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5 Things Which the Malays were Known For in History

As someone who grew up in a Malay ghetto, I was always told that Malays could only be good in sports and entertainment. Well indeed we were but we were certainly more than just folks with impressive talents in soccer and playing rock music.

Unhappy with those things that were said to me by teachers and friends, I went on the path of studying Malay history. Years of research have taught me that there were many important traits and achievements of the Malays that we were seldom told.

Here are some of my findings that I hope would encourage Malays to dig deeply into our pasts. These points are meant to encourage us to read about our own history and do something for ourselves to regain back the Glories of Our Esteemed Ancestors, long gone but ought to be remembered. And yes, don’t forget to share this with as many people you know so we can dispel that long-standing Myth of the Sports and Entertainment Natives!:

1. Trade – Malays were masters in the realm of trade so much so that by the 16th Century, the Malay World was regarded by Europeans, Arabs, Chinese, Indians and other communities from all over the world as a place where wealth and great opportunities flowed unceasingly. Being Masters in trade meant that Malays excelled in the science of weights and measures, in mathematics and in navigation.

2. Architecture – The houses and palaces built by Malays lasted for many centuries, many are still in existent till today. These works of architecture and building were not only beautiful, they were designed in such as a way that there was proper ventilation and that men and women could have their own private meeting places. Privacy, being environmentally-friendly, having shared community spaces and sites for prayer were hallmarks of Malay houses.

3. Community Spirit – Malays were the most selfless group of people, unsurpassed by many other communities in history. So strong was the community spirit and so selfless were the Malays that their deeds impressed even the Europeans who were seeking to colonize them. The Dutch and Spanish were at pains in trying to invade Aceh and Mindanao because the community spirit in both communities were too strong for any foreign power to break the Malays apart.

4) Intellectualism – Malays were intellectuals who not only wrote religious treatises but also texts explaining cures to ailments and sicknesses. Building on the Hindu tradition of respecting knowledge and wisdom, the Malays mastered so many branches of philosophical and practical sciences upon the arrival of Islam in the 13th century. Many became respected scholars outside the Malay World in places such as Mecca and Madinah. The Malay World was transformed into a Hub for Learning – A Harvard of the East.

5. Subtlety – Malays are probably the most subtle people any traveller in history could ever encounter in his/her journeys. And that subtlety was borne out of high culture and a great sense of respect shown towards others, towards the environment and towards the Divine. Subtlety aided in maintaining harmony in the community and it did much to make the Malay World a place where one’s heart finds peace. Little wonder that when the Arabs and Chinese came to this part of the World, they seldom dreamt of going back home.

Now that we know what Malays were known for, let’s make this a talking point and a source of motivation to Make Us Great!

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Fezhah Maznan 26 April 2013, 12:12 pm

    Hi Khairudin,

    Thank you for writing this article. I found it very enlightening. I was wondering if you will be expanding on these 5 points with names of scholars + their work and visuals of buildings that you were speaking about, or even a suggested bibliography for those who are interested in further reading.

    Thank you! šŸ™‚

  • naz 27 April 2013, 12:35 pm

    Al-hamdullilah. well said. I agree. Language plays a part in any racial relationship.

  • shasel 28 April 2013, 2:00 am

    Salam Dr Khairuddin,

    Thanks for sharing this encouraging article.
    I’ve linked this entry to my following essay
    as further reading.


  • Shahnawaz 19 November 2013, 9:00 am

    So where and how did it all go horribly wrong?

  • Hana 19 November 2013, 2:26 pm

    I wish we Malays never let slid no. 4. Having said that, we should then improve on 4 since we are by no way, genetically inferior (in terms of intelligence) to other races. Mendaki should provide more funding since working Malay adults contribute quite a lot. When I say funding, I don’t mean loans. It is ridiculous that the few Malay students who are doing their doctorates are not able to get funding, and are instead given a small loan sum which barely covers anything, and yet has to be paid on time. Same goes for any other levels. If any ITE student wishes to pursue a diploma, if any poly student wishes to pursue a degree, if any graduate student wishes to pursue a postgraduate qualification etc, the lack of financial means should not hamper their dreams and goals. Many potential Malays have turned away from pursuing further education due to monetary reasons, and thus, it is a difficult cycle to break. The low income Malays, no matter how intelligent they are, simply do not have the educational and financial capital to start in an education system which is hardly egalitarian.

  • hamba Allah 19 November 2013, 3:44 pm

    salams Dr Khairuddin,

    an insightful article. many of us are ignorant of our own history, hence the inferiority complex in us (including myself).

    on another note, Islam arrived much earlier than the 13th century (in Nusantara), as expounded brilliantly by Al Attas in Historical Fact and Fiction.

  • Kairin 19 November 2013, 8:36 pm


    So what has happened up till now?

    With regards to point 4, if one of the hallmark is expanding knowledge and intellectualism, why is this not evident in the Malay population at large? I am grossly generalizing, but more often then not, Malays now are not associated with communities of high intellect.

  • Chad Abrahams 19 November 2013, 10:36 pm

    Greetings! I am so happy that this article find it’s way all the way to the tip of Africa via Zaidi!
    All those 5 points you mentioning and much more also made it’s way all the way to Cape Town where we have a very active and flourishing Malay community due to colonialism and slavery many years ago. In South Africa (the old apartheid regime) classified us as Cape Malay. The food, language, custom, culture and sense of community is still very much prevalent in Cape Town. I would appreciate a session with the author when i visit Singapore next year in July to share common stories and maybe we can collaborate on a project re our Malay history. Please be so kind to contact me via email > chad3keys@gmail.com

    Kind regards,

  • Anwar 20 November 2013, 4:41 am

    I think adding sources would add a load of credibility, especially to non-Malay readers and those unfamiliar with their history.

  • Hady A. Hamid 20 November 2013, 11:34 am

    Salam brother Khairudin,

    After reading your post, I feel so proud about being a Malay. I’ve always been, but for the longest time, I’ve also been critical about the Malays nowadays, seeing how much we have drifted away from the positive customs and traditions, while embracing so much of our negative stereotypes day by day.

    I’m a writer/producer in the media industry, and this post of yours has triggered something in me. If it’s possible, I would like to discuss with you more about this matter.

  • din 20 November 2013, 12:49 pm

    sori off topic tapi dulu ada skolah pat eunos primary tak?

  • salem eid 20 November 2013, 2:27 pm

    thank you for a great article . I would like to present myself as a proof for no.1 point . as my grand father and great grand father were carrying hajjies and trades between malaysia and saudi arabia . my grand father decided to settle in the holy mosque land . I still speak malay because I love my origins .

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