The teaching of Islam sheds new light on the ideology of Malay supremacy

THE topic “Malay supremacy” (Ketuanan Melayu) has often been stretched too far by certain politicians.

We would all do well to heed the advice of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) not to play up the 3R (race, religion and royalty) sentiments except to seek wisdom to deal with it as peace-loving Malaysians.

With great care, FocusM has sought the views of three Muslim intellectuals to shed light on the subject from the Quran and the Hadith.

The trio are:

  • Emeritus Prof Osman Bakar who is the Al-Ghazali Chair of Epistemology and Civilisational Studies and Renewal at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation at International Islamic University Malaysia (ISTAC-IIUM);
  • Columnist with The Star and MySinchew Prof Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi of UCSI University (who is also a well-known expert in mosque and Islamic architecture); and
  • Datuk Dr Mohd Nor Manuty has held an impressive list of positions in both academic institutions and key Islamic organisations (he was appointed a Dewan Negara Senator from 2015-2019).

Q: What is the position of Islam on the supremacy of any race?

Prof Osman: Islam’s position on the issue of the supremacy of race is very clear. It does not subscribe to the idea of the supremacy of any race.

On the contrary, the idea is repugnant to the teaching of the Quran (17:70) that upholds and emphasises the equal dignity of all men and women. Thus, the Quran criticises the idea of the “chosen people”, be it based on ethnic or religious superiority.

Although the Quran accepts the idea of the best or the most excellent community, it is defined strictly in terms of spiritual meritocracy and one’s moral conduct; it is never based on ethnic, racial or religious sectarian grounds.

Prof Osman Bakar

Prof Tajuddin: In Islam, there is no preference for any race except that a person is judged based on his or her actions and intentions as a “righteous and God fearing” person.

The Quran is full of attributes of such people; there is none that suggests the supremacy of any particular race.

To debunk the supremacy of the “chosen race”, the Prophet told the people of Israel that Allah showed no favouritism to any particular race, punishing them for their sins and forgiving anyone according to His will.

He had even challenged them to pray for their immediate death in order to receive their rewards of heaven but the Jews refused, proving that there was indeed no supremacy of their race.

Prof Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

Dr Mohd Nor: Supremacy is a belief that one’s race is superior to others. Every nation has its own fair share in this self-aggrandisement where the majority feels that they are entitled to certain privileges because they command the numbers – and in the process – depriving others of their fair share of the pie.

Q: How do you interpret Quran 49:13: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted”.

Prof Osman (on why God created different races): The purpose behind the diversity of racial groups and tribes in God’s creation of humankind is for mutual acquaintance and understanding (of each other): to know one another in the comprehensive and deeper sense of the word.

This mutual understanding is in turn to serve a higher purpose which is spiritual: the acknowledgment of the common divine origin of human beings and the wisdom and power of the One Creator.

The verse was revealed in response to the negative attitude of some newly-converted Arabs towards Bilal ibn Rabbah, a black African and former slave when the latter gave the call to prayer at Medina.

Prof Tajuddin: I concur with Prof Osman. Besides Bilal, the history of the early days of Islam also gave prominence to personalities such as Salman al-Farsi who hailed from Persia, who helped the Prophet in a battle by digging a ditch around Medinah.

Dr. Mohd Nor: Quran vehemently objects to this jahili concept of racial, ethnic or even tribal supremacy by stating clearly that in passages such as (49:13), (11:118-9) and (5:48).

In the Quran is written: “Had He (Allah) wished, He would have made the entire humanity as one single entity without discord, disparity or discrimination. But He did not wish that because He created humanity into tribes, ethnicities, races of varying colours, climes, nations with differing values and ethos in order that they may learn from one another and to test which among them is good in conduct as per what He had revealed to them”.

Datuk Dr Mohd Nor Manuty

Since Islam speaks of universal brotherhood of mankind that transcends the man-made boundaries that often separate us, it is therefore not Quranic to classify man in terms of superiority or inferiority based on their physical traits or origins.

In that respect, there is no difference between the races that one does not even get to choose to be born into. The only distinctions that Allah makes are in respect of knowledge, faith and moral values as espoused by their religious texts.

Obviously, these dimensions are what give one the real `superiority’ over those who do not possess them or lack thereof.

It is in this respect the blessed Prophet has said: “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a red over a black, nor a black over a red, except only with piety. So, what sets apart in respect of superiority is piety (or God-consciousness)”.

In our Malaysian context, Malay supremacy as an ideology is against the very teaching of Islam.

The term “Malay supremacy” does not exist in the Federal Constitution but what is generally understood as the social contract are just some key principles upon which the Federal Constitution is constructed. This is beyond the scope of our article. – July 25, 2023

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