Friday, 17 May 2013

The Chinese I Know

Everywhere I turn to look, I see a Chinese. But what I do not know is that Chinese I see is a child of a Malay couple! What is happening? Yes, Malays have always adopted Chinese children from before Merdeka. There are so many of these adopted Chinese children that sometimes I wonder what has happened to the Chinese family system.

The Chinese families that I know, have many children. But know the Chinese family is only with 2 kids. So the Chinese nuclear family is only 4 people - father, mother, son and daughter. What happened? Why has the Chinese family size contracted?

Malay families who adopt Chinese children do so out of pity. Malays are known to be soft people - they cannot bear to see others suffer. So Malay families adopt and look after Chinese children as if they were their own. They go to the extent of changing the child's name to a Malay name and use their name for surname (which is forbidden in Islam). That's why we see Chinese children with Malay names and with Malay foster parents. It is a common phenomenon even today.

Why are Chinese children preferred over other races? Chinese are fair, Indians are dark. Between the two, the Malays prefer the Chinese child. Only in Kelantan today do we hear about and see childless Malay families adopting Rohingya newborns. This is a new phenomenon.

Back to the Chinese issue, is it worth adopting Chinese children? What happens to these children in the long run? Some have made it fine, some are left alone. If these adopted Chinese children grow up and live within a good Malay community, she will survive and be happy. She will still suffer being outcast at times but it is still livable. There are instances of adopted Chinese children who grow up to be happy and fine but they are lonely in old age. They are outcast by their Chinese features even though they are fluent Malay speakers. What's wrong? It is not easy integrating into a Malay community in old age.

Sitting on my Chinese maid's lap when I was still a baby in cloth nappies in Petaling Jaya, 1958.

Che-cheh when she was young ... she was my grandfather's maid after WWII and for her entire life, until she left to go to the kongsi in her old age and she died there. 1958 photo.

My grandfather's second wife, a Chinese lady.

Early Education

The earliest education for the Malay people is Quran classes. Many little Malay children learn the Quran from young, This is the first time they attend 'school' and obtain education. In the old days, the Quran teachers were middle-aged ladies, often unmarried, some were their own mothers. After they learn the basic Quran reading, they then read the entire small book (Muqadam) and then progress to the big book (Quran besar). Malay children complete Quran reading before puberty, before they complete primary school at standard/primary 6.

Most boys continue to read the quran at the mosque, guided by the imam or some guru Quran. Girls don't go for any Quran classes once they have their menses. Some do continue to read the Quran on days when they don't have their menses. Often an ustazah or an ustaz comes to the house to teach but girls are uncomfortable about this arrangement.

This early form of home education is mentioned in almost all the early Malay doctors' biographies.

Today, boys and girls go to private Quran classes organised for them by school teachers or private teachers. There are many to choose from. These Islamic institutions mushroomed in the early 1990s. Now we see so many of these schools. Most have uniforms and require the kids to wear them. Some leave the clothes alone and focus on Quran reading skills.

Beside Quran reading, the modern Islamic institutions also teach Fardhu Ain, basic self responsibilities in Islam. Though Fardhu Ain is taught in Malaysia's national schools, Quran reading is not. Arabic and Jawi writing are not intensive subjects taught in schools, so children are not so skilled with these (which is a setback).

Without a good foundation in Quran reading and understanding, without skills in the Arabic language and its usage, the Malay child today is a bit handicapped to perform in a challenging world. A Malay child may excel in all 9 subjects in the SPM exams but it means nothing in the Islamic context.

Islamic banking is a challenging field today. Without proficiency of Arabic language and skills in mathematics, the Malay child is left out from an interesting field. He stands no chance of becoming a player or worker in Islamic banking.

The same with the Hajj operations. Without a sound knowledge of the Hajj and skills in the Arabic language, the Malay child is left out from an interesting field.

Without adequate skills, Malay boys fall out of practically everything the world has to offer from A to Z. It is indeed a pity.

It seems that early home education (Quran reading) is not well-supported in Malaysia's national school system. There is no path where a Malay child can follow through and be sufficiently equipped to compete in the  Islamic world when he completes school. The same with medicine. The Malay doctors may perform well in Malaysia but maybe unable to collaborate with an Arab-speaking team of doctors, be it in Saudi Arabia, Gaza or other places where Arabic is spoken. So the Malay child has limited roaming space that is limited by his language skills, of which Arabic is now the most important (Chinese is the other). Without Arabic, the Malay child is weak. With a working knowledge of Arabic, the Malay child is able to find wider space to roam and make a living.

My father's class at Jasin English Primary School, 1961-62, Malacca.
He is standing in back row extreme left.

Dressed for mengaji session in Alor Star, Kedah. 1964-65.
I'm standing with my sibs. I'm second from left.