Malay Community Progress Report

“One of the greatest strengths of the Malay community is your spirit of self-help and self-reliance. Your successful members have not neglected the community to pursue their own careers and interests. Your gotong-royong spirit inspires hope and provides support for those less well-endowed.”

This is the most recent update I discovered online on the current state of the Malay community. It revealed many interesting statistics on the progress of the Malay community and in view of the various books and articles I have read and analysed on the Malay marginality issue, it would be interesting to ascertain whether such cynical views by Dr Mahathir and Ms Lily Zubaidah Rahim, among others, are still applicable.

I will be refering to the speech by Mr Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister, at the Malay community’s tribute High Tea, on the 12th of February 2005. In particular, I will be emphasizing the various numerical statistics highlighting the progress of the Malay community and the various undertones which can be interpreted by such figures alone. Again I must emphasize that the purpose of this analysis is to understand the statistics fully, in order to get a more accurate picture of the situation now, rather than euphemistic and misleading proclaimations that our society has “progressed”. These analysis must never be construed to be a reflection of anti-Malay sentiments, or aggressive communalism on my part, since I myself am a Malay and proud of the colour I wear.

In the field of education, Mr Goh emphasized that we had made “real and solid gains”. Here he highlighted the fact that there was an increase of 24% of Malay students being eligible for secondary school from 1990 to 2003. He also emphasized that “in 2003, 73% of Malay students moved on to post-secondary education, doubled from the 36% in 1990. Last year, the community produced a record of 8 First Class Honours students. In 1990, there were none.” This are definitely laudable achievements indeed.

Questions to be answered are what happened to the 27% of the Malay students who did not move on to post-secondary education? This would mean that such students are only equipped with the basic O level certificate, which I would assume would not contain such stellar results, considering the fact that they aren’t pursuing post-secondary education. How about the breakdown in terms of technical/vocational versus junior colleges? This would ultimately be the true litmus test of the socio-economic status of the community – either having a techincal diploma or a pre-university education en-route to university.

In employment, Mr Goh highlighted that there are “more Malay professionals such as lawyers, engineers and architects, compared to 10 years ago”. Also, “the proportion of Malays holding professional jobs rose from 2% in 1990 to 4% in 2000. Over the same period, the proportion of Malays holding technical jobs had similarly doubled from 8.6% to 16.4%.”

My question is how does the percentage of Malay professionals compare to those of the other races? Does this mean that there were 96% of Chinese, Indians and others who enjoyed such careers? What is the breakdown in terms of percentage of the whole of the Malay working population? Again this would be useful in identifying key trends in the society and to ascertain the income levels of the society today as compared to 10 years ago.

If you were to read the speech, again you would realise how much the government emphasizes on having inter-temporal progress reports on the community itself, rather than having comparisions between the various races. Why is this so? Ms Lily Zubaidah emphasizes how the PAP’s view on Malay marginality was contextualised within the eugenics and biological determinist beliefs of our Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Having such a darwinistic mentality only endorses social inequality as a natural human phenomenon. And this was seen to be offensive to Malays who have long been disproportionately represented amongst the poorly educated and lower income strata of society. The PAP, realising the Malay frustration over their presisting marginalisation, urged them against such a “psychological trap” of measuring their socio-economic and educational standing against that of other ethnic communities. And in this I must quote her again:

“Malays are thus expected to be content with their marginality and be grateful about absolute gains achieved.”

I am also happy that Senior Minister highlighted key opportunities in the Middle East which we, as the Muslim community, are primed to exploit. Again, hopefully there will be more Malay entrepreuners and businessmen who will engage the Middle East and ultimately raise the socio-economic level of our society. My own plan is to take Arabic in university, somehow or rather, so as to make myself more open to the idea of being in the Middle East itself.

On an unrelated note, I must highlight the anecdote the Senior Minister shared, about the Malay professional insisting on eating food that was certified halal. Even though Malay dishes were served, he actually bought separate food for the Malay professional, understanding that some Malays are after all more “Muslim” than others. I can totally relate to him, knowing sometimes how uncomfortable we feel insisting on things seemingly irrational to others. And it takes someone else to realise that and understand our needs as Muslims.

“The Malay community is a key pillar of multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore. You have come a long way since independence. On your own two feet, you have become stronger and more confident. The more you continue to do so, the stronger our nation and our society will grow.”

I pray hard that we do.

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