VI. Introduction of Islam in Chinese to the Chinese
In the more recent history of Malaysia, Haji Ibrahim Ma Tian Ying [馬 天 英] stands out as the person who contributed most in introducing Islam to the Chinese people, for the first time in the Chinese language. This writing will briefly highlight a few aspects of his life and work pertaining to propagating Islam.
Haji Ibrahim Ma, from a long-standing Muslim family in Beijing (originally from ShanDong) first came to Malaysia in 1938-1940 as head of a three member Chinese Muslim Goodwill Delegation to the Southeast Asia region. The two other members were Wu JianXun [誤建勳] and Ma DaWu [馬達吾]. During one and a half year’s period, the delegation covered many places and met many people. In Malaysia they went to all the States including Sabah and Sarawak. Everywhere they went they were accorded warm welcome and grand receptions both by the Malays and the Chinese. The local Chinese thus had first hand information about Islam and Muslims in China. During this successful trip, Haji Ibrahim secured many friendships among dignitaries and the general public which would prove to be very useful when he came again to this country.
Haji Ibrahim Ma came back to Malaysia in 1948, this time with his family and as the Consul General of Ipoh sent by the Kuomintang (Guo Min Dang) government. He had with him his wife Feng Yun Xia [馮雲霞 ], his three daughters and two sons. During the short period of his tenure at this office, Haji Ibrahim Ma not only played with great success his role as a diplomat, but, at every occasion he also showed to the local Chinese a very positive profile of a progressive Chinese Muslim. When China fell to communist rule, the Consulate closed down. Haji Ibrahim chose not to go to Taiwan to join the government, and stayed in Malaysia.
After a few years trying his hand in rice mill and other businesses, he joined his two daughters in Singapore and lived there for a couple of years. In 1957 Malaysia gained independence from the British. In 1961, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj extended Haji Ibrahim an invitation to come back to Malaysia to assist him in an important aspect of nation building. Tunku had the vision that if more Chinese were to understand Islam, or better still, became Muslim, this would help in bridging the racial gap between Malays and Chinese.
Thus, PERKIM [Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia], a welfare association for Muslims was born, with Tunku Abdul Rahman, Haji Ibrahim Ma, Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, and Tan Sri Ubaidullah as the founding members. With this, Haji Ibrahim Ma’s work in the path of Islam took another step, and did not stop until his last days.
With his position in Perkim, Haji Ibrahim started his rounds in every corner of Malaysia, giving speeches about Islam in Chinese. He talked on radio, on television, in schools, in non-governmental associations, and even in prisons. In a span of many years he wrote booklets in Chinese, introducing Islam in very simple language, easily understood by any non Muslim reader. These booklets were not sold. They were always, and even until today, are still given free in all the states, all the religious institutions. The titles include: 益斯蘭教問答 [Questions and Answers on Islam], 爲什麽穆斯林不吃豬肉], [Why Muslims Don’t Eat Pork], 伊斯蘭教義與中國傳統思想 [The Teachings of Islam and Traditional Chinese Philosophy], 什麽是伊斯蘭教? [What is Islam?]. His last book ‘Muslims in China’, which he started to write at the age of 75, was written in English.
Apart from these publications, Haji Ibrahim also started a Chinese-English bilingual, bimonthly newspaper called ‘The Light of Islam’, or in Chinese, 回教之光 [Hui Jiao Zhi Guang], later changed to 伊斯蘭之光 [Yi Si Lan Zhi Guang]. He was not only the publisher, but at the same time, the editor, and the main contributor of articles. Once every two months, when the new issue was ready, his gracious wife would sit with mounts of papers, address slips, sheets of stamps, scissors and glue, folding, cutting and sticking addresses and stamps to get them ready for posting to hundreds of subscribers within Malaysia and overseas. Many people will remember Haji Ibrahim and his wife, seated around the large dining table, engrossed in this labor for the love of God. Often, grandchildren who came for a visit would also be enrolled to help in the task. This first Malaysian Islamic newspaper in Chinese was a family commitment for Haji Ibrahim Ma’s family.
