Bahasa Malaysia is part of the Malaysian identity

Fatihah Jamhari

Modified 15 Aug 2019, 5:10 am

LETTER | No one needs to reiterate the status of Bahasa Malaysia. It stands as our national as well as official language pursuant to Articles 152 and 161 of the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act 1963/67 [Act 32]. 

Its adoption into Article 11A of the Constitution of the State of Sabah also highlights the formulation of a unified national identity throughout our protected national territory.

There is no need to reiterate simply because no one seems to care anyway. Not those in Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka, certainly not the rakyat of this country and our inability to use and promote the language as our unifying language, not even our MPs who still speak the language as if they have just landed on the shores of Malacca a moment ago.

Be it in informal settings or in formal meetings, it is becoming more and more cogent that Bahasa Malaysia as our national and official language is a dying provision. 

The usage is forced and only so after receiving backlashes from netizens, who oftentimes insist on proper respect accorded to the language because writing in Chinese (language and characters - hanzi) only convey the intended message to a very selected portion of our society. 

That ministers in Malaysian cabinet still issue statements in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia is completely outrageous, disrespectful and plain illegal.

The rakyat in 1967 initiated #Keranda152 movement to voice their concerns to the government way back then; stating clearly that it was time for the government to be serious about respecting Bahasa Malaysia as envisioned under Article 152 (and Article 161) of our Federal Constitution. 

Yet, 52 years on, we are still begging like leprous vermins at the footsteps of the high and mighty government to honour our laws.

What seems to be so hard about using and interacting in Bahasa Malaysia? Why the resistance? It is by sheer disrespect and mere contempt that our own rakyat is opposing to the usage? 

With this disrespect and contempt, these rakyat advocate for ways to undermine our national language; camouflaging it as cultural preservation and the loaded modern term: freedom of expression. Let’s not speak of unity when the medium of instruction in our national schools is still up for a very much heated, albeit purportless, debate.

Our government has always kowtowed to the powerful lobbyists with strong purse strings. Some 52 years on, this very fact will not change. Having one or two ministers who are very vocal about their desire to assert the position of Bahasa Malaysia has not changed the situation. At the rate we are heading, nothing will. Legal provisions remain toothless, lifeless and barren.

What’s the big hullabaloo about learning Jawi calligraphy? Jawi only functions as a script to write Bahasa Malaysia in. This is a statement of fact. 

Just like writing in hanzi will not turn a Malay into a Chinese Buddhist, similarly writing in Jawi will not turn a Chinese Christian into a Malay Muslim. The fact that there is a need to continuously repeat this statement by all supporters of Jawi script shows how ignorant and arrogant the opponents to the scripts are. 

Learning Jawi and calligraphy is not meant to be profitable, although many argue that it can be; just look at how industrious Randuk’s business model is. Just like learning other forms of arts is not meant to be for only commercial value, likewise introducing Jawi calligraphy into Malaysian syllabus is not meant to equip our Malaysian students with supernatural powers that transform their very existence into cash-cows in 10 to 20 years.

Students are children who are developing their skills; learning, analytical and creativity are all skills that are good to have. 

Stop this obsessive trend that sees our students as mere products that must be machinated perfect for the global market. Let them learn. Obsessive parents who only think of education as an investment tool to reap its benefit when the students enter the workforce truly have missed the spirit of learning.

Let students develop soft-skills that allow them to interact in the real world with respect, honour and kindness. Stop obsessing over how much they can make out of Jawi calligraphy and start teaching them that all forms of art can develop creativity and analytical skills. So that when they enter the workforce, they can cogently analyse what the real issues in our world today and apply efficient solutions to resolve them.

Teach them to also appreciate, respect and honour any move to strengthen their core values as a student, a child and a Malaysian. 

So that in 10 to 20 years we don’t have to see more MPs in our august Parliamentary houses who can barely formulate a discernible Bahasa Malaysia sentence even though the rules of the Houses clearly state that Bahasa Malaysia is the official language which must be used in all debates held in the Houses.

Although before the coming of Islam to the Malay Archipelago, Malay language used to be written in Pallava, Kawi and Rencong scripts, however, none of these writing systems received similar legal standing as Jawi has received. Under Section 9 of Act 32, although Rumi is recognized as the script in which our national language is officially written, however, it clearly does not bar Jawi script from being used.

This is where it gets interesting. Although Section 9 of Act 32 provided as such however Section 10 of Act 32 went on further to state that “the form of numerals in the national language shall be the Arabic form of numerals.” 

The effect of these two provisions read together is where there is a need to state an official statement in our national language, in which a figure must appear, the Bahasa Malaysia sentence must be written in both Rumi (for alphabets) and in Jawi (for numerals).

If a Malaysian citizen wishes to fully adopt his (or her - for the gender-sensitive) identity as a Malaysian, it can only be right and proper that he (or she) must respect and adopt all legal provisions aimed to socially engineer a united and lively Malaysian. This includes the respect that must be accorded to the usage of Jawi as a proper script to write Bahasa Malaysia.

Any action that questions any initiative to introduce a unified Malaysian identity into our school system, is plain and simple treason. Yet, with no weapons (but the mighty pens) in their hands, it is hard to see this form of subversion. 

They continue to mask their disdain for anything that is Malaysian. They have made millions, in not billions, from transacting with fellow Malaysians yet they see anything that resembles a Malaysian identity as abhorrent. 

With all things said, we must know that the sins committed against the Jawi script are not the sins of the non-Malays who look at the script with much pessimism and strong distrust; worried that their cultural and religious standings will be compromised.

No, it is in fact the sins of the Malays who have long murdered the script without an iota of guilt or shame. Let's not forget. It is not the Chinese or the Indians who slowly assassinated the usage of Jawi in our Malaysian syllabus. It was the late Mohamed Khir Johari, who in 1966 as the minister of education decided to abolish the teaching and learning of Malay language in Jawi script in national schools.

As a result, generations after generations of Malay Malaysians cannot even spell out Malay words written in Jawi, much less to hope for a Chinese or an Indian to be able to read in Jawi. Let us all admit the painful truth - the sins of the Malays on our identity are many times greater than the wrongdoings of some non-Malays who oppose the preservation of anything ethnically associated with the Malays.

Let not the introduction of Jawi script into our schools be a divisive issue. It can only be divisive if we allow for it to be. Accept and embrace the introduction with kindness. There are enough other issues for fellow Malaysians to squabble on.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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