Learning Jawi Must Not Be A Divisive Issue


BAHASA Melayu is part of the Malaysian identity. No one needs to reiterate the status of the Malay language in Malaysia.

It stands as our national as well as the official language pursuant to Articles 152 and 161 of the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act 1963/67 (Act 32).

What’s the hullabaloo about learning Jawi calligraphy? Jawi only functions as a script to write Bahasa Melayu. This is a statement of fact.

Just like writing in Hanzi will not turn a Malay into a Chinese Buddhist, similarly writing in Jawi will not turn a Chinese Christian into a Malay Muslim. The fact that there is a need to continuously repeat this statement by all supporters of Jawi script shows the ignorance and arrogance of the opponents to the script.

Before the coming of Islam to the Malay Archipelago, the Malay language used to be written in Pallava, Kawi and Rencong scripts. However, none of these writing systems received similar legal standing as Jawi had received.

Under Section 9 of Act 32, Rumi is recognised as the script in which our national language is officially written. However, it clearly does not bar the Jawi script from being used. Although Section 9 provides as such, Section 10 of Act 32 states that “the form of numerals in the national language shall be the Arabic form of numerals”.

The effect of these two provisions read together is there is a need to make an official statement in our national language, in which a figure must appear, of which the Bahasa Melayu sentence must be written in both the Romanised alphabet or Rumi, and in Jawi (for numerals).

If a Malaysian citizen wishes to fully adopt his identity as a Malaysian, it can only be right and proper that he must respect and adopt all legal provisions aimed to socially engineer a united Malaysia. This includes the respect that must be accorded to the use of Jawi as a proper script to write Bahasa Melayu.

Any action that questions any initiative to introduce a unified Malaysian identity into our school system is plainly treason.

Opposition to the Jawi script is not just from the non-Malays, who regard the script with much pessimism and strong distrust, worried that their cultural and religious standings will be compromised. No, it is in fact the Malays, who have long abandoned the script without an iota of guilt or shame.

It was the Education Ministry which decided to abolish the teaching and learning of the Malay language in Jawi script in national schools. As a result, generations after generations of Malaysian Malays cannot even spell out Malay words written in Jawi, much less hope for a Chinese or an Indian to be able to read Jawi.

Let not the introduction of Jawi script into our schools be a divisive issue. It can only be divisive if we allow it to be. Accept and embrace the introduction.

There are enough issues for fellow Malaysians to squabble over.

Fatihah Jamhari
Head of Legal & Human Rights Bureau
International Women’s Alliance for Family and Quality Education

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