In Perkim, Haji Ibrahim Ma was ably assisted by a few other Chinese Muslims, namely Zhao Guo Zhi [趙國治], Hu En Jun [胡恩君], Ma Zhi Bin, and a few others who came on shorter contracts … They were recruited from Taiwan, Libya, Saudi Arabia or other Middle East countries. They did missionary work, counseling for Chinese converts, and Islamic teachings in Mandarin. It is their combined work that is directly responsible to a very big extent, for a positive understanding of Islam by the Chinese in this country, and also for the conversion to Islam by hundreds or even thousands of Malaysian Chinese over the years.
Haji Ibrahim passed away almost two decades ago. But the legacy of his work in Islam is carried on by his children. His eldest daughter Aliya Tung Ma Lin [馬 琳], a lecturer and writer, has published a few books on Islam and is still actively taking part, at the ripe age of 75, in Islamic conferences in various states in the United States where she lives, to give information on Chinese Muslims and Islam in China. His third daughter Minuira Sabki Ma Min [馬 瑉] is actively involved with Wanita Perkim, the women’s branch of Perkim. She served as President of this organisation for many years. His elder son Mustafa Ma Chi [馬 琦 ] is also active in Perkim, and is also currently the President of MACMA, the Chinese Muslims Association of Malaysia. His younger son Nasir Ma Lee [馬 理] is often sought by Chinese friends with children who have embraced Islam, to give advice and clarification on the religion.
In present day Malaysia, Ibrahim Ma and his children are known as a Hui Chinese family who have contributed to the advancement of Islam among the Chinese in Malaysia. They are also a fine example of selective acculturation towards Malay culture, without bordering on assimilation. All of them speak perfect Malay and Mandarin, in addition to English, and even Cantonese and Hokkian, and are very much at home among the Chinese as well as the Malays. They are knowledgeable about the Malay traditions blended in the local Islam, as well as the Chinese, especially Beijing culture, including food.
Among Haji Ibrahim’s children, Ma Min is the only one who married a Malay. Her husband speaks perfect Mandarin and is totally at ease within the Chinese community. The children understand some Mandarin, the daughter more than the sons, even though they shy away from speaking. Two of the sons and the daughter are married to Malays, and at their children’s level, assimilation may begin. But at least three of her grandchildren take Mandarin lessons and are very familiar and fond of the special home cooked Chinese food. However, they do not have any Chinese names. None of the other siblings’ children and grandchildren live in Malaysia, except for the younger son’s family.
The younger son Ma Lee’s children grew up in Kuala Lumpur with Mandarin as the mother tongue, and Chinese education at primary level followed by Malay secondary and high schools. Only one among the six pursued Chinese education up to high school. With both parents from Hui origin, and an environment that has become more favourable with time, these children may very well carry on the Chinese Muslim identity in Malaysia at least for a few more generations. VII. New settlers
In the 1980s, when Malaysia started to receive Muslim students from Taiwan and China to study at the Institute Dakwah Perkim and later International Islamic University of Malaysia, requests for admission steadily increased by the year.
Once these Chinese Muslim students arrive in Malaysia, they find themselves in a friendly, liberal Islamic environment with a good dose of Chineseness wherever they look. For them this is an ideal place to study in a not so unfamiliar environment and to grow in Islam as well.
Parallel to this, as trade increased between China and Malaysia, many Muslim traders from the Mainland came to try new markets and in quest of new partners; and in general, were satisfied with their Malay Muslim counterparts. As word spread in Muslim communities in China about the accommodating reception in this modern, progressive Muslim country, there followed streams of more Muslim traders, Muslim art and culture groups, Muslim martial arts and Chinese medicine specialists. Some of them came and went, many wished to stay for a longer period. What is important is that almost all of them, when they went back, tried to encourage young Muslim Chinese students to choose Malaysian Islamic Institutions of higher learning to pursue further studies in different fields, in a modern Islamic environment.
