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How Malays Became Muslims and Lessons for us Today

I delivered a talk a few days ago at Singapore Institute of Management on the Spread of Islam in the Malay World. This was part of the “Halaqah Series” organized by the Muslim students committee in that campus.

Attended by more than 50 participants, many of whom are students, retirees and working professionals, I shared about the various groups of people that were responsible for the conversion of Malays to Islam. Arabs, Indians, Chinese and even Malay missionaries were active in this part of the world since the 7th Century to explain to the Malays about the beauty of Islam. It took close to 700 years before the Malays finally decided to convert to Islam en masse. When that great transformation happened, Malays became powerful Muslims who built a flourishing civilization admired by peoples from all over the world!

I think the talk went pretty well. I made sure that it was not a one-sided affair; me talking and the attendees listening. The students asked a variety of questions amongst which were:

1. What is the true Malay Identity?

I answered that to be Malay was to be Muslim or at least to accept the Muslim way of life, to speak the Malay language, practice the Malay customs and to be born in a Malay family or accepted by the Malay community. The Malay identity, as I explained, is somewhat unique. It is inclusive, so much so that anyone could be Malay if he/she were to manifest the facets of that identity cited above. And yet, a Malay cannot claim to be Arab, Chinese or Indian because those identities are exclusive unlike the Malay identity which is generally accepting.

2. How do we keep our children close to Islam like Muslim missionaries in past?

I shared one formula, which have been handed down from generation to generation by Malay Muslim parents: Reading and Reflecting on the Quran everyday and to perform prayers in congregation. Malay Muslims during the golden age of Islam in the region held the Quran in a high position in their daily practices and in scholarship as well. The Quran was their guide and they tried their level best to live up to its injunctions. That is why their conviction to Islam was so strong. Moreover, they prayed together in congregation not only as a community in suraus and mosques but also at homes. Fathers, grandfathers and uncles would lead their families in prayer and, through this, the faith of their children were sealed and protected.

I had gained so much from the interactions with the students and professionals during this talk. One participant said to me soon after the session I should speak about the topic again to a larger audience. Let’s hope that opportunity would present itself soon enough, Insyallah!

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