New Malaysia but same old Malaysians?

Are we too divided that we have to question every move and intention from others who are of a different race and beliefs?

pic by BERNAMA

IT HAS been almost a week, but the outcry over Education Ministry’s announcement to include khat (the calligraphic form of Jawi) as part of the Bahasa Melayu syllabus for Year 4 pupils in vernacular schools shows no signs of abating.

DAP — a key partner of the Pakatan Harapan alliance and largely represents the voice of Chinese community — had to hold a meeting that lasted for hours to deliberate on the matter following the protest by 138 DAP branch and division leaders. 11 state assembly persons also had opposed the proposal.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, well respected within the party’s circle, said learning Jawi did not make him any less of a “Chinese”, nor did it betray his Chinese language, culture and roots.

“It did not make me any less of a Chinese and may have helped in making me more of a Malaysian,” Lim said in a statement over the weekend.

Lim was not the only Chinese DAP leader who could read and write Jawi well. Former Kepong MP Dr Tan Seng Giaw whose proficiency in this beautiful and artistic script could put many including born Muslims or Malays to shame.

He still uses Jawi on his Twitter postings and sometimes he writes in both Rumi, Jawi, English and Malay. Lim’s remarks came following the strong objection from various groups including from Chinese and Tamil education groups. They said they want more negotiations with the Education Ministry over the matter.

The public is divided over the sixpage module. Opponents of the proposal said the move was part of the “creeping Islamisation/Arabisation” in schools.

They also said the move was part of the Education Ministry’s way to exert power over vernacular schools, while the learning of khat brings little commercial value.

Many want the education system to emphasise on coding or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in preparations for the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik and other supporters have defended the move, claiming that it has nothing to do with religion and the students will not be tested.

The move is part of the national culture preservation as khat is an art just like other calligraphic fonts. More importantly, it has a long and deep historical link to the country’s past.

For the record, Jawi, being the Arabic script, is not only used for the Malay language. It is also used for Urdu, Persian and several others. It is the medium to deliver meaning and not a religious or cultural tool or determine a person is a Muslim or an Arab.

It is no difference from western or oriental calligraphy.

While concerns and fears of learning khat should be taken into consideration and not dismissed completely, the demonisation against Jawi is pretty baffling.

It reminded me of the time when people lambasted Chinese writings on the signboards and the calligraphy that was hung on Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s office.

Some of the arguments, as evident on social media, are largely bigotry and racial and religious rhetoric. It makes one wonder what happened to the various efforts to forge national unity among Malaysians.

Are we too divided that we have to question every move and intention from others who are of a different race and beliefs?

Has the seed of distrust been planted so deeply in our psyche that we refuse to see and learn new things without compromising our own identity? Does it make me less of a Malay if I could read Chinese and Tamil? Or am I less of a Muslim if I could not read Jawi?

In fact, Malaysians should be encouraged to learn other languages so we could communicate and understand each other better. Maybe Dr Maszlee’s recent statement that the government is considering to teach other calligraphies should be an assurance that now everyone can learn (each other’s languages).

The saddest part of this whole “khat-risis” is the repeated bigotry and intolerance, rhetorics, racial and religious slurs which have been the hallmark of political parties. It heightens with the freedom of expressions.

The Malaysia Baru came last year, but many are still trapped in the old ways. A pity indeed for the country. Not everything is about race, religion or politics.


Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.