It is not difficult to see why Malaysia has become the preferred destination for Chinese Muslim students. First, this is a Muslim country, and at the same time offering many aspects of Chinese life and culture. As Mandarin is widely spoken here, it is easy for them to communicate, make friends, and also find short term or part time work to supplement their limited scholarship. The moderate cost of living and comparatively cheaper school fees makes studying in Malaysia more attractive than western countries for education in English medium. The use of English in IIU and other Islamic institutions besides Arabic is one factor to their advantage. Another reason for their preference in coming to Malaysia is the progressive approach of Islam in the learning environment as compared to Universities in the Middle East or Egypt, and of course it is nearer to home.
The shortest time each of the students stay would be at least 5 to 6 years. One to two years to learn English / Arabic / Malay, and four years at least for a degree course. Some of them, after obtaining their first degree apply for postgraduate studies. This means at least another two years. There are also a few who do their doctorate at ISTAC after their first degrees in other Islamic countries. While studying here for long years, many of them married with their fellow Muslim compatriots and set up families; a few married local Malays, or, Chinese who converted to Islam.
In recent years, when the Islamic University put a limit to students they would accept from China, some Muslim families also started to apply to private colleges. Today the Chinese Muslim students in Malaysia, most of them of Hui origin, number about 50 to 60. The number may seem small, but their presence in the campus, at the markets, on public transports, in shopping malls, and assemblies, with the very distinct Hui look and unmistakable Muslim attire and comportment, has made an impact among the local Chinese and Malays as well. Chinese Muslims are not a rarity or an oddity anymore for Malaysian public. One of them commented: “When I first came here, people would look at me with surprise. A Chinese in Muslim attire? Now, even the taxi drivers are used to seeing us and they ask a lot of questions about Muslims in China, and are happy to know more about us.”
Some of these students have been recruited to appear on Islamic programmes televised in Mandarin over various TV stations. Pusat Islam has a special budget for these Mandarin programmes. The person responsible for this department, Hajjah Mariam Ma, combines her deep knowledge on Islam with her fluency in Mandarin and Malay, to produce interesting programmes for the benefit of the Mandarin speaking Chinese community in Malaysia. Some other Muslim students from China may also have temporary part-time work with religious institutions such as REISAP or PERKIM; they are also often seen at various functions held by associations such as DarulFitrah, bringing a different face to the local Muslim scene.
Each student may stay here an average of 6 to 10 years. But there will always be continuity. For Malaysians who see them around, they are not identified as an individual, but, as Chinese Muslim. This presence and continuity should be encouraged by the Malaysian government, the learning institutions, and the public. In a way, it helps to bridge the gap between Chinese and Malays. It shows the Chinese that there are Chinese who are born Muslim and to the Malays that there are Muslims who are of Chinese origin. It is also a very real way of showing the universal facet of Islam, which to some degree is still lacking in Malaysia.
Today, these Hui students and some professionals or traders, albeit with a temporary status, seem to be the latest wave of Chinese Muslim presence in Malaysia. But, the majority Chinese Muslims in this country will still be the Chinese converts. They are the Chinese Muslims in Malaysia today.
1. Malaysia, National Census 2000. Figures given are: Total number of Chinese Muslims in Malaysia is 57221, which makes up just 1% of the total Chinese population of 5691908. Selangor, with 17246, has the highest number of Chinese Muslims, followed by Sabah (8589), Kuala Lumpur (7991), and Sarawak (7287). There are more women than men, numbering 32271 and 21850 respectively.
2. Quoted from an article by Hamca entitled Zheng He, in Star Weekly, Indonesia, 8 March 1961. Paper delivered by Kong YuanZhi at the Conference to Commemorate Zheng He, Kun Ming 1992.
