Young Malaysians in particular have increasingly suspected for long that our history has been highly politicised by Umno for their self-serving reasons. Their suspicions have been reflected to a certain extent in the proceedings of the Malaysian History Colloquium on Feb 25 at Universiti Malaya.
Panelist Professor Ramlah Adam, for one, pointed out that the British never really colonized Malaya — an Anglicised term derived from Tamil, for the southern half of the Kra Peninsula – or peninsular south. If anything, it follows therefore, that it was various communities from the Archipelago who colonised or squatted in the Orang Asli country of the peninsular south which was then ruled by Bangkok.
The Malacca Empire, started by a Hindu prince from Palembang, was also a squatter colony. Today, Muslim missionaries are trying to get the Orang Asli to “masuk Melayu” to create a fait accompli and erase their history. The Orang Asli are forbidden to build their Christian churches and denied their land.
Ramlah did not mention it but malai means hill in Tamil. The first in history, away from Cambodia where Malay originated as a dialect, was Malaiur (hill country in Tamil) in the Jambi Province, Sumatra. Now, the proverbial cat is out of the bag so to speak, albeit historically.
The British, according to Ramlah, merely administered the peninsular south, ostensibly on behalf of the “Malay” sultans, arranged a monthly purse — stipend or pension — and did away with the post of Bendhara (Chief Minister) and Temenggong (Defence Minister).
Ramlah’s outburst, like her other peers’ previously, had to happen sooner or later given that Umno leaders embark, from time to time, on a propaganda binge on what constitutes the history of the peninsular south.
Umno leaders, being the self-serving lot they are, have gone more than overboard on our history once too often. Sometimes, a Sultan or two joined the Indian Muslim-infested Umno in its political bull on our history.
Many people still remember that the previous Sultan of Selangor once “stripped” then MCA Deputy President Lee Kim Sai of his datukship for pointing out that the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsula south were also immigrants and descendants of immigrants just like the Indians and Chinese.
The Sultan, a Bugis, then sheepishly gave back Lee’s datukship by the backdoor when the latter returned the award’s medallion to the Palace. Lee was made to promise that he would not repeat his “offending” statement, even if true, given the “sensitivity” of Umno’s mantra on bangsa, agama, negara, the three sacred cows in the peninsular south.
Lee Kim Sai is a well-known anecdote, especially in the Kelang Valley Region (KVR), and illustrates the sheer hypocrisy that takes place whenever our true history is pointed out.
Orang Asli the true natives of the peninsular south
It’s true that the British were in our country at one point in our history. They left behind a Federal Constitution which despite Article 153 and Malay Reservation land does not state that the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsular south are Natives of the land.
This is not surprising since the Malay-speaking communities comprised many different ethnic and linguistic groups from various islands in the Archipelago, and Muslims from the Indian sub-continent and the Arab states, among others.
Many from the Archipelago were runaways for one reason or other including slavery and crime and made for hideouts in the swamps of the peninsular south. Their numbers increased dramatically during the British administration. In his Origin of Malay Nationalism, Professor William Roff estimates that as many as 85 per cent of the Malay-speaking communities in the peninsular south in 1885 were either immigrants or the descendents of immigrants
The one and only true Natives of the peninsular south are the Orang Asli just as the Dusun – including the Kadazan or urban Dusun and the Murut — and the Dayak are the one and only true Natives of Sabah and Sarawak respectively. In fact, the whole of the great island of Borneo is Dayak, a term which also covers Dusun.
As for the British…
The British were like the bull in a china shop but were nevertheless sufficiently focused to go to war with Bangkok, not once but twice, to carve out the peninsular south from Siam, the Thai kingdom. The British now had their own slice of Thai territory to plant rubber and mine tin.
All this is in our history books except that a political slant has crept in to depict the Siamese in a fairy tale as outsiders in the occupation of “Malay” land which, thanks to the British, had been freed from their control. In that case, why didn’t the British also seize what is now known as South Thailand, also inhabited by Malay-speaking Muslim communities besides other Thais professing the Buddhist faith?
