Why are Malays getting increasingly conservative? Is there a way to curb this issue?

From my perspective as a Malay, I can say it is probably so.

A brief history:

Many people do not know that the Islamization of UMNO that we are seeing now is the result of the Iranian Revolution, and during that time, Bang Non (Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s current PM) joined UMNO.

UMNO during Tunku’s time had no problem with gambling, even he was an avid gambler (probably other famous Malay politicians during that time too). Malays during these days were very liberal. Ads for selling alcohol just aired everywhere and there was no problem with the ministers drinking alcohol those days, they even had a bar in their house!

Since when did UMNO become more Islamic? It was during the Mahathir era when he brought in Mr. Sheikh Non (again, Anwar Ibrahim :) into his cabinet. At that time, ABIM’s influence was strong on Anwar’s worldview so to speak as he was one of the co-founders of ABIM. Why would Mahathir bring in Bang Non? One of the many reasons was that Mahathir wanted to counter the Islamic narrative of PAS that labeled UMNO as being an un-Islamic party (PAS politicians during that time were also quite liberal by today’s standards but obviously not as liberal as UMNO).

So, what did Anwar Ibrahim do? When he became the Minister of Education, he was the one who made the hijab revolution in schools and this is an example of the conservative Islamization of the Malays.

Since you have understood the Islamization history of UMNO (conservative one, the Malays embraced Islam since hundred years ago, but their sense of tradition was still strong during that time), you will see the basis of Islamization of Malaysia and the Malays as a whole because UMNO is a strong Malay party. When people told me that the UMNO today same as in the past, it is not, UMNO today that talks about Malay-Islam with the UMNO in the past is a different version of UMNO.

For the next question, how to curb the issue? Unfortunately, no, it is inevitable. Why? Because in order for you to understand the reason, you have to be in Malays’ shoes/point of view so that you will understand our psyche. There must be a reason why, as a Malay proverb once said ‘Masakan pokok bergoyang jika tiada angin’ which means there must something that provokes us indirectly or directly or if something happens, there must be a REASON! For the next answer, please leave all your non-Malay points of view and try to understand me who is a Malay. Don’t be emotional and judgemental, let’s be clear on that.

The post-modern age is about identity. If you think we still living in a modern age, unfortunately, no, we are already past that age. Let’s take one example, Mat Kilau movie, once a controversial movie because non-Malays thought it will encourage extremism among the Malays when the movie breaks all records & officially No. 1! RM100 million total collection at the box office, the highest-grossing local film of all time. People said it was a boring movie due to its poor-quality production but to me in a capitalist economy, people vote with money. You don’t like the movie? Who cares. The flavor of the era now is conservative-populism, globally, not only in Malaysia. The fact is the average flavor of liberalism has been rejected by many after Barack Obama's failure to fulfill the aspirations of 'Yes We Can'. Even liberals in Sweden choose a right-wing government on other days. In Italy, Georgia Meloni from the right-wing block already holds the power due to the frustration of Italians on the influx of immigrants. 

Malays once upon a time were like them, so we can relate to their frustration, we were powerless to stop the Chinese and Indian immigrants brought by the British until at one point their population was nearly on par with the Malays! Plus, the Brits placed these immigrants in big cities and left the Malays in the villages so that we remained poor and uneducated to revolt. So, you get the answer. What’s more, we are frustrated that Indians and Chinese don’t want to either assimilate or integrate, our blood is boiling when the majority of them look down on the Malay language, saying it is a kampong language even though the language was one aspect of the prestige of the sultanates and considered as a language of the learned in Southeast Asia in 17th and 18th-century comments. An 18th-century European account even suggests that one is not considered a very broadly educated man in the east unless he understands Malay (Milner,2010). 

Whenever you see news articles related to the language, just click the laugh reactions, and boom! mostly coming from the non-Malays. Whenever we see non-Malays unable to speak fluent Malay after many generations in Malaysia, I always swear to God, that one day, if I were to hold the power as a PM, I would become a dictator and genocide those people (this is irrational thinking when you’re angry, but you get the idea of our frustration, PS: this is how the Nazi gained power). This is just one part, anything related to Islam, you will just know yourself. After independent, we hide our frustration, we might look very tolerant to other races at that time but deep in our dark psyche, lies hidden dark revenge and frustration that will explode anytime soon, we just bide our time. Today, the population of Chinese and Indians are very dwarf as compared to the Malays due to their low fertility rates, and their emigration to other countries, like it or not, that long and hidden frustration is showing clearly and we are no longer the Malays that your ancestors befriend with. 

We are becoming more assertive with our identity, we are deemed racist by the non-Malays but when we ask them to assimilate or integrate, they refuse to do so, we are angrier than ever, but, it’s okay, God is fair, one day you will. God has helped us from being poor and uneducated to be able to hold power, reminds me of how Mao Zedong said that the villages will eventually defeat big cities slowly but surely. Even the British said, the Malays may look innocent and soft-spoken but if you reach certain limits, they will running ‘amok’ like you will never seen before (Btw, running amok is derived from the Malay word, so you get the idea, see here:

Because non-Malays realize that their population is getting smaller, they make many movies on the theme of a pluralistic society by enforcing, emphasizing on the ideology of Perpaduanism of the time of Hussein Onn, but in the end it is only dust in the cinema that watch the movie. One example was the movie Rise:Ini Kalilah, failed miserably, the Malays no longer interested in that kind of movie, we put it in the dustbin and choose to watch the movies about our ancestors fought against the invaders. So, the moral panic among the non-Malays started because the Malays they knew is not what it used to be.

The Malays just want to liberate their identity after so long hidden in their subconscious, and I realize that when I was in school, I used to have lots of non-Malay friends but, deep in my heart I also want to liberate my identity and ancestors’ revenge because I can’t no longer keep this forever because the more we keep this dark revenge within ourselves, the more it will torture me and many Malays out there. God has finally freed us…

Hang Tuah once said: Tak Melayu Hilang di Dunia means never Malays perish on earth. We even send one to outer space :)

Now you get an answer from a perspective of a Malay. I used to be a liberal, but, not anymore. Next time, I will wear a Tanjak/Tengkolok during Hari Raya, like it used to be in the Old Malay Kingdoms.

Credit: Helmi Affendy