Reflections on life as a Malay/Muslim in a Chinese pond

by Ismail Kassim

This is the theme of a little book by four Singaporeans – two Malay and two Arab.

Though self-published and amateurish in look, it is still a welcome addition to the scarce literature on life as a minority from the point of view of ordinary citizens.

The most interesting and substantive reflection is by Jailani Rohani, a retired former civil servant, whose last position was Deputy Director (Corporate Affairs) of the National Heritage Board.

In an anecdotal style, he not only describes the highlights of his colourful life, but also his stands on the various cultural-religious issues facing his community and instances of discrimination by Chinese officers against their Malay counterparts.

He takes it all in stride, the good and the bad, and emerges from it all, considerably strengthened and still strongly committed to the ideals of multiracialism.

Retired legal officer Aziz Yatim’s piece is rather long on personal anecdotes of boyhood escapades and encounters with the opposite sex, but rather short on reflections of the reality of life as a minority.

But one incident that he relates – of being mistaken as an office boy on the first day he reported for work as a legal counsel for the Public Works Department (PWD) – is something that many Malays of my generation could relate to.

The shortest contribution is from Osman Bagarib, who spent much of his life working for the Brunei Government.

He gives a good account of the origins and background of the Arab community, a minority within a minority.

The final story is from Ameen Talib, a Chartered Accountant, with a distinguished career in both academia and in business.

This is his story of how an Arab became a Singapore citizen. It is only towards the end of his brief summary that he makes some mention of the problems still besetting our multi-racial society.

Looking back, I am somewhat lucky: After eight years as a teacher and 23 years as a journalist in the Straits Times Group, I had never encountered any instances of racial stereo-tying or profiling that embarrassed me.

But as a journalist I have heard of many accounts of racism in the civil service especially in the uniformed groups and even, one or two from People’s Action Party Chinese Members of Parliament ( who behind closed doors and among their kind temporarily forget their party ideals), as related to me by my close Chinese friends.

Of course, I have also heard of many stories of non-Malay officers who stand firmly behind the ideals of multi-racialism and meritocracy in their dealings with their Malay counterparts.

I hope that the combined efforts of the four writers will inspire others from all races to follow their path.

We must not allow the ruling party to monopolise the narrative, which naturally will be one-sided, so that future generations will have a better perspective of what life is really like under the first 50 years of PAP rule.

The book is published by Pustaka Melayu, and will be on sale at $15. For more details, whatsapp or SMS Jailani at 98175119