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Jawi calligraphy not making Chinese identity any less

  • We need not worry or feel fearful that the Chinese culture and religion will be threatened by the education ministry's move.

By Dr Jeniri Amir

The issue of introducing the Jawi calligraphy in Bahasa Melayu textbooks in vernacular schools has become a heated topic in the country's Chinese community.

Beginning next year, Jawi calligraphy will be incorproated into Standard Four BM textbooks for Chinese and Tamil SRJKs.

This policy has met with strong resistance from some DAP leaders as well as Chinese education organizations like Dong Zong and Jiao Zong.

The question is: why is the Chinese community so worried about this move by the education ministry?

Even within DAP itself harsh criticisms have been heard. It has been reported that some 138 DAP grassroots leaders and 13 state assemblymen have urged cabinet ministers from the party to oppose to this policy.

Indeed, while there are many who oppose to it, some others have no objection to its implementation.

To the opponents, the introduction of Jawi calligraphy in vernacular schools is a move to politicize the Jawi calligraphy.

As a matter of fact, it is never meant to assimilate the country's non-Malay communities. The opponents feel that more problems will be created if Jawi calligraphy is included in the BM curriculum at Chinese and Tamil primary schools, and will eventually destroy the country's social fabric.

But is this really the case?

To me, such opposition has emerged out of sheer misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge of the Jawi calligraphy or Khat. Such confusion and misunderstanding need to be addressed.

In view of this, it is necessary for the education ministry to offer clear explanation on the actual purpose of introducing Jawi calligraphy in vernacular schools.

Meanwhile, DAP is also responsible for expounding the policy's justification to the local Chinese community.

There is very high aesthetic value of the Jawi calligraphy which should indeed become the pride of the whole nation, and I do not personally think that the move has been tailored to specifically Islamize non-Muslim students in the country, in particular the Chinese and Indians, as it will not have any undesirable effect at all on any religion or culture, nor will it affect these students' learning progress.

Jawi is not just another form of writing for the Malay language in addition to the Roman alphabet, it should also be seen as a way of preserving and safeguarding an artistic legacy of the country.

Deputy education minster Teo Nie Ching has urged Chinese parents not to deny their children's opportunity to learn the Jawi writing. According to her, it is just a form of writing art that has nothing to do with religion at all.

In the education context, it is just a strategy to promote an aesthetic calligraphy style.

We must realize that Jawi calligraphy is an important legacy of the Malay language that we should appreciate and learn, in line with the status of the Malay language as a national language that unites all Malaysians.

As such, Jawi should be introduced to young students who think of themselves as Malaysian citizens. Moreover, it is also an integral part of the history and heritage of this region.

Rationality in the absence of prejudices is therefore of utmost importance when we evaluate this issue to avert any negative sentiments which may trigger unwarranted tension in our society.

I still remember when I was very young, many older people in my village were able to write poems and prose in Jawi. These people were neither Muslims nor Christians but they proudly embraced their traditional faith.

They felt that Jawi was just another form of writing that should not trigger any fear nor anxiety. Jawi became a tool for them to read and broaden their scope of vision.

Lest we forget, prior to the 1970s there were plenty of Chinese and Indians who could read Utusan Melayu, then published in the Jawi script. Were these people subsequently converted to Muslims?

In my village, a big part of the population later became Christians after many years or even decades!

People who still can read and write Jawi are almost extinct from my village today, but I know they must be very proud of their Jawi competency.

Learning Jawi has not eroded their cultural identity nor compromise their own religious faith. They are still proudly embracing their own belief and traditions up till this day.

DAP Veteran Leader Lim Kit Siang admitted that he himself learned Jawi while he was jailed under ISA in 1969. He reiterated that his Chineseness had never been eroded just because he learned Jawi. In its stead, his Jawi knowledge had helped him understand better the meaning of being a Malaysian citizen.

Now that we have ushered in a New Malaysia, we should never look at things with our antiquated and prejudiced preoccupations.

To the government, it is my wish that whenever they introduce any policy in the future, including education policy, the well-being of the nation, her people and in particular the younger generation, must be prioritized over political and religious interests.

We must deliver ourselves out of the narrow racial, cultural and religious mindset. We must not look at things from our own community's point of view alone.

Despite the opposition from some quarters, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the policy would go ahead. He said the introduction of Jawi calligraphy should not have become an issue as the government has never opposed to the usage of other forms of writing because the government believes in the principle of shared prosperity among all Malaysians.

Dr Mahathir said other forms of writing such as Chinese calligraphy had not been allowed in some countries in the region such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand where their citizens are only allowed to learn the native languages.

He asked, if the learning of Chinese is not disallowed in this country, why reject Jawi calligraphy?

It is hoped that all parties will stop making irrational comments on this issue, or look at it from the perspectives of race, religion and politics.

We need not worry or feel fearful that the Chinese culture and religion will be threatened by the education ministry's move.

I believe the ministry has taken into consideration the interest of the students, and that the curriculum is introduced wholly for the long-term benefits of the students and nation.

(Dr Jeniri Amir is political analyst from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Unimas.)


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