By Kamal Mamat
Amidst the gloom of inflation and concerns over spiky social issues, one can sense that generally, 2007 has been a positive year for the Malay community. Of course, the rising costs of goods and services dent this sentiment.
But, lest we forget, the five years preceding 2007 were pockmarked by the scars of 9/11 and the subsequent economic recession, which impacted the already economically-disadvantaged community most.
Considering the stigma of having to deal with the extremist elements within, worsened by the economic downturn of those years, the Malays have reasons to cheer, no matter how muted, to what 2007 has brought upon.
A recap of the year 2007 necessitates a detailing of both highs and lows within and surrounding the community.
An optimistic outlook
In an October speech, Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim painted an optimistic outlook, highlighting the community’s progress in education, employment and quality of life, as well as the good economic growth.
The community beamed with pride in November when Natasha Nabila of St Hilda’s Primary School was named the top PSLE student for 2007 with an impressive 294 aggregate score, shattering a 1993 record.
Likewise, writer-architect Isa Kamari’s Cultural Medallion is a source of excitement in an otherwise quiet Malay literary scene.
Throughout the year, many other Malays’ successes were featured in the media, vindicating Dr Yaacob’s assertion.
While many see these as inspiring role models needed to stimulate the community forward, there are an equal number of cynics who view the successes as tokens rather than norms, noting that the community is still lagging behind in both economic and educational terms.
Another important milestone is the introduction of the Joint Madrasah System, essentially a restructuring of the present Islamic schools’ system in response to the Compulsory Education Act of 2003. Under this new initiative, Madrasah Al-Irsyad will focus on primary education and the other two, Madrasah Aljunied and Madrasah Al-Arabiah, will re-channel their resources to secondary education. Many herald the timely changes.
Nevertheless, the exclusion of three other madrasahs (Al-Maarif, Wak Tanjong and Alsagoff) causes concern amongst the community, witnessing a fairly heated debate in Berita Harian over their ability to meet the stipulations of the Act. (Read the Straits Time’s report here.)
The issue of Malay-Muslims’ integration within the wider community is amply addressed this year. Different socio-religious organisations conducted outreach activities to promote greater understanding of the community, including inviting non-Muslims to events in mosques and initiating inter-faith dialogues.
The opening of the Harmony Centre at An-Nahdhah Mosque is a strong indicator of the community’s desire to place Islam as a progressive and tolerant religion, very much aligned to the needs of a plural society.
Similarly, 2007 sees an increased number of Malays’ involvement in CC-organised activities, from 232,000 in 2003 to 525,000 this year (as reported in Berita Harian, 3/12/2007). What is more encouraging is that there is an increased number of Malay participants in what is traditionally seen as Chinese –dominated activities, such as qiqong and tae-kwon-do.
It is easy to overlook these facts and figures when the current inflation problem is taken into account. Arguably, the Malays are most affected today, judging by a 2005 statistics that the median monthly household income for Malay families is the lowest at $3,050, compared to $4,570 for Chinese and $4,120 for Indian homes.
Moreover, there are pertinent issues which remain to be tackled. Central CDC Mayor Mr Zainuddin Nordin succinctly highlights these problems in a recent article in the Straits Times. Chief amongst these include problems of dysfunctional families, which is associated with doubling in divorce rates and high teen pregnancies.
The emergence of Subutex as an addictive substance and the high number of Malay abusers poses another challenge to the community.
These issues, among others, should never be under-emphasised.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, a comparative analysis points to an overall positive year, fueled by sparks of optimism. The achievements I have stated earlier reflect the renewed confidence of the community, more so its desire to break out of its contentious communal shell.
At the same time, it can be seen as a response to our government’s erstwhile call for integration. Therefore, in what I have discussed at length in an earlier article (“Beyond Tokenism – Malays, integration and the SAF“), it is hoped that the government will reciprocate this desire by opening more avenues for integration, units within the SAF and the elite Administrative Service as two key examples.
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