The British found the sultans descended from Bugis pirates governing river states – kerajaan sungei – which did not extend beyond their toll collection points and the narrow stretches on both of the river land near the coastline. In early Arab and Muslim history, a sultan was not aristocracy but a democratically elected spiritual head – a mini Pope or mini Caliph – of the local ummah (Islamic faithful).
The British could not fathom a ruler – albeit of the squatters – who did not have territory in the western sense. They lost little time in drawing the territorial boundaries of various states, stopped the toll collection, and as aforesaid arranged for the sultans – convenient British puppets — to get regular pensions/allowances from their administration and stopped slavery, among other practices. They also started the Conference of Malay Rulers and stopped the practice of the Sultans sending the Bunga Mas – taxes in the form of tribute – to Bangkok. In future, the British would collect all taxes.
Again, all this is in the history books but it’s the highly politicised interpretation that’s misleading. Indians and Chinese, for example, have been trying to point out for decades since the British left that the Orang Asli are the one and only true Natives of the peninsular south and that the Malay-speaking communities don’t enter the picture here.
Muslim world influence?
There’s also Umno propaganda in our history books that the “independence” movement in the peninsular south was inspired by the Muslim world. Reference has been made to Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey.
Nothing could be further from the truth. How can anyone in the peninsular south look past the great freedom movement in an India on the march to places so far away for “inspiration”? Indonesia is an exception.
The reality is closer home. Muslims from Kerala, India, created the concept of Malay nationalism in Singapore to oppose Chinese economic domination. These Malayalees started the first press to print in the Malay language, reaching out to a wider population, and the first newspaper i.e. Utusan Melayu in Jawi and later Utusan Malaysia in Rumi.
Out of this first group of nationalists came Yusuf Ishak, whose portrait adorns the Singapore currency, and who became the first president of the island republic and city state. Another brother, Aziz Ishak, was sacked by first Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman as his Agriculture Minister. Aziz, alleged the Tunku, misused some money meant to buy feed for chickens. Rahim Ishak, the youngest of the brothers, became a Minister in Singapore.
Malay nationalism created by the Indians
The bottom line is that Malay nationalism had nothing to do with the Malay-speaking communities across both sides of the causeway.
It was a purely Indian creation, by failed anti-Chinese businessmen, drawing inspiration from Indian nationalism which led to Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience fueled-“Quit India” movement urging the British to leave the subcontinent.
Is it any wonder therefore that Mahathir Mohamad, of Malayalee roots, became the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia. He remains, after retirement, the de facto Prime Minister.
The efforts of the Malayalee Muslim creators of Malay nationalism have been rewarded in the Federal Constitution through the definition on Malay, Article 153 on Special Position – extrapolated in the New Economic Policy (1970-1990) –, Article 152 on the Malay language and Article 3 on Islam and Freedom of Worship, among others.
The existence of a Malay language does not mean ipso facto that a Malay race follows. Language is no proof of the race.
Malay became the lingua franca of the Archipelago, hence Malay Archipelago, after the Hindu and Buddhist missionaries developed it from its Cambodian dialect origins into a medium of communication for religion, trade, administration and education.
The Hindus injected Sanskrit words into Malay. The Buddhists injected Pali – a Sanskrit dialect used by Buddhists – into Malay. Both Hindus and Buddhists found Malay to be an easier language to learn and promote unlike the major languages in the region like Javanese and Sundanese.
All these facts should be mentioned in our history books and credit given where it’s due. We should get the self-serving politics, and cheap at that, out of our history.
We as a nation would be proudly celebrating the 64th Independence of our country during this month. On this historic occasion, Indians at every forum try to recall the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters from all walks of Life. But unfortunately, because of our narrow approach and a prejudiced view, not all people are equally highlighted in the history and even in today’s media. Our unfair historians have given an impression that Muslim community has not contributed much to the freedom struggle. Hence let us turn back to the pages of history to find out the truth, about sacrifices of our Muslim revolutionaries.
