Monday, 20 June 2011

Brief Introduction: Peranakan Arab Kedah

Assalaamu'alaikum wa Rahmatullah!!!

Many people are familiar with the Chittis, the Nasranis and Portuguese, the Baba and Nyonyas in Malacca but not many of us are aware of Peranakan Arab community in Malaysia. Because most of us had already immersed ourselves into Malay mainstream society. Some of us actually are the result of inter-marriages of the Yemeni Arabs and the Gujarati Indians thus being classified by Northern Malays especially in Alor Setar as Jawi Pekan

I disagree that Jawi Pekan only refers to Peranakan India or Muslim Tamilians who speak Malay with Tamil accent like in Penang Island. Jawi Peranakan exists in Kedah Sultanate provinces including Perlis, Southern Thailand, and Lower Myanmar but most of the fathers for this community were Southern Arab descents of Syeds (Hussein) or Syarif (Hassan) lineage. Different from Penang where they are more to Indian. This term was hijacked to include Muslim Indian. So, I would rather use Peranakan Arab to describe myself.

Our community in Kedah were actually multilingual community. Some of us could speak in Thai or Burmese and some could speak in Classical Jawi Malay or Urdu according to their fluency or whether their mothers are from India (it includes Pakistan because there was no Pakistan back then in 17th C) or local noble women and geography. The basic language for the community especially elders was actually Classical Arabic because it is the language of unification among the Middle Easterners and Muslims. Nowadays many of us the younger generation speak either in Malay according to local standard dialect, kampung or hulu Malay dialect, or English wherever it is suitable and according to education level. Compared to 'normal Malays,' we are more open to foreign atmosphere but elders were actually very stringent with religious education of their children. My parents family was a bit chaotic because of environment around, nomadic lifestyle and the death of paternal grandparents had made us as today.

There are many seminars regarding this in Kedah state, such as Seminar Keturunan Syed held in Wisma Darulaman in Alor Setar at the 5th of March 2011 inaugurated by Kedah Chief Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak. In education field, there is a madrasah established by Peranakan Arab community around 1936 known as al-Ma'ahad Mahmud under the patronage of the Sultan of Kedah for religious propagation. It is located in Alor Setar. The religious studies syllabus of the madrasah is according to the al-Azhar syllabus. 

In Perlis, there is a madrasah too which was the madrasah where I was once schooled for i'dadi level (form one). It is located in Arau just in opposite to Istana Arau known as al-Madrasah al-'Alawiyyah ad-Diniyyah. It was established around 1930's with the zakat fund of Perlis state and donation around. The madrasah was inaugurated by al-Marhum Raja Syed Alwi in 1937. The madrasah is also dedicated for local and people as far as from southern part of Malaya came to study there too. When I travel passing the school, I could now see female students. When I was there around 1998, the school has only male students. There is also another school near the madrasah with the same name under national education department supervision. The school was called by our school as Alawiyah Luar. While the Alawiyah for us was known as Alawiyah Dalam. I'm not sure what are the differences, but who cares, lol. Others, there is Madrasah al-Mashahoor in Penang Island and I am sure everyone knows it because one of the headmaster there was a man of letter. 

In literature and men of letters around 19th C, we have Syed Syekh al-Hadi who founded al-Imam (1906) and al-Ikhwan (1926). He also wrote a novel which talks about women emancipation known as Hikayat Faridah Hanum (1926). Most of the 19th C literature by Peranakan Arab came from Singapore, Penang and Johore. Those in Southern Thailand and northern states even until now are involved in religious kitab printing and publication because I had noticed a company in Patani is owned by a Peranakan Arab. 

Few Hadrami clans in northern Malaysia that I had ever heard, the prominent ones are the Jamalullail who hailed from Perak in 15th C, the Shihabuddin, the al-Mahdalis who comes from India, Sumatera and Yemen itself, the al-Aydrusi who are also prominent in the neighboring Patani and Eastern Coast, and the al-Yahya where you can see an actress who acts in Awan Dania by Astro is paternally from this clan. One of cousin brothers that I still can recognize married to the female of the al-Yahya and she is an auntie of the actress. One of my ex-classmate in my current course is also from the al-Yahya clan but her mum is a Chinese and she is the sister of the actress. How small is this world, hahaha.     

