Monday, 29 November 2010


What does diaspora mean in sociology & history?

Traders, Teachers, Pressmen and Pilgrim Brokers:
Penang Arabs in the Regional Network.

By Abdur-Razzaq Lubis

Compared to the Arab presence in Kedah, the Arab diaspora10 to Penang was far
more visible but unlike Arab migration to the Indonesian archipelago, their migration to
Penang was on a much smaller scale.[page 3]
10 Diaspora has been defined as “ethnic minority groups of migrant origin residing and acting in host countries, but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin”.

The printing industry in Penang spearheaded by the Jawi Peranakan, Arabs and Rawa (they are known as Rao in Sumatra) catered to the Jawi-reading population of the northern states of the Peninsula, southern Thailand and Sumatra. (Khoo, 1990; 29) [Page 8]

Not unlike their Arab brethren in Singapore, whose settlements are focused in the urban areas around Arab Street, Baghdad Street, Bussorah Street, Jedda Street and Muscat Street, the Arab presence in Penang, in the early days were concentrated in Acheen Street-Armenian Street enclave and subsequently in the twentieth century they began to expand their settlements to Kampung Syed in Pulau Tikus, in close proximity to the city centre, Jelutong and Kampung Melayu in Air Itam.16 [Page 8]
16 Kampung Melayu, Air Hitam is a Malay reservation established in the 1930s. It is the only
Malay reservation in the former British Straits Settlements.(Sejarah Persatuan Melayu Pulau
Pinang, ditubuhkan pada 1927: 6)

With regard to the Jelutong Mosque, circa 1900, the property appears to have been under the sole control of one Syed Akil Mashor, prompting the Jelutong Muslim community threatening legal action against Syed Akil, forcing the latter to execute a Trust Deed appointing three trustees for the wakaf. It is telling of the state of affairs with the board’s finding that “Trouble is evidently brewing in connection with this Mosque.” (Hand Book, 1932: 18-9) [Page 12]

In the middle of the eighteen century the Hadhramis began to settle in Malacca, and later on in other of the larger towns in the peninsula.25 During the nineteenth century, many of the Hadhramis went to India, East Africa and the countries around the Red Sea, but after the turn of the century, the Dutch East Indies and the British Straits Settlements became the most important destinations.
25 It has been suggested that Hadhramis settled in Malacca as early as the fifteenth century.
(Riddell, 1997: 220) [Page 15]

The great majority of Arabs originated from Hadhramaut, the remaining came primarily from the Hejaz although the author knows of Penang Arabs whose forefathers hails from Cairo and Baghdad. The Hadhrami mainly came to trade, though the sayyid and shaykh had multiple roles as sufi, alim and even merchants; the Arabs from the Hejaz oscillate from the Arabian peninsula to ports of Penang, Singapore and the Batavia to recruit and accompany aspiring hajis to the holy land. [Page 16]

Peranakan Jawi, Peranakan Arab
At the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the Arabs, Hadhramis included married local women, primarily “Malay” or Javanese, inhibiting their return home but still regarding Hadhramaut as their spiritual home, “in the hope that some day they may be able to return there, to await the day of Resurrection and Judgement.”32 Marriage with local or indigenous women declined as more peranakan Arab women, offspring of mixed marriages in the first instance, were available. In other words, they married primarily descendants of these mixed marriages, muwallad (muwallidun) 33 or peranakan Arab as they are known in Java and Jawi Peranakan in the British Straits Settlements. At the height of Hadhrami migration to Southeast Asia, “the muwalladin were an elite and dynamic element, scions of noble and wealthy families…” (Ho, 1997:143) [Page 19]

As bluntly put by Aljelany, “How then can we account for the twelve thousand Malaya-born Hadramis who are left to be assimilated. Well, their fathers have been forced by circumstances to abandon them. They would indubitably have taken them to Hadramaut had they had any choice in the matter.” (Aljelany, 1935: 10)34 The ‘left behind party’ became the Jawi Pekan or Jawi Peranakan @ Peranakan Arab. [Page 19]

