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It was interesting to read two recent letters to Malaysiakini , Umno full of 'non-Malay' leaders by Jamiliah Kassim and You can't 'convert' to another race by Unprivileged Race.

A Sudanese friend who worked with me in a Kuala Lumpur hospital said, "Malaysia is the only place in the world where one can change one's race." As a foreigner, he was amused to find Indian Muslims masquerading as Malays and grabbing opportunities meant for Malays and other bumiputeras. I agree with Unprivileged Race that there is no such thing as "becoming" a Malay. Even Malays have realised that the term "masuk Melayu" makes no sense now.

Historically, there were two reasons for Malays to think that masuk Islam (converting to Islam) meant masuk Melayu (converting to Malay). Many Malays in those days thought that Malays (and perhaps Arabs) were the only Muslims in the world. Some will remember that even speaking in English was considered being kafir or ingrate.

The second and perhaps more pertinent reason was the fact that many Muslim converts were ostracised by their own communities. Hence, these converts were readily accepted into the Malay community and naturally adopted Malay customs and often married Malays.

Perhaps, for clearer understanding of Indian Muslims, it is important to put them into three groups:

Group 1: Indian Muslim converts

While It is true that some of them have somehow manipulated the system to claim privileges meant for bumiputeras, this number is small. In any case, most of them have married Malay Muslims and therefore their children can rightfully be called bumiputeras since the constitution clearly says that if either parent is a Malay, then the child is entitled to be a Malay. No harm in that, surely.

Group 2: Malays with Indian ancestry

These are predominantly found in the northern region of the country. They are, for all practical purposes, Malay and it is grossly unfair to label them as Indian. Their cuisine, jewelry and customs may have traces of Indian influence which has enriched the Malay culture. The smattering use of Tamil words in their language adds colour to it, just like the Kelantanese dialect. This group is often referred to as the mamak community and it is only appropriate that they be classified as Malay.

I think it is ridiculous that some ignorant people like Jamiliah Kassim keep harping on the issue of Dr Mahathir Mohamad being Indian. In my mind, there is no one more Malay than Mahathir. His father was of Indian origin and married a local Malay. By that virtue alone, Mahathir is constitutionally a Malay.

Let us not forget that in the pre-independence era when it was not fashionable to be called a Malay, Mahathir was brought up as a Malay and later passionately fought for the Malay cause. Simply because he is genetically part-Indian does not make him an Indian.

For all those who keep saying, with mischievous intentions, that Mahathir was registered as an Indian at University Malaya, Singapore, I can confidently say that nothing is further from the truth. I have had the opportunity to see his academic certificates in his home and found no entry saying he was classified as Indian. I hope this puts to rest the silly accusations once and for all.

Group 3: Indian-Muslim descendants of immigrants

In private, they speak Tamil, Malayalam, Urdu, Gujerati or even Burmese and in public, make a pathetic attempt to speak Bahasa Melayu. I have my doubts as to how many of them appreciate sambal petai or even understand the meaning of "Melepaskan batuk di tangga." It is this group of Indian Muslims who continue to make a mockery of the New Economic Policy by grabbing opportunities meant for the bumiputeras.

Many of them, indeed, occupy senior positions in Umno. I can think of at least one minister holding an important portfolio, who, by no stretch of imagination, can be called a Malay but is a member of Umno. There is another Umno leader whose late father was a state MIC chief! I am sure that took your breath away!

In my medical practice, I used to come across patients with names with very obvious Indian elements like Koya, Begum, Beevi claiming to be Melayu. When questioned they would invariably say "Cari makan, doktor."

I even had one Indian Muslim patient who got admitted to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, the bastion of elite Malays. His father was a roti canai seller and his mother still an Indian citizen. Walk into any local university and note how many Indian Muslims have joined as trainee lecturers, a special scheme meant only for bumiputeras.

Often this group give the impression that they are mamak and try to piggyback on them for obvious reasons. It is up to the Malays if they want to embrace these Indian Muslims out of ignorance or in the spirit of Muslim brotherhood. But to allow the NEP to be hijacked by this group of Indian Muslims is an insult to the other non-Malay bumiputeras like the Iban, Kadazan and Orang Asli.

I laughed to myself when I read our deputy prime minister's speech to the Umno general assembly when he quoted Munshi Abdullah, obviously alluding to him as a "towering Malay". Munshi Abdullah was a Tamil scholar who made immense contributions to the Malay language.

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