Banned author rips into anti-khat lobby for opposing Jawi

Faisal Tehrani.

PETALING JAYA: Controversial novelist Faisal Tehrani has waded into the Jawi-khat debate, launching a strongly worded attack on those opposed to the teaching of the script in schools, saying they are no different from Malays “who fear the symbols of dogs and pigs during Chinese New Year celebrations”.

“This reactionary cursing exists on both sides. And then we have liberals who are only interested in their personal rights,” Faisal, whose seven books were banned following the recommendation of Islamic authorities, wrote in his weekly column on FMT today.

Faisal also questioned some “liberals” who joined the opposition to the teaching of khat as part of the Bahasa Melayu subject in schools.

“They cannot differentiate between culture and human rights, and mix everything up with their own orgasm.

“My advice is, enrol in any summer school in Geneva and keep learning,” he wrote.

Faisal is the pen name of Faizal Musa, an expert on Malay studies who has written more than 20 widely read academic papers on the subject of Malay history, as well as plays, short stories and novels which have won him literary prizes and awards. Many of his works question the legitimacy of Malaysia’s Islamic bureaucrats, while his critics accuse him of promoting LGBT rights and “liberal Islam”.

Faisal said the khat controversy is part of a larger tendency among Malaysians to look at everything from their own racial comfort.

He said one reason non-Muslims are against the teaching of khat and Jawi to their children is the tendency to link the Malay language to Islam.

Faisal said the country’s language guardian, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, is also guilty of this in regarding Islamic-themed poetry and novels as national literature.

“We paint everything as Malay and Islam,” said Faisal. “The excuse given is that Malay is the official language and Islam the official religion.

“On the other hand, if an Iban writes a Malay novel with elements of Christianity, he will be branded a traitor, an enemy of Islam, and accused of challenging Malay dominance and stability.”

The debate on Jawi and khat was sparked after the education ministry said it would introduce lessons on khat, the calligraphic form of Jawi, as part of the Bahasa Melayu syllabus for Year 4 pupils in vernacular schools.

This drew protest from Chinese and Tamil educationists as well as DAP grassroots members who urged party leaders to oppose the move.

Yesterday, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism joined the opposition and rejected the Jawi script as part of the Malay language.

It said the khat calligraphy is closely related to Islamic teachings, and that Malay language is in the romanised script.

But Faisal said Jawi had been used for a variety of topics, from non-Islamic religious scripts to works of erotica.

“Ancient tales with Hindu elements such as Sri Rama were also written in Jawi. Hikayat Hikamat, about a Malay who converted to Christianity, was also written in Jawi.

“I keep tens of novels as well as works of erotica from the 1940s to 1960s, all written in Jawi,” he added.

Faisal said while Jawi has its origins in the Arabic script, it had undergone at least four phases of evolution in the Malay world.

“The first two phases were influenced by the Arabic language.

“The latter two were when the Malays amended the script, as can be seen in Pakatan Bahasa Johor (1937) and the Za’aba Spelling System (1938),” he said, referring to spelling standards developed for the Jawi script.

Faisal also criticised the explanation given by Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching on why Jawi is part of the Islamic Studies subject and not the Malay language.

Teo told the Dewan Rakyat that Jawi was included in Islamic Studies in 1983 as those teaching the subject were usually well-versed in the script.

“This was a mistake. Including Jawi in the Islamic Studies subject is making it exclusively Islamic,” he said.

He said the older generation of non-Malays who attended national schools are today well-versed in Jawi, as it was part of the syllabus in the 1970s.

“We have not yet given Jawi a burial. We get into suspicions and prejudice. We look for issues to fight on,” wrote Faisal.