For the most part, many of the Arabs arriving in Penang were already Peranakan to begin with, “a hybrid of Arab men from Aceh and Hadramaut and different regions in the Middle-East whose forefathers had married Malay, Rawa, Madurese, Bugis, Thai and Burmese women and where women of sayyid ancestry had already begun to marry indigenous men.” (Wazir, 2009: 134-235) [Page 19]

By the early nineteenth century, there was already such a thing as “Penang Malays” and when used in the context of George Town, the capital of Penang State, the term refers to people of diverse origin. Thomson commented in mid-1800s, that a “Jawee Pakan [is] (an Arab Kling).” (Thomson, 1865: 84) [Page 20]

Peranakan Arab / Tuan Syed / Tok Sheikh
The Peranakan Arab were also called Tuan Syed and Tok Sheikh and marriage between them and the Indian Muslims caused future generations of Peranakan Arabs to be simply called mama, nana, mamu and so on depending on social preference.  [Page 20]

The Malays in their generosity, added the honorific Tok, reserved for an elderly or aristocratic person, in front of the existing title, shaykh, giving the Arabs, the “glamour of piety” and with wealth this became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with the Tok Sheikh becoming some of the most wealthy and respected personalities in the Muslim community of George Town. (Wazir, 2009: 135) [Page 21]

So exclusive was this identity that they saw the “real Penang Malays” (Melayu jati Pulau Pinang) as “orang seberang” (mainland/peninsula people), which was subjected to or a target of ridicule as they were regarded as “kampung” people (rural, therefore, backwards). If someone is inactive (mandom) or untidy (kolom) they are equated with the “orang seberang”. (Zakiah Hanum, 1985: 23) Penang are in two parts, the island and a strip of land on the peninsula which under colonial rule was called Province Wellesley and after independence, Seberang Prai. In the table below are some examples of the influence of Arabic in the Malay language. [Page 21]

Some of these tendencies gave rise to a growing rift between the Malay and Indian Muslim communities, a direct result of different experiences of Islam, cultural backgrounds and geographical origins. The clash of civilizations was to rear its ugly head in the fragmentation along racial lines, reflected in the use of derogatory terms such as Darah Keturunan Keling (Kling by descent) and Darah Keturunan Arab (Arab by descent). The forces of communalism won the day, pressuring peoples of Indian, Arab and Indonesian origin to conform and “masuk Melayu” (enter the Malay fold), at the same time rescinding their original cultural identity and ethnicity. [Page 30]

Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang / Dr Kamil Mohamed Arif / Captain Mohamad Nor bin Mohamad
The constitutional provision of what constitutes Malay also applied to Penang. In 1933, the Penang Malay Association (Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang) submitted a memorandum to the Colonial Office in London, for the creation of a Malay reservation in Air Itam. The memorandum was drafted by Dr. Kamil Mohamed Arif, Captain Mohamad Nor bin Mohamad and Captain Syed Salleh Alsagoff. A piece of land in Air Hitam costing $40,000 was purchased for the purpose and the settlement became known as Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, the one and only Malay reservation in the Straits Settlement [Page 42]

***Captain Mohamad Noor bin Shaik Ahmad is in Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos' family tree ***

Pages 3, 8, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 30, and 42.

Abdur-Razzaq Lubis:

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Working Definition of Malay

I am quite surprised that two Malay friends questioned why I included 'Mamak doctors' in my proposed book. The reviewers ordered a working definition of the term 'Malay'. I always thought the word is well-understood today and I would never have to define it, especially at a time when people are debating on the special status of the Malay people and the upcoming 13th General Election 2012 (13GE). I feel quite unhappy having to define it too since I don't worry about the term at all. I don't think anyone has defined it too. Anyway, I have sat down to read as much as I could since the reviews came back to me.  I bought lots of books (worth >RM500) to help me with just this one definition. Remember, I am not from sociology nor history.

I have completed my own write-up of what the term 'Malay' should mean and how I have adopted it in my proposed book. It took me the whole month of November 2010 to come up with my own Working Definition of Malay for my book. I have prepared and revised 12 versions of my write-up on Working Definition of Malay. This version which I have displayed is the 13th version, revised today, 27 November 2010. I hope you like it.

