Elite Malays and Mixed Marriage
Contributed by Darah Kacukan Friday, 27 July 2007
Malaysia’s Malay leaders say ‘do as I say, not do as I do’ when it comes to marriage
In early June, the Malaysian media blossomed with pictures of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the traditional Malay suap-menyuap ceremony, exchanging bites of colored glutinous rice with his new bride.
This low-key but high-profile wedding followed another elite ceremony in May when one of Malaysia’s most eligible bachelors, the Raja Muda (crown prince) of Perak, Dr Raja Nazrin Shah, finally got hitched at the age of 50 in an unostentatious ceremony in Kuala Kangsar.
But these two weddings had something else in common, a characteristic not much commented on in the media but clear to most Malaysians: in both cases the brides were locally-born Eurasians. The prime minister’s new wife is Jeanne Abdullah, a friend and relative of Abdullah Badawi’s late wife, Endon, who died of complications from breast cancer in October 2005. Jeanne had originally been Jean Danker, a Catholic from a Eurasian family which spans Malaysia and Singapore and who converted to Islam when she married her first husband, Endon’s brother Othman, from whom she was later divorced.
The bride of Oxford and Harvard-educated Raja Nazrin, son of the current Perak Sultan, who himself was formerly Malaysia’s top law official, is Zara Salim Davidson, a chemical engineer and the daughter of William Davidson, a British-born Ipoh lawyer and his Malay wife. She herself is a member of the Kedah royal house and thus related to Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Raja Nazrin has repeatedly spoken out against racism in Malaysia. Zara considers herself to be very much a Malay despite her Eurasian blood.
These weddings thus represent what should be one of the triumphs of Malaysia its ability to break down racial and religious barriers and subsume them into a broader Malaysian identity. Unfortunately the elite all too often fails to preach what it actually practices. It is a one-way street. Marry a Malay and you will become a Malay. You will also become a Muslim and, the courts say, you will stay that way.
The good-natured Abdullah Badawi clearly has no problem with the mixed racial ancestry of his bride, or with the fact that she was baptised a Christian. Yet he heads a ruling party which is not merely race-based but at times makes a fetish of Malay racial purity. And he heads a government that supports the recent court decision refusing to allow a Muslim to become a Christian, an act of supposed apostasy. But in the eyes of some Christian fundamentalists, the gentle Jeanne is also an apostate for having forsaken Christianity.
Malays are not the only ones with identity problems. Scratch many a Malaysian Chinese and one may also find a strain of Chinese chauvinism, as is often the case in Singapore. But in Malaysia it is the Malay elite which sets the tone. This is why many believe that a more open recognition of the sheer diversity of Malaysians’ origins would help offset the divisions caused by race-based politics that identifies religion with race. http://www.asiasentinel.com Powered by Joomla! Generated: 5 December, 2012, 13:28
Just a brief look at the origins of many members of the elite gives the lie to ethnic purity and religious dogmatism. There is Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. His father was a Muslim Malayali from Kerala in south India who migrated to Malaysia and took a Malay bride. Mahathir himself was classified as an Indian when at university in Singapore.
But instead of celebrating the upward mobility that Malaysia offered to this migrant from India, the politics of the United Malays National Organisation required Mahathir to bury his ethnic past and wear his acquired Malay identity on his sleeve. In reality...
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