PETALING JAYA: The trend of adopting Arab attire and words is harmless as long as it does not drown out the Malay Nusantara heritage, says Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin (pic).
Adding to the debate on whether the alleged “Arabisation” of Malay Muslims is a cause for concern, the G25 coordinator said that only small parts of Arab culture were being absorbed.
“You have the overt symbols in the sense that you see a lot more people are wearing the abaya (black robe for women), and there are a lot of Arab words being used now,” she said.
Noor Farida also noted that while Malay Muslims today tend to prefer words like “solat” to “sembahyang” and “iftar” instead of “buka puasa”, the changes in vocabulary are minimal.
She, however, refuted the claims of an online news portal columnist that baju kurungs are now difficult to come by in shops as they have been replaced by abayas.
Noor Farida said that while traditionally, baju kurungs are tailored, one can easily still purchase them in shops.
“We Muslims pray five times a day. Many Muslim women feel that by wearing the abaya and the tudung (headscarf), they don’t even need to wear the telekung (white prayer garb) so in that way it is more convenient for them,” said the former Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands.
Noor Farida added that she too wears the abaya to the mosque as its more convenient.
“I hope that it is just for convenience rather than the fact that they think they should discard the Malay baju kurung or kebaya because it is unIslamic. So long as it is confined to harmless manifestations, it is fine, but if it’s going to go beyond that and we are going to adopt their (Arab) conservative values then that would be a cause for concern. Especially if we totally lose pride in our own culture,” she said.
“I hope it will not be widespread as to threaten our own Malay Nusantara culture, Islam Nusantara, which is a centuries-old culture which we ought to be proud of,” she said.
Noor Farida does not believe, however, that the Malay community are adopting Arab culture wholesale.
“I don’t think the word ‘culture’ is very apt in the circumstance. If you talk about culture, it’s also about adopting their music and their values,” she said.
Noor Farida, who is also the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Research, Treaties and International Law Department, explained that certain Arab values, such as with regard to the treatment of women, had not seeped into Malay culture as Malay women were still very independent and are given a greater amount of respect.
“I really would not like to see Arab values, especially Saudi Arab values, being adopted by us as they are not very respectful of women. Women occupy very low standing in the eyes of many Arabs. In that sense, I think we are still very different from them because women’s rights groups here are still very active and there is no legal impediment to women’s upward mobility in professions,” she said, adding that in the Malaysian working sector, women could “aim for the sky”.
That being said, Noor Faida stressed that Arab culture was also very diverse. For example, Saudi culture, which is influenced by the strictly conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, is far more rigid than the North African Arab culture.
Noor Farida said that the Saudi culture’s view towards woman was not necessarily Islamic.
She explained that during Prophet Muhammad’s time, women in Arabia were given a vast amount of rights. For example, women then had rights to property and the right to retain their own names after marriage.
“Don’t forget that the Prophet’s first wife, Siti Khadijah, was a very successful businesswoman. In those days, women were still confined to their homes in medieval Europe. Unfortunately, we seem to be regressing. We seem to be going back to the age of ignorance, the age of jahiliyyah. In that sense it would be a pity if we were to regress and adopt conservative Arab values, especially with regard to women’s rights,” she said.
“Many Malay Muslims equate Arab culture with Islam. They don’t realise that not all Arabs are Muslims. There are many Christian Arabs in Palestine and Syria. In Egypt, you’ve got the Coptic Christians so Islam should not equate Arab and vice versa,” she said.
“(It is fine) for the moment so long as it is confined to attire and the absorption of a few Arab words,” she said.
However, some elementes of “Arabisation” have also got Noor Farida peeved like the time someone gave her a “lexicon of Arabic words” to replace existent Malay greetings.
“Honestly, I was quite irritated by that. Please let us respect our values and our culture so long as it is not against Islamic teachings,” she said.
On Dec 8, 2014, The Star published G25’s open letter calling for a review of syariah and civil law in line with the supremacy of the Federal Constitution.
Originally consisting of 25 prominent Malays, most of whom are former high-ranking civil servants, the group now has 53 members and many supporters among other prominent figures.