I am also proposing that we use Orang Melayu in Bahasa Malaysia and English. The term 'Malay' is then used to refer to all people who have some relations to the Orang Melayu, That way we do not confuse what is Malay/non-Malay and Malayness/un-Malayness. Somewhere I read, I saw it written as orang Melayu but I prefer it written as Orang Melayu.



The term ‘Malay’ adopted in this book accepts that all Muslims domiciled in previously Malaya and present day Malaysia, regardless of their roots, are Malay. The reason for qualifying them as ‘Malay’ is in line with our Federal Constitution which was drawn up and duly revised at various times in our history, i.e., during British Malaya (1911), the Federation of Malaya (1956-7) and Malaysia (1960-3-present day). As local Muslims, these people share three common attributes: (1) practise Islam, (2) habitually practise customs of the Orang Melayu, and (3) habitually speak Bahasa Melayu. Thus, the term ‘Malay’ should be taken to mean a large heterogeneous group comprising many sub-groups, who are all united by three basic elements – preference for Islamic faith, appreciation of local customary hospitality with emphasis on courtesy and communicating in a simple language that is comprehensible by the mass of people who live in this country. 

Mixed Malay Heritage


The second category consists of mixed sub-groups who share three basic attributes with the Orang Melayu base sub-group and qualify as Malay under the Federal Constitution. Kacukan and peranakan are adjectives in Bahasa Melayu that refer to a mixed heritage. There are more than 54 such mixed ethnic groups who are domiciled throughout the world. They are known by different names in different countries. In Malaysia, there are mixed Indians or Jawi Pekan/Jawi Peranakan (Mamak in colloquial Bahasa Melayu) on the west coast of peninsular Malaya. There are Melayu Champa and many Chinese-Orang Melayu offspring in Kelantan. There is Ceylon Malay/Sri Lanka Malay (Melayu Sri Lanka) in Sri Lanka. Their ancestors originated from Java. Present day Sri Lanka Malay people speak Sinhala (Milner 2008:3-4). There is Melayu India in India, Melayu Pakistan in Pakistan, Melayu Bangla in Bangladesh, Cape Malay/Melayu Afrika Selatan in South Africa. They are descended from more of Indian rather than Archipelago origin and speak Afrikaans or English. There are Marino/Melayu Madagaskar in Madagascar.

Jawi Pekan/Jawi Peranakan

Jawi Pekan and Jawi Peranakan are local Bahasa Melayu terms. Derogatory colloquial synonyms are Mamak, Darah Keturunan Keling (DKK) and Keling. Jawi Pekan referred to Indian Muslims who lived in the cities (e.g., Georgetown and Ayer Itam in Penang) while Jawi Peranakan mainly referred to Indian Muslims who lived in the rural areas of Penang, Kedah and Perak. The British Malaya administration had used the term Jawi Pekan for the birth registration of an Indian Muslim male. For example, Yusoff Azmi Merican bin Zachariah Merican was born at home on 11 September 1939 in 77 Kedah Road, Georgetown to Zachariah Merican bin M.N. Merican (Jawi Pekan) of Georgetown and Hanifah Bee binti Shaik Mohamad (Jawi Pekan) of Ayer Itam (Halimah Mohd Said and Zainab Abdul Majid 2004:219). Indian Muslims were absorbed into the Malay category for the British Malaya census of 1911, 1921 and 1931. Similarly, in the post-Merdeka period the Indian Muslims were absorbed into the Malay category for the Federation of Malaya Census of 1960 and subsequent Malaysian census after 1963 (Time Series Data Population and Housing Census, 1911-2000 2006). Today, descendants of Indian Muslims are referred to as Jawi Peranakan regardless of where they reside. Jawi Peranakan are descendants of an Orang Melayu mother and an Indian Muslim father or vice versa. They observe both Orang Melayu and Indian etiquettes, customs and traditions. They eat Orang Melayu and halal Indian cuisine. They dress in Orang Melayu, Indian or Western attire. Most Jawi Peranakan are language experts and speak English, Malay accent and the Indian languages (Tamil, Urdu, Hindustani, Bangla, Pashtun, etc). Tamil kinship terms are: atta (father) and amma (mother), nana/anè (older brother), achi (older sister), mamak (uncle), mami (aunt), macan (older brother-in-law), maini (older sister-in-law), machi (younger sister-in-law) (Halimah Mohd Said and Zainab Abdul Majid 2004:92). Urdu kinship terms are: walid (father), ma (mother), dada (grandfather), nani/dadi (grandmother), caca (paternal uncle), caci/cahu-cahi (paternal aunt), mamu (maternal uncle), khala (maternal aunt), bhai (older brother), and bu (older sister) (Halimah Mohd Said and Zainab Abdul Majid 2004:92; Google translate 17 Nov 2010). Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) kinship terms are: bap/baap/ab/abu (father), aajaa (grandfather), daadaa (older brother/father/grandfather – meaning depends on locality), bhai/by (brother), bohin/bahen (sister), butcha/batcha (child, infant), Ranee (wife of a Rajah, Princess) (Smith 1999; Wikipedia: Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) word etymology).

