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Unpublished: Singapore Malay culture in danger of extinction - NATASHA ZAMAN

Unpublished: Singapore Malay culture in danger of extinction

When it comes to forging harmony amongst various ethnic groups, Singapore is one of the countries that comes to mind. Located at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, Singapore consists of various sizable racial communities, namely Chinese, Indian, Malay and Others (which may include Eurasians, Caucasians, etc). It can be said that Singapore has a unique culture which borrows a little bit from every group; a prime result of that would be Singlish, a type of English that integrates words, phrasing and suffixes from languages and dialects from the local communities. Moreover, with hyper-globalisations, changes in customs are occurring more rapidly. Therefore, within the Malay community itself, it can be easily brushed off when words such as Hari Raya is replaced by Eid Mubarak. However, these could possibly be symptoms of a critical issue that could eventually lead of exclusivism. 

The malay community in SIngapore can be described as inclusive. As described by Dr Norshahril Saat, a Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, `People of other races who choose to live their lives as malays find an attachment to their language, values and cultural practices are generally accepted´. In his article, “Arabisation and the threat to Singapore culture”, he further supports it by citing a survey ran by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in 2002 which shows that observing Hari Raya Puasa and the ability to read, write and speak Malay constitutes as being Malays by 96% of them. 

The malay community particularly stands out from the others because apart from culture, religious beliefs also form a large part of the malay identity. From the same assesment, Dr Saat also points out that 93.3% of the Malay respondents feel that believing in Islam is significant or somewhat significant as a Malay. 

The use of Arabic for Muslims are extensive; the holy book that forms the basis of the Islamic ideologies is in Arabic; approximately 1.9 billion muslims worldwide are obliged to pray five times a day in Arabic; the majority of the greetings amongst Muslims are in Arabic, even though only 20 percent of them are Arabs. No wonder that the Malay language in the recent years have been replaced by Arabic words. However, although the malay language – like any others –  is no stranger to borrowing words, this may be only a symptom of a larger issue. 

Within the Malay community, there are some that see the malay culture as something that does not conform to their brand of Islam. Even though there are no scriptural basis on cultural superiority with regards to piety and religiosity, these critics would argue that being culturally less arabic would put one on God´s blacklist. As explained in “Islam´s attitude towards race”, Islam is not biased towards a specific race since it is believed that everyone descended from Adam and eve, and are therefore equal. Not only could this exclusivism impoverish the Malay culture, but also pave way for radical brands of Islam to manifest in the name of religiosity. 

Given the worrying possible outcomes, it is imperative that more discussions should happen revolving around this theme within the malay community. In addition to raising general awareness, it would also do good to pressurise these critics into softening their perceptions that has no premise in the Islamic scriptures. More importantly, the obligation for change should rest on the remainder of the community through defending their religious practices when subjected to pressure to conform.

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