The spread of Islam was due to missionaries of the past who were not insular and did not discriminate against people of different faiths, races or cultures.
By CY Ming
I was puzzled by a news report with the heading “Malays must rule as we’re majority, says Hadi”.
It is a given that the Prime Minister of Malaysia will be a Malay. It may not be a written rule but an accepted fact, as we are unlike the Americans who voted a person of mixed race, but black to most people, as their president for two terms.
It is understandable if the statement was made by the leader of a Malay-based political party, but not from one representing Muslims.
I still remember a 2006 survey which found the majority of those polled regarded themselves as Muslims first and Malay second.
It made good sense to me that religion should be placed before race, as one’s faith is based on conscious belief, and ancestry merely incidental.
Moreover, Malays with Arabic, Indian or Chinese blood look different from those of purely Southeast Asian stock, but together, they made the Malay culture one of the richest found anywhere.
A Malay is defined under the constitution as a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language and conforms to Malay custom.
The spread of Islam was due to missionaries of the past who did not discriminate people of different faiths, races or cultures.
The people who lived 600 years ago were not insular as some people are today. A good example is the life of Mahmud Shamsuddin, better known as Admiral Zheng He, or Cheng Ho to Malaysians.
His ancestors were Muslim Persians but he rose to become admiral during the Ming Dynasty, commanding the largest fleet of wooden vessels the world has ever known.
In 1405, Zheng He led an armada of 252 ships with 27,800 men and sailed to Malacca, Java, Thailand, Sumatra, India and Sri Lanka.
The fleet included 62 huge ships, each with a capacity of 70,000 tonnes and measuring up to 127m by 52m.
In comparison, it took the first Europeans to reach India by sea in 1497. Vasco Da Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 and his flagship was a mere 178 tonnes, length 27m and width 8.5m.
There were seven voyages between 1405 and 1430 by Zheng He, and each trip took up to two years, reaching as far as Arabia and Africa.
Zheng He brought along many influential Muslims to Malacca. They included religious teachers from Siam and China, an Indian Muslim named Sha Ban who lived in China, as well as an imam named Hassan from the mosque in Xian.
Xian is 672km from Wuzhong, a city with 1.5 million inhabitants today, and 53% are Hui Muslims who speak fluent Mandarin.
Although they received limited funds from the government, it did not stop them from building 1,300 mosques as the local Muslims contributed without hesitation.
Their passion for religion would be an inspiration to people everywhere, especially those from countries that are overly dependent on the government for aid and subsidy.
While it is easy for me to picture a typical Japanese, my mind would go blank if I am asked to describe a typical Muslim, Malay or Malaysian.
If asked to name a couple of great Malay Muslim leaders, I would pick Onn Jaafar and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. The former was the founder of Umno and the latter our second deputy prime minister.
They are inspirations to the entire human race as they had lived the aspirations of Vision 2020, decades before it was introduced, but we are heading towards the opposite direction.
However, I take comfort from the many Malay Muslims I know. They are nothing like uncouth politicians that dominate the public sphere.
CY Ming is an FMT reader.
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