Melayu Afrika

Descendents of Orang Melayu are found in South Africa and are known as Melayu Afrika which is synonymous with mixed African Malays. In South Africa, they are grouped as Coloureds. Melayu Afrika refers to offspring of indigenous Orang Melayu women married to African males or vice versa. Sixteenth and seventeenth generations of Melayu Afrika can be found in Cape Town today (pers. comm.). The Orang Melayu names have been modified and adopted anglicised spellings but the peoples still believe in Islam. They observe Orang Melayu etiquettes and customs. They eat local South African cuisine that is halal. The 16th generation can still recognise the karipap (curry puff) as an Orang Melayu food. The curry puff is often used for returning food favours between close neighbours. The skills for making authentic Orang Melayu karipap may need to be refreshed among the descendants of present day Melayu Afrika. They speak the local language, Afrikaans and English. The ability to speak Bahasa Melayu has been lost in the 16th and 17th generations of Melayu Afrika. They dresses in Western and local attire. The Orang Melayu attire does not fit the cold and dry weather conditions of South Africa.

Melayu Arab

The Arabs came to the Malay peninsula prior to the Chinese Muslims arrival from China with Admiral Cheng Ho @ Zheng He’s armada between 1405 and 1433. The Arabs came from India, Yemen and Turkey and mainly came to trade and spread Islam. The synonyms for Melayu Arab (Arab Malay) are Keturunan Arab and Tok Sheikh, Tok Seh or Tok Arab in Kelantan dialect. Melayu Arab refers to the offspring of indigenous Orang Melayu women married to Arab males or vice versa. Their descendants are also Melayu Arab, based on their physical features. However, a person of Arab descent can be considered an Orang Melayu in Kedah but not in Johor (Milner 2008:4), or Kelantan which has implications on land rights. The Melayu Arab carry Syed/Said (male) or Sharifah (female) name prefixes. The Syed/Said and Sharifah prefixes are often omitted after the 7th generation of mixed marriages as the offspring is no longer regarded as an Arab. They believe in Islam and are often highly regarded within the society for their ability to speak fluent Arabic and recite the Quran and its interpretation for the Muslim populace. They observe both Arab and Orang Melayu etiquettes, customs and traditions. They eat Orang Melayu and halal Arab cuisine. Most can speak Arabic, English and Bahasa Melayu. Apparels vary and include Arab, Western and Orang Melayu outfits. The Melayu Arab peoples are domiciled throughout Malaysia with higher concentrations in Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. Today, they are involved in the private sector. Some have been involved in the textile and Islamic books businesses for many generations. Others have expanded and included business investments in education, medical, housing and ICT infrastructure. One owns large establishments in the cities and belongs to Malaysia’s top ten wealthy people.

