Wednesday, March 29, 2006

‘bin Abdullahs’ celebrating Chinese New Year!

Over at Malaysiakini, Baradan Kuppusamy discussed the recent survey on Malaysian inter-ethnic perceptions in an article titled Racism alive and well in Malaysia.

I had also touched very briefly on the results of the same survey in an earlier posting Bloody Lazy, Greedy, Untrustworthy Malaysians!

Baradan brought out one of the truths of multi-ethnic Malaysia. He wrote: “Curiously, the survey also showed that many Malaysians have a vague idea, not only of one another's cultures and traditions. but also of their own.”

“Hari Raya Puasa was wrongly perceived as the Malay New Year by 32% of Malays, 84% of Chinese and 45% of Indians - the festival actually marks the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Similarly, the Chinese New Year was thought to be a religious festival by 57% of Malays, 53% of Indians and a whopping 62% of Chinese respondents.”

I can testify to the last when I was working for an organization that had a number of Chinese Muslims. When they celebrated Chinese New Year, my Malay boss and a personal good mate, remarked to me: “Look KT, are those ‘bin Abdullahs’ really Muslims or what!”

Note that I didn't put a ‘question mark’ in his query to me, because he made what we call a rhetorical question where the person posing the question already has the answer which he wants you, the recipient of his query to think about (on what he has in mind).

His incorrect perception and thus outrage at so-called Muslims celebrating a pagan festival was hardly surprising when 62% of Chinese Malaysians would have agreed with him.

In as much as his perception of the Chinese Muslims celebrating Chinese New Year wasn’t complimentary at all, his description of them as ‘bin Abdullahs’, which translates literally as ‘sons of the servants* of Allah’, was equally patronising because that label actually meant ‘Johnnies-come-lately’ to Islam.

* thanks to reader Parvez, I have corrected the translation of 'bin Abdullahs' - my limited knowledge has been expanded by a significant quota.

I took some time to explain to him what Chinese New Year was all about, assuring him that it had nothing to do with religion, any religion, and that Chinese of any religion - Islam, Christianity, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianism, etc - or even without one, would celebrate the start of the Chinese lunar-solar calendar, the beginning of the Spring season. In other words it was a socio-seasonal and thus socio-cultural-administrative festival.

But I didn't dare tell him that one of those ‘bin Abdullahs’ came from a Muslim family in China who embraced Islam about 500 years before Raja Paramesvara of Malacca, late of Palembang of the Buddhist Sri Vijaya Empire, became Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah.

Oh no, I wasn't going to embarrass him with the reality that he was, relative to them, the ‘bin Abdullah’.

Many Malaysian Muslims weren't also aware that they were/are more Muslims in China than in Malaysia. Of course that particular ‘bin Abdullah’ had never suggested such a label for ‘Johnnies-come-lately’ to the umma wahida [the united Islamic world].

Admiral Cheng Ho, a Chinese Muslim


  1. Good article. Just have to correct a mistake, bin Abdullah actually means 'son of the servant of Allah'.

  2. thanks Parvez, I'll correct it starightaway.

  3. why must the converts have to change their name to "bin abdullah" istead of appending the arabic name to the current one or just leave it? for example: tan ah kow convert his name to mohammad tan bin abdullah instead of just mohammad tan ah kow?