Monday, 24 October 2011

Arabs Involvement in Economic Activities in Kedah

Assalaamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

 Alor Setar Town. Wish to visit it this Qurban holiday but I have assignments and thesis to finish :(


This post is based of Dr. Zahidi Zainol Rashid research from the Kedah Library Corporation. It is very interesting to read research from local researchers because we only read something from Western writers about our community even in British Malaya.

Not many of us actually are aware about our own community since we had been registered as Malays in Malaysia. Even some politicians in Malaysian national party and those involved in business like Mr. Syed Mukhtar al-Bukhary are also of Arab descent. I had checked his details in wikipedia and his ethnicity status had already been changed to Malay from Arab descents ya. You get business and you lie about your self yah... I don’t think that I am eligible for native rights for now if it is according to most of our compatriots thinking though we had been here for more than 300 years because we as individuals do not really receiving proper assistance in our life from political game. Some people also do not like Mr. Syed al-Bukhary since we have current issues like the digital TV so everyone is entitled to their opinion and inclination. The issue doesn’t really bother me anyway, haha. 

Supposedly we are registered as the Arab descents or just Arabs and not of other ethnicity identification but the British authority had converted everyone into Malays just because many of those who live in the state are fluent Classical Malay speakers, wearing sarong, married to Malay women or men, eating rice and working in the field. Thanks to British ‘master’ teaching of nation-state where everyone is compulsory to be converted into a particular race as a religion. 

Why can’t we be entitled to native privileges with our own ethnicity identification or just known by our religion while in our state, we are already considered as integral part of it since hundreds of years before independence granted by Her Highness Queen? I am also researching the same problem about Muslim Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis in Britain where they were told as trying to Islamicize Britain into Britishstan with Shariah, "Hand-Cutting," or Hijab zone. Perhaps some part of the threaten are true but I just personally think that Europeans are always paranoid of everything because they never really mingle with people around instead of boasting here and there. In this case, we are of the same religion people where Malays and Arabs are Muslims but with different racial background in the political frame taught by British. You British are our teachers…

I had also seen many Muslim Indians like in Penang racing among each other to get Malay status but they speak no Malay at home and they look Indian. They read and write in Tamil while calling themselves Malays. They also eat thoshai, curry, murungakai, raasam, payaasam, and etc and not Malay cuisines at home. Compared to my Hindu classmate whose name is Prema, she said that she also had rice like Malay at home and she does not know how to read or write in Tamil. Most of them are Tamil and Kerala Muslims and they had also married some Arab descents and hijacked the term Jawi Pekan from us. One of my cousin sisters who live in Penang is also married to a Muslim Indian and the guy family speaks pure Tamil but being identified as Malay. Isn’t it bad to lie? Our state had also been integrated in federal system of the country with centralized power in the south. I would actually prefer to be known as a Muslim like our Chinese national friends who are all considered as Hui but they speak Chinese like the majority of Han ethnic. We are indeed Muslims who believe in the God and the prophethood of Muhammad s.a.w, so we are not lying about ourselves in this part. Would it be better?

If we are forced to use nationality, then I would prefer to be known by my state identification, which is Kedah. Everyone in our family love our state and it would be called as kenegerian (spirit of a state) by others in urban areas which is in the southern states and considered as not patriotic toward Federal government which is also located in the southern part. I saw that Johorian are also kenegerian while nobody say anything to them.  

I faced problems in other states other than my state too. Those like in Selangor had discriminated us when we just arrived from other state so I mingled more with Chinese friends at the neighborhood. It was like we were foreigners in our own country. I understood how some Kelantanese feel but we from Kedah are not like Kelantanese with our groups. 

