tied to your future, they will tell you.
Next year, you will be going to Sekolah Rendah. I can’t afford private school for you (you see, I work at The Malaysian Insider). At school, there will be pressure to conform.
I went through all that. In my limited understanding then, I had tried to explain to my Malay friends that I am not Malay, yet am still Muslim.
They were confused. “How can you be ‘Islam’ but not ‘Melayu’?” They would have none of such nonsense from me. In the end, I just accepted becoming a Malay.
Last year, when your twin brothers were born, I had to make that trip again. The officer told me, “So saya letak Melayu ya, sebab emak diorang Melayu kan.”
That is the kind of response that many non-Malay Muslim parents could only dream of. Oh, the lengths some of them would go to, to get such recognition on their children’s birth certs!
And who could blame them? After all, it comes with a lot of perks. Special privileges, specially allocated shares, university education, scholarships.
At the NRD, I remembered that your race was registered as Indian. So for your brothers, I asked them to follow your race. How could I not? Would I want them growing up as Malay and you as Indian? How would I explain to all of you this confusion?
I don’t mind what you grow up as, but you are in Malaysia, the land of races. It is where God’s justice is put to test, and where an atheist’s argument can hold some water: if God exists, how could He be so cruel as to make me be born a non-Malay without privileges?
I don’t want to be part of this ugly system. I am against special treatment because of one’s race or religion, which is why I make no apology for hating Zionism, never mind all the arguments by the silly gentiles to show that it is not racism or apartheid. 
- By Abdar Rahman Koya

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