3. Claudine Salmon, ‘Islam and Chineseness’. 2001 Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Sociological Research Institute. Ma Huan, Zheng He’s faithful chronicler who accompanied him on his 4th voyage, (1413-1415) reports that through East Java the population was made up of natives, Muslims (Hui Hui), and Tangren (Chinese) many of whom were Muslims. R.A. Kern, in ‘The propagation of Islam’also writes that Ma Huan, in describing the situation of Islam in Java, says there were three kinds of people: the Arabs who are
Muslims from the West, the Chinese, many of whom had embraced Islam, and the Hindu-Javanese, who are not Muslim (the natives).
4. Parlindungan Mangaradja Onggang, Tuanku Rao. [Imam Bonjol
5. Ibid.3 pp 184,186,188.
6. Slamet Muljana, Runtuknja Keradjaan Hindu-Djawa dan timbulnja Negara-Negara Islam di Nusantara (The Fall of the Hindu-Javanese Kingdom and the Rise of Islamic States in the Archipelago), 1968, Jakarta: Bhratara. Muljana also reports that there was “influence of a certain Chinese art in the first Islamized monuments of Java’s northern coastal area”.
7. Amen Budiman, Indonesia ‘Times’ weekly, 14 September 1985. Also see Budiman, Masyarakat Islam Tionghoa di Indonesia (The Chinese Muslim Community in Indonesia) 1979, Semarang: Tanjung Sari p.75. And Budiman, Semarang, Riwayatmu Dulu, 1978, Semarang: Penerbit Tanjung Sari p.26
8. Tan Yeok Seong, Chinese Element in the Islamisation of Southeast Asia, --A Study of the Story of Njai gede Pinatih, the Great Lady of Gresik --, in Journal of the South Seas Society Vol.30, Parts 1&2, December 1975. This is the story of this ‘grand old lady’, a member of the family of Shih Chin Ching, the Pacifier of Kukang installed by Zheng He in 1405. She had been married to the regent of Madjopahit, and after his death, settled down in Grissee and adopted Islam as her religion. Her tomb, with the writing “Njai Ageng Pinateh” can still be seen in the mosque of Demak.
9. Heru Christiyono, Perayaan Sam Poo Thay Jian: Ulang Tahun Klenteng Gedung Batu Semarang (Celebrating San Bao Tai Jian: Anniversary of Semarang stone house), 1982, in the magazine Selecta, no.1104.
10. Li Tong Cai, Indonesia – Legends and Facts, 1979, Singapore. p.85
11. Nine Saints of Java, edited by Alijah Gordon 1996.
12. This number even surpassed the total Malay population which stood at 285.202, for the same four states. Mustapa Mohamed, Kemelut Politik Melayu 2000, p.3
13. Mohammed Djinguiz, L’Islam au Borneo Britannique septentrional’ (Islam in the British Northern Borneo), Revue du Monde Musulman, June 1908, Vol.V, no.6
14. Ibid.12 p.4
15. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
16. Tan Chee Beng, A Note on the Orang Yunnan in Terengganu, 1991, Archipel No.42. Tan talks about a few socio-cultural aspects of these people. In appearance they look physically Chinese (2nd and 3rd generations). Islamic education is emphasized together with formal education in an Arabic school. Few attend Chinese schools. Professionally, many of the descendants are teachers and government employees. There are quite a number of Islamic specialists. Their ethnic status now is Bumiputra, the transition facilitated by intermarriages with Malays.
17. Malays accept more easily an original Chinese Muslim (born to Muslim parents from China) than they will a Chinese who converted to Islam for any reason. In actual fact, in Islam there is no distinction. Any person who becomes Muslim is Muslim.
18. Tan Chee-Beng, A Note on the Orang Yunnan in Terengganu, 1991, Archipel No.62
19. Chen Shu Shi, 陳 漱 石 撥 開 雲 霧 見 清 真 (Lift the Fog to see Islam) p.164
20. ibid.19 pp. 138-140http://www.islam.org.hk