How many Indians today know “Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan” (Frontier Gandhi) a great nationalist who spent 45 years of his life in jail for the freedom of India. Let us also recall the sacrifice of Barkatullah of Bhopal, one of the founders of Ghadar party, who created a network of anti-British organizations and who died penniless in Germany in 1927.
Syed Rahmath Shah of Ghader party, who worked as an underground revolutionary in France was hanged for his part in the unsuccessful Ghadar uprising in 1915.
Ali Ahmed Siddiqui of Faizabad (Uttar Pradesh) who planned the “Indian Mutiny” in Malaya and Burma was hanged in 1917.
Umar Subhani an industrialist and a millionaire of Bombay who presented blank cheque to Gandhiji for congress expenses and who ultimately gave his life for the cause of independence.
Mohammed Basheer, Khuda Baksh, A Zakaria, Allah Nawaz, Abdul Aziz, and tens of thousands of such revolutionaries have been ignored, The History book “Qaiseral Tawarikh” mentions the number of Muslims executed in Delhi alone during 1857-58 was 27000, excluding those killed in general massacre.
Some of our historians have made allegations that Muslims in general have a tendency of “separatism” and do not love India as their mother land. The answer to this is our own “TIGER of Mysore” Tippu Sultan who died in the battle field defending his own country.
At a time when most of the Indian rulers were incapable of understanding the consequences of the rise of British, Tippu Sultan had developed a world consciousness. He had sent envoys to turkey in 1784-85 to France in1787-88, to Zaman shah of Afghanistan in 1876 and in 1799 which was intercepted by British.
Tippu Sultan was a champion of Hindu- Muslim unity. The archaeological Department of the Government of Mysore still preserves his thirty letters written to Shankarcharya of Shringeri Mutt, a great saint of his time, reverentially begging to him to return to his state and pray for his success in fighting against the foreigners.
Dr. R.C. Majundar says “of all the Indian ruling princess of this period, Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Sultan were the most uncompromising opponents of the growth of British Political power”
Gandhiji in one of his articles calls Tippu as a greatest martyr of Indian freedom.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in one of his foreword writes. “The revolt against British scarcely had any tinge of communalism, in their struggle for freedom both Hindus and Muslims stood shoulder to shoulder with the single object of liberating themselves from the British oppression.”
During the first independence revolt of 1857, in Kanpur region, it was Nana Sahib and Azimullah who raised the banner of revolt.
In Delhi, during the same period, Moulana Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi who was an influential Moulvi, had addressed a congregation of Muslims in Jamia Masjid and gave a Fatwa (religious decree) to fight the British. When the revolt against British in Delhi was defeated, one of the British officers wrote “Hundreds of Ulema were blown by cannons while thousands were hanged and others deported to Andaman Island. Among the first batch of persons to arrive at the Andaman were well-known Moulvis like Mufti Mazhar Kareem of Delhi and Munshi Inayat Ahamed of Lucknow.
These are just a few instances I have quoted which is just a “tip of the iceberg” from the pages of History. Now I would like to put forth a few questions to our learned critics, biased historians, and intellectuals the following.
a) Are these facts not enough to acknowledge that Muslims have equally contributed to the freedom struggle?
b) Just by closing the eyes, do they think, they can change the facts of history?
c) Are we really following the principles of secularism by ignoring a particular section whereas highlighting the other sections?
d) Is this not the path of “Divide & Rule” policy which was followed by British tyrants who in turn destroyed the original Indian culture of “mutual respect”?
e) Is this tendency of hatred not dangerous to the future of this country?
f) Are these so-called “Intellectuals” not interested to see this country progress and prosper as a single nation?
g) Have they forgotten our own mantra of “Unity in Diversity”?
Finally, let us all sit together with an unbiased mind and agree that all sections have equally contributed to the freedom of this country. Let good sense prevail and we appeal to all our like minded, right thinking citizens to come forward and prove these critics wrong. Let us finally pray that God give the right guidance and wisdom to all Indians and let this country progress and prosper to become one of the greatest nations of the world.