We are usually independent to ourselves and we try to mix around as possible as we can. I had also adapted myself into Chinese environment of Cheras of Kuala Lumpur when I was a young child before we moved for a moment to Kedah. We speak, we eat, we entertain ourselves and we behaved just like our Chinese neighbors. We have to survive in pressures when we migrated to other area even as young kids. So, that is why many people stumbled by would see a guy who is telling a “chaotic” young kid life. Growing like an isolated Chinese or Indian kid while not considered as a compatriot by others because some differences in our selves. 

We had also a neighbor from Egypt last time and she is married to an Imam from Terengganu. Her children are poor things. I saw them being treated badly by Malay kids when they tried to befriend them. All of them could not excel well in school too but they are not really lazy or stupid. I and my sister felt like crying when looking at the report card that they had shown to us. They speak Egyptian Arabic at home and that perhaps being a problem for them when they were registered by their father into national school. Inshaallah, I would also paste here a video, actually a movie starred by Muhammad Hilmy about an Egyptian Arab man who is an American by nationality had to face troubles in search for his own heritage in the mother of the world. Perhaps if I go for Yemen and speaking in Arabic, I would also being treated the same like the character played by Muhammad Hilmy, hahaha.

The Arabs in Kedah were divided into two kinds of Arabs. One is of Sayyid descents of Ba’alawi or Alawiyyah. They are the descents of Hussein bin Ali k.w and Fatimah binti Rasulullah s.a.w. Most had arrived since 17 C. Before their arrival in Kedah, they had already stayed in Palembang, Acheh, Jambi, Singapore, Patani, Burma, Penang, and Perak. They came from many places in Yemen such as Sana Shahrir. Later they settled down in Kota Setar, Kuala Muda, Yan and Kubang Pasu. Our ancestors settled down in Kota Setar and Kubang Pasu. They had also married women from Gujarat where a village in Kubang Pasu was known with people of Arab-Gujarat descent and they were not even Malays to begin with. There is also Arab community in Gujarat province of India which is known as Chawsh

Some people might say muka belacan to people who call themselves Arabs now but for me I just do not want to lie and it is not that I wanted to boast about it. We realize that we look more Mongoloid than Arabs or Malays because of our mother genetic. I don’t take shrimp paste and I don’t take seafood as it is not permissible in our manhaj. I am not sure how belachan or how mongol I look like. Usually I would be mistaken by Nepalese migrant workers as one of them; some Punjabis (Western Indian) had also talked in Punjabi with me. When there are majority of Northern Indians or Arabs in a certain place, I would feel comfortable and mingle more with them compared to Malays. We also have the right to learn our ancestral language which is Arabic, speak in it and first we have to realize who we are just like our Chinese compatriots realize about who they are. Chinese compatriots had taught me many valuable lessons. Nowadays most of all are just fluent in Malay or English. Some perhaps speaking in Urdu, Chinese or Thai.
           
Those Arabs who were not Sayyid came earlier and settled in Kedah. Examples of them are Syeikh Ahmad bin Syeikh Ja’afar Qamiri, Syeikh Ahmad bin Syeikh Salleh Mawtti, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Biyari and Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Ibrahim for example was invited by his highness Tunku Mahmud, the brother of our beloved Sultan Abdul Hamid who ruled around 1882-1934. Sheikh Ibrahim was also a Chief Imam and a teacher of Quranic lessons.

Early stages of their arrival, the Arabs were visitors and traders. When Islam emerged again after the darkness, many religious science teachers and missionaries also arrived at the port and they settled in Kedah. Arabs as an integral part of Kedah society had been involved in political development in Kedah.

Many of Arabs from Sayyid descent are the Shahabuddin clan and they are the majority clan in Kedah. Most of them came from Hadramawt but stayed for few moments in Palembang, Acheh, and Pulau Pinang. Barakbah clan had arrived from Indonesia and from Yemen. One of a Sayyid who held an office in Sultanate of Kedah government was Sayyid Muhammad Aidid. He was a Secretary of Kedah Sultanate Affairs during the reign of our Sultan Abdul Hamid

Kedah state nowadays is known as the oldest state in Malaysia. We have historical tracks based from archeological excavations, written sources, and inscriptions. The Kedah Sultanate had already proved that it has a well-built society, possessing a state element, and employing its own political system. The emergence of Kedah kingdom since ancient time as a well-developed trading center and famous around the world was a factor which relates to the arrival of Arabs into the Kedah kingdom. 

Urmmm... Please don’t throw out... We also want to have pride of ourselves like Europeans and telling everyone around how marvelous our states are although our state is just a small state compared to the EU member states or even Sarawak in our federation, hehehe. I also felt the same in our classes learning about how magnificent Europe is. It does not count the US yet where some of my friends are also worshiping the US as their oracle with the influence of American movies and entertainment stuffs like American Idol, Justin Fag Bieber, Lady Ugly Gaga and etc.

The significance of Jerai Mountain in Kedah plateau for ships that sailed and the dependence on the monsoon wind and economy value in Kedah also became an important factor in the questions of the Arabs’ arrival in Kedah ports. The result from Kedah Malays with those people in Arabian states and the coming of Arabs themselves had earlier spread the light of Islam to Kedah kingdom compared to other states in Malaysian Peninsula today. 

The Sayyids are known for their profession as traders and they were making life from business. Just like Chinese and Indian in the cities. Other than trading, some of them were also involved in agricultural activities. For those Sayyids, agricultural activities like paddy cultivating are considered as new way of making a living which their forefathers had never done it before in Hadramawt. Those in Hadramawt only know a kind of plant which is tamr or date tree. So, trying to do paddy field was quite difficult for these Arabs since their life was based on the character of desert and it is different from trading.

In trading field, Arabs had traded various kinds of spices, clothes, books, and jewelries. Before the arrival of British in Pulau Pinang, the Arabs depend solely on business and trading and had controlled some parts of Kedah Sultanate economy. Arab communities did not only concentrated in particular areas in Kedah but they live all over Kedah Sultanate. Their nature is more inclined to business and trading. The Arab traders had already penetrated the areas of South East Asia since before the re-emergence of Islam. In the beginning, they just wanted to do business and trading and later bringing some profits from business to their states of origin but later they ended down here with settlements.  

When Islam was propagated again by the noble prophet Muhammad s.a.w, these Arabs had also brought together the teaching and propagated it to natives. They had left their family and their lands to propagate the teachings. Then they settled down in foreign lands and beginning new life. Due to their condition in foreign land, they have to survive through business and trading since they had no lands. After that, the court of Kedah had also support them so they had more opportunities in economy where the economy of traditional Malays were fully controlled by the rulers.  

Arabs at that time had the experience in business and they had good relation with court. The court had also opened for them the opportunity to run business as the right to do business was only granted by royal decree or by certain authority decided under royal permission. Only the sultan has the right to permit anyone he favors to run business in his territory.      
          
Many Arabs had already successful as entrepreneurs where they had also possessed companies and became directors of companies. It has to do with their experience in business beside they possess large capitals and strong basis in business. When British arrived from Pulau Pinang, Arabs economic survival had also been challenged. Then, they had also have to compete with Chinese merchants after Chinese penetrated Kedah market. From that on, they began to get involved in groceries shop business as well. I see, that’s why many of our people now trying to use other identification in securing their business survival and the mamaks had imitate it.

The impact from the competition of British and Chinese had made Arabs moving far into rural areas. Beside doing business and trading, they also trying to do agricultural and became landlords. Some of the lands were granted by the Sultan of Kedah as the lands in Kedah was the possession of the Sultan. The Sultan has every right on the lands and he would stamp the seal with the signature of the Regent. 

Thus, many of those paddy lands and farms being transferred into Arabs possession with the permission of our Sultan. But many of those Arabs had also pawned the lands to Chinese merchants to get quick money. For e.g in 1911, the rights for duty import collection on timber being granted by the court to Sayyid Othman from Yan district but he