India Islam/India Muslim

The Indians of Muslim faith came to the Malay Peninsula were from two categories – the northern Indian and the southern Indian. They were important for Malaya’s economic prosperity during British rule. They were also responsible for constructing the early mosques in Malaya and Singapore. Their generations continue to become imams and mosque caretakers. Synonyms for these Indians are Indian Muslims and Mohamedan Indians. Indian Muslims are offspring of Indian parents. Males often carry their name as initials followed by a surname or clan name (e.g., Dr A.O. Merican and Dr Taufeeq Khan). Females have a Bee/Begum name suffix (e.g., Hashimah Bee and Shafiah Begum). Northern Indian Muslim people originated from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Kashmir and have fair complexion. On the other hand, Southern Indian Muslim people originated from Surat, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and have dark complexion. They are strong and faithful believers of Islam. They adhere to all its teachings and guard all aspects of the religion. Even though they respect Orang Melayu etiquettes, customs and traditions, Indian customs and traditions dominate their lives. They eat mainly halal Indian cuisine along with Orang Melayu cuisine. They are fluent English speakers in addition to their mother tongue (Tamil/Urdu/Hindustani/Bangla/Pashtun) and Bahasa Melayu accent. They dress in Western, Indian or Orang Melayu clothes. Indian Muslims are domiciled throughout Malaysia especially in cities on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia in Penang, Perak and Selangor. Despite their humble beginnings in British Malaya, they are important for Malaysia’s continued religious education and economic growth. Today, they are involved in the automobile industry and are prime movers of Malaysia’s oil and gas industry. One owns the world’s largest pipe laying barge.

Melayu Cina & Cina Islam

The Chinese came to Malaya after the Arabs in two waves. The first wave was during the international voyages of Admiral Cheng Ho (1405-1433). The second wave was during British Malaya to work in the tin mines (1856-1957). Synonyms for the Chinese of Islamic faith are Chinese Malay (Cina Melayu), Chinese Muslim (Cina Islam), Cina Peranakan/Cina Muslim Hui (Tang Ren) (Ann Wan Seng 2010:21-22 Cheng Ho di Melaka) and muallaf. Chinese Muslim (Cina Islam) are Chinese males/females who are Muslim by birth as his/her parents are Muslims (e.g., Cheng Ho/Zheng He). Their offspring is Chinese Muslim. Chinese Malay (Cina Melayu) are Chinese males who become Muslim prior to his marriage to an Orang Melayu woman and vice versa. The Chinese person who converts to Islam is a Chinese Muslim and his/her offspring from his/her Orang Melayu spouse is Chinese Malay or Cina Peranakan.
For the purpose of scientific research and census, offspring of Chinese Muslim and Chinese Malay parents are categorised as Malay. Proper spelling of Chinese names is made difficult by varied pronunciation in the different Chinese dialects. Chinese Muslim names written in Chinese script are not easily translated to Romanised name equivalent and vice versa. Chinese have different given names at birth and are known by different names as adults. Renaming is common among Chinese. For example, Admiral Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho; Muslim name Haji Mahmud Shams; 1371-1433) was a Hui Muslim of the Ming Imperial Court in China. He was the second son of a Muslim family and had four sisters. His birth name was Ma He. He was captured at age 11 when the Ming army attacked Yunan Province. He was castrated and made a slave before rising through the ranks to becoming Admiral Zeng He. He served 20 years as admiral under three Chinese emperors. Zheng He was his new name given by Prince Chen Chu who became the Ming Emperor Yung Lo/Yong Le/Yongle/Yong Lu (reign 1403-1424).
Chinese males and females carry their own names or new Malay names with Chinese surnames followed by Abdullah to indicate that they have become Muslims (e.g., Hussien Wong Abdullah and Jessica Wong Abdullah). Most use their Chinese names with aliases (e.g., Wong Seong Keong @ Hussien Wong Abdullah). One Chinese male was adopted by a local palace and given an entirely Malay name (e.g., Wong Seong Keong was renamed Hussien bin Isa) which makes proper identification of him as a true Chinese difficult if his Chinese name was not known at all nor by his original or new family or forgotten by himself.
The Chinese Muslim believes in Islam and adheres to all its teachings. They observe more Chinese etiquettes, customs and traditions compared to those of Orang Melayu. They eat halal Chinese cuisine (which is less oily) and some Orang Melayu food (which is oily and often rich in santan). Their meal times are different from that of Orang Melayu. They are often quiet, friendly, helpful and soft spoken. The Chinese speak English, Manglish (colloquial for Chinese style of English), Bahasa Melayu and their mother tongue (Mandarin, Hokkien or Cantonese). Some can read, write and speak Arabic. The Chinese Muslims dress in Western, Chinese or Orang Melayu attire. The Chinese Muslims are domiciled throughout Malaysia. They are usually involved in business, big and small. Many are doctors in the government service while others are general practitioners. They have established strong Chinese Muslim associations (Persatuan Cina Muslim Malaysia, /MACMA and Persatuan Saudara Baru in Kota Bharu, Kelantan) which assist members with their religious needs and also facilitate international business ties. Other business ventures include the importation of hahal meat and dairy products. The most recent international business exposition was the Cheng Ho Expo 2010 held on 21-26 November 2010 in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia.