In term of food and cuisine? We just have cuisines the same like Malays or Thais such as laksa, asam pedas, various kind of vermicelli and noodles, grilled meats, sambal belachan or nam phrik kahpi (shrimp paste sauce), ayer asam (tamarind juice sauce), ulam-ulam (fresh salad), nasik ulam (salad rice), kueh karas (Acheh), kueh kapit (Chinese), gulai (curry) and others. Nowadays, Tom Yum is quite popular too. I have to avoid all of these cuisines if they contain seafood especially when I am in ablution since my school of jurisprudence has changed about 6 years ago but most of my family members still enjoy seafood since they refuse to change the madzhab. Although we are Muslims, we also have to masuk Melayu and there is no camel here, hahaha. 

There are few researches by scholars about this community in northern Malayan peninsula states such as by 'Abdur Razzaq Lubis in "Traders, Teachers, Pressmen, and Pilgrim Brokers: Penang Arabs in the Regional Network." We are not even close to mamak nasik kandaq, but maybe closer to Benggali jual karpet or manik koran since my paternal grandpa mother line is the same with them. I am not a fan of mamak food too. However, dad is a fan of mamak restaurant, kari kapla ikan (fish-head curry), kas kas (papaver somniferum), and 24/7 teh tarik. And the result, he is now affected by stroke, heart disease, or hypertension... modern lifestyle may sometimes affect health. He keeps going to the mamak's even now tak serik-serik admitted into the hospital and ordering teh tarik, how stubborn he is!

Other books for reference are like "The Hadrami Diaspora in South East Asia" by Ahmed Ibrahim Abu Shouk and Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim. Also in "Hadrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in Indian Ocean, 1750s - 1960s" by Ulrike Freitag and W. G. Clarence Smith and in "Hadrami Arabs in Present-Day Indonesia: An Indonesia Oriented Group with Arab Signature," page 21 written by Frode Fadnes Jacobsen do mentions about Arabs diaspora and muwallad (peranakan) in Kedah.

We speak pure Kedahan dialect, to the extend that we can speak in Kedah Hulu dialect which sounds more to Patanese Malay dialect and not the northern Malay dialect spoken by Penangites. I had once being mistaken by a Kelantanese as one of their own when I shift to Kedah Hulu dialect talking with them. 

Those who acted in Anak Mami movies are from Kedah and some are from other states. I think Mr. Razak Mohaideen should properly teach or asking his actors to do deep researches about Penangites Malay and its Muslim Indian peranakan communities before making the movie. I just can't stand when Northerners and Northern Peranakan communities being assumed as the same people. We are more polite compared to Penangites and we respect people regardless their status or racial background. I had experienced different things when dealing with Indian Muslims or Tamil speaking Muslims in Penang. The tele-movie that I think showing about 98% real Penangites' Muslim Peranakan cultural traits is Anak Mamak Menantu Mami starred by Wan Raja (Saiful Redzuan Abu Bakar), Azad Jazmin, and Faezah Elai and directed by Zulkifli Salleh Ghani. This tele-movie had also inspired me to travel around Georgetown when I am bored, hehehe. 

My dad is a staunch supporter of bahasa Melayu and persuratan Melayu while our elders opposed the shift of Malay script from Jawi to Roman script during the time of Mr. Khir Johari. There is a mention in a small kitab which acts as a leaflet written in Classical Jawi Malay that we personally keep in our closet, saying that "we would rather die than losing our identity."

I had contacted the people in my grandfather first village. They had also advised me to contact Gujarat and Kerala province museums in India because those people had came to the village to inspect and collecting data at the 300 years old cemetery in the village in Ramadan about two or three years ago. 

I thought that last time, I wanted to follow Tablighi fellow students to India due to that I actually wanted to track down the foot steps of ancestors in India where they were once based in there before coming to the sultanate of Kedah in 17th C and their spread around in Sumatera Island in Indonesia today. 

I hope it is useful for beloved brothers and sisters especially who are also related to the Hadramis and the Arab muwallad (peranakan).  

Sealed with prayers for peace, mercy, and love for brothers and sisters, amin!

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