The Malaysian Insider
Letter to my non-Bumi daughter
ABDAR RAHMAN KOYA
Published: 14 June 2014 | Updated: 14 June 2014 8:22 AM
I still remember your first week in kindergarten. We were standing outside your classroom, looking at your extra sharp nose standing out among all the others. I know how it feels to have a generously endowed nose among those who hardly have.
You had then asked me, "Why are all my friends small-eyed? Their eyes are so small." We told you, "Don't say that in front of others, especially that aunty you always meet outside." But we couldn't stop laughing. You must have been very confused.
Then one day, as I fetched you from kindy, your teacher asked me, "May I know what your race is? We are doing this class activity and I am not sure what to put her race as."
I told her "Indian". But you never bothered to ask me about it.
I went home that day, thinking of the day I registered your birth at the National Registration Department. The officer had then asked me what to put your race as. People don't ask that in other countries. If your parents are Indian, then surely you must be Indian.
Maybe the clerk was expecting me to ask that you be registered as Malay. Just like your cousins' parents did. Just like many of our non-Malay Muslim friends did.
Some are so dark, but are Malay. Some still visit their relatives in India, but are Malay. There is also one or two who didn't want to go to the NRD to register their newborn baby.
Instead, they delegated their Malay friends to do it for them, worried that their non-Malay look would lessen their child's chance of being registered as Malay.
So fearful they are of what would happen to them as non-Malays. I know that some had repeatedly performed the pilgrimage in Mecca, yet came back without a clue about God's signs. But Malcolm X had only to go once to Mecca to transform his whole perspective on race and equality.
I, too, am Malay by definition of Article 160. I was born in Malaysia and am Muslim – and a Shafi'ite Muslim at that – just like the other Malays.
I habitually speak the Malay language with an accent that could put even a curry-phobic, petai-munching Malay to shame. And I conform – well, more or less – to Malay customs.
I even like belacan and all the fishy lauk. My only giveaway is that I love mutton so much, and don't watch Malay movies (but, then again, neither do many of my brown friends).
Salma, I know all this is confusing to you. "So what?" you might even ask. But you are in Malaysia. You need to know all this nonsense about race. It's tied to your future, they will tell you.
Next year, you will be going to Sekolah Rendah. I can't afford private school for you (you see, I work at The Malaysian Insider). At school, there will be pressure to conform.
I went through all that. In my limited understanding then, I had tried to explain to my Malay friends that I am not Malay, yet am still Muslim.
They were confused. "How can you be 'Islam' but not 'Melayu'?" They would have none of such nonsense from me. In the end, I just accepted becoming a Malay.
Last year, when your twin brothers were born, I had to make that trip again. The officer told me, "So saya letak Melayu ya, sebab emak diorang Melayu kan."
That is the kind of response that many non-Malay Muslim parents could only dream of. Oh, the lengths some of them would go to, to get such recognition on their children's birth certs!
And who could blame them? After all, it comes with a lot of perks. Special privileges, specially allocated shares, university education, scholarships.
At the NRD, I remembered that your race was registered as Indian. So for your brothers, I asked them to follow your race. How could I not? Would I want them growing up as Malay and you as Indian? How would I explain to all of you this confusion?
I don't mind what you grow up as, but you are in Malaysia, the land of races. It is where God's justice is put to test, and where an atheist's argument can hold some water: if God exists, how could He be so cruel as to make me be born a non-Malay without privileges?
I don't want to be part of this ugly system. I am against special treatment because of one's race or religion, which is why I make no apology for hating Zionism, never mind all the arguments by the silly gentiles to show that it is not racism or apartheid.
I believe in the Quran, which states that mankind is only a single nation (2:213), but whom God created in various colours, who speak various languages to show His Signs (30:22) and whom God created into nations and tribes so that we know one other (49:13).
So is it right for me, as a Muslim, to reap the benefits of this godless system? How can I allow you to get a scholarship when I know it could be at the cost of some poor, bright non-Muslim student whose middle-class parents had to refinance their home so that they could be sent to private colleges or overseas?
What about those not in the middle class? Sing all the NegaraKu and fly all the Jalur Gemilang they like, but their lives are screwed.
Some of our relatives could not believe it when they found out that I registered you as Indian. "She will have so many difficulties one day." I don't care. But I do understand them.
Just last month, one of your cousins who had all As in his SPM was denied entry into a public university. All because 18 years ago, his parents failed to get him registered as Malay.
Some people patronisingly repeat this story to me, as if to remind me of my folly, of me destroying your future by refusing to lie that you are Malay.
Even my non-Muslim friends are surprised. For all their loathing not being treated fairly, I suspect they, too, given half a chance, would be eager to reap the special privileges.
Dear Salma, I don't regret what I have done. I hope one day you will be grateful that your father had not started your life on a lie.
I hope one day you will be successful, or less successful (however you define it), because of your own hard work, and not because of an unjust system recognising your racial status as superior. You have God with you. He sees the truth, but waits.
I may be a little selfish for doing this. But this much I admit: I don't want to one day stand before God to be questioned why I, despite being Muslim, had agreed to be part of this unjust system.
I could have been more practical and pragmatic and not allowed you to experience a bumpy life. "So what? Just make her Malay. You got nothing to lose and all to gain."
Well, thanks, but no thanks. You can take all the privileges and all the quotas.
So you see, my dearest Salma, it is not my intention to make life difficult for you. I am sure you will one day work hard to be a good human being.
Indeed, I am sure you will work harder, and you owe your success to no one but your faith in God.
Meantime, I hope you can learn a thing or two from your small-eyed friends. But don't abandon the mutton curry. That is a legacy you won't want to part with. – June 14, 2014.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.