Melayu Serani & Serani Islam

Serani is the local term for mixed Caucasian (White American, European, Australian) heritage. Synonyms are Eurasian Malay/European Malay/Euro-Malay (Melayu Serani) and Eurasian Muslim (Serani Islam). Serani Islam is an offspring of Orang Melayu wife and White husband. Melayu Serani is an offspring of Orang Melayu husband and White wife. They believe in Islam. They observe Orang Melayu and European etiquettes, customs and traditions. They speak fluent English and Bahasa Melayu. They dress in Western and Orang Melayu attire. The Serani people are domiciled on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. There are pockets of British Malay (Melayu Serani Britain), Dutch Malay (Melayu Serani Belanda), Portugis Malay (Melayu Serani Portugis), and Burgher Malay (Melayu Serani Burgher) in Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Klang. In Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) there is Melayu Serani Ceylon/Sri Lanka. In South Africa there is Cape Eurasian Malay/Melayu Serani Cape/Melayu Serani Afrika Selatan.

1.       Ann Wan Seng (ed.). Laksamana Haji Muhammad Cheng Ho. 2010. Persatuan Cina Muslim Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur.
2.       Halimah Mohd Said and Zainab Abdul Majid. 2004. Images of the Jawi Peranakan of Penang. Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. pp. 4,16-17,33,92,219.
3.       Ismail Hussein. 1990. Antara Dunia Melayu dengan Dunia Kebangsaan. pp. 17.
4.    Time Series Data Population and Housing Census, 1911-2000. Department of Statistics, Malaysia, Putrajaya. December 2006. (Data Siri Masa Banci Penduduk dan Perumahan, 1911-2000. Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia, Putrajaya, Malaysia. Disember 2006.)

Online resources:
1.       Discover Islamic Art. Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF). Accessed 18 Nov 2010
2.     Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) word etymology. Accessed 17 Nov 2010.
3.       Horas Mandailing. The Mandailing People. 2004. Accessed 18 Nov 2010.
4.       Lesser Sunda Islands. Wikipedia. Accessed 18 Nov 2010.
5.       Sapura 3000. Sapura. Accessed 21 Nov 2010.
6.       Sapura Knowledge and Technology. Sapura. Accessed 21 Nov 2010
7.    Shakespear, J. A Dictionary, Hindustani and English. Accessed 20 Nov 2010
8.    Smith, M. A Glossary of Hindustani-Urdu-Hindi words to be found in Kipling’s works. Dec 1999. Accessed 17 Nov 2010.
9.    Sunda Islands. Wikipedia. Accessed 18 Nov 2010
10.    Timeline of Muslim History. Wikipedia. Accessed 13 November 2010
11.    Zeng He. YouTube. Accessed 21 Nov 2010.

Understanding the Malay World and Its People

Malay World/Dunia Melayu

The notion of a Malay World or Dunia Melayu/AlamMelayu is an interesting one but to manifest it is somewhat slow since mapping where all the Orang Melayu are domiciled have been blurred by their continuous complex worldwide migrations. There were proposals to unite the Orang Melayu geo-politically under Malphilindo (Malaysia-Philippines-Indonesia), Malay-Polynesia and ASEAN[1] (Milner 2008:5) but only ASEAN has materialised and survived.

Proto-Malay/Orang Asli/Orang Asal

The descriptions of ‘Malay’ given by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Frank Swettenham could have referred to Orang Asli who are nomadic and live off the jungles. The Orang Melayu are dissimilar to the Orang Asli in that they have totally different belief systems, lifestyles and cultures (Adat dan Budaya Orang Asli – Semai 2009).

Orang Melayu Community

The Malays have always had great respect for their community elders and follow an unwritten code of conduct within their respective communities. They continue to use a social structure which was rooted in the Malacca Sultanate. From the time of the Malacca Sultanate, Tanah Melayu (literally Malay land) had its own system of administration, judiciary, customs and practices. This system was deemed efficient by the Malays and was widely used throughout the Malay Archipelago. However, when the European conquerors came, they had disrupted and partially replaced the Malay administrative system with theirs. Today, Malaysia has two systems in place, the Malaysian federal government administrative system which is descended from the British colonial administrative system and the highly treasured Malay state administrative system which is closely guarded by Sultans of each of the Malay states by its Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat-Istiadat Melayu. From an administrative standpoint, the Malays abide by both these systems which govern them.

Bahasa Melayu

From a language standpoint, as a resultant from practising the Malay administrative system, the Malays use a totally different gamut of honorific titles and vocabulary to address themselves and others. This is most obvious when addressing the Malay royals and those holding certain portfolios. Some of the honorific titles are now used by the non-Malays under the federal government administrative system.


The term ‘Malay’ as has been widely used in English academic textbooks and journal publications has not been properly defined. Without clarification, it has led many to think that Malay refers exactly to Orang Melayu. This is alright for those who do not understand what comprise the Malay. Orang Melayu itself is a complex term. When we refer to ethnicity, there is pure and mixed Orang Melayu. Pure Orang Melayu is what Orang Melayu should mean. Mixed Orang Melayu is known in Bahasa Melayu as Peranakan. Peranakan is both a noun and an adjective. Since 1911, the term Malay cannot be perceived as simply referring to just Orang Melayu for it is a general term which refers to many sub-groups which fall into this category as defined by the British census.
The term ‘Malay’ adopted in this book is a general term which refers to three categories that comprise the fabric of our ‘Malay’ society today. The first category consists of known lineages of Orang Melayu. They do not marry outside their clan nor do they practise outbreeding. They are considered as pure Orang Melayu. There are very few known pure lineages left today. The lineages are being determined by genetic studies. The second category consists of mixed breed sub-groups who are connected to Orang Melayu by blood relations, marriage or adoption. They share three basic attributes with Orang Melayu as stated in the Constitution. They comprise the majority of Malay. The third is a miscellaneous category comprising non-Malay people who legally revert to Islam and are then considered as Malay. Many adults became Muslim on their own accord. Many brides and grooms became Muslims at the time of their marriage to Muslims. Many non-Muslim infants and children underwent the adoption process and then became adopted Muslim children of Muslim families. Many such adopted children bear no blood relation to their foster Muslim parents.

Orang Melayu

The indigenous peoples of Malay stock who inhabit the Malay Archipelago are the Orang Melayu. The term Orang Melayu is synonymous with the terms native Malay, pure breed of Malay, Melayu asli, Melayu jati, and Melayu tulen. Orang Melayu were animists before they became Muslims. They believe in Islam and adhere to the Shafie sect. They read the Jawi (Arabic alphabet-based) script and the Qur’an. Even though they are supposed not to combine Islamic practices with animist religion of their forefathers, they often do, mostly without awareness that they are combining the two. Such practices are especially noticeable at wedding receptions and ceremonial rites. Orang Melayu have their own etiquettes, norms and traditions. Orang Melayu cuisine strictly adheres to the Islamic standards for food preparation, and food prepared in this way is considered as halal (fit for human consumption). Orang Melayu speaks Bahasa Melayu however accents vary between states. Orang Melayu kinship terms are bapa/bapak (father), mak (mother), abang (elder brother), kakak (elder sister), adik (younger brother or sister), anak (child or children), datuk (grandfather), nenek (grandmother), bapa saudara (uncle), ibu saudara (aunt), and saudara-mara/sanak saudara/waris (relatives). Orang Melayu male casual wear includes a shirt or singlet over kain sarong or kain pelekat. The traditional formal male outfit is the baju Melayu suit, kain sampin and songkok. The female casual wear includes baju kurung, T-shirt with kain sarong or a caftan. The traditional formal female outfit is the baju kurung or kebaya panjang. However, name of fabrics, motifs, colours, styles and adornments may vary between states and for different state occasions. These heirlooms are passed down from one generation to the next. Sub-groups of Orang Melayu who are domiciled in peninsular Malaysia are referred to as Orang Melayu Semenanjung. The sub-groups are known by the name of the respective states where they reside or originate. For example, in Perlis (Melayu Perlis), Kedah (Melayu Kedah), Perak (Melayu Perak), Kelantan (Melayu Kelantan), Terengganu (Melayu Terengganu), Pahang (Melayu Pahang), Johor (Melayu Johor), Melaka (Melayu Melaka), and Selangor (Melayu Selangor).

[1] ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN was formed on 8 August 1967 with 10 member countries - Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar) Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Source: Retrieved on 20 Nov 2010.

Qualifying the term 'Malay' in The Early Malay Doctors

Definition of ‘Malay’ under the Federal Constitution

From a historical standpoint, the term ‘Malay’ adopted in this book refers to Muslim persons who was domiciled in Malaya and/ Singapore from 1856 onward. The geopolitical time frames are: Pre-war British Malaya and Singpore (1856-1941), the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Singapore (1941-1945), post-war British Malaya and Singapore (1945-30 August 1957), the Federation of Malaya (31 August 1957-16 September 1963), early Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore from 16 September 1963 to 9 August 1965) and present day Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak from 9 August 1965-present day). Singapore was separated from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. From a political standpoint, the term ‘Malay’ adopted in this book is in line with the definition of ‘Malay’ under the Reid Commission that was presented at the London Conference of September 1956 (Stockwell 1995:306-307,314-315) which became the Federal Constitution for the Federation of Malaya. Since many of the doctors continued to live in peninsular Malaya and became Malayans after 1957 and  subsequently Malaysian citizens after 1963, the definition of ‘Malay’ is maintained and is in line with the most recent Malaysian Constitution of March 2010 as stated in Articles 14, 15, 16, 18 and 19. The person is ‘Malay’ under the Malaysian Constitution of March 2010 (Article 160).

The Federation of Malaya (1957-1963)
London Conference and Reid Commission, September 1956 - Articles 425 & 426: Definition of Malay

A person shall be deemed to be a Malay, if
1)      He practises the religion of Islam;
2)      He habitually practises Malay customs;
3)      He habitually speaks the Malay language; and
4)      He is a person, or the descendant of a person, who at the commencement of this Constitution
a)      was domiciled in the Federation of Malaya, or
b)      had been born in the territories comprised in the Federation of Malaya, or
c)      had been born of parents one of whom had been born in the territories comprised in the Federation of Malaya.

The Malaysian Constitution (1957-present day)
Malaysian Constitution (2010) - Articles 14, 15, 16, 18, and 19: Acquisition of Citizenship. Article 160: Definition of Malay

The article defines a Malay person as a Malaysian citizen born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs, and is domiciled in Malaysia or Singapore. As a result, Malay citizens who convert out of Islam are no longer considered Malay under the law. Hence, the Bumiputra privileges afforded to Malays under Article 153 of the Constitution, the New Economic Policy (NEP), etc. are forfeit for such converts.
Likewise, a non-Malay Malaysian who converts to Islam can lay claim to Bumiputra privileges, provided he meets the other conditions.


1.       Federal Constitution (as at 1st March 2010), 2010. ISBN: 978-967-89-2023-0. Publisher: International Law Book Services. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Website:  E-mail: 
2.       Perlembagaan Persekutuan (hingga 20hb Januari 2010), 2010. ISBN: 978-967-89-2018-6. Publisher: International Law Book Services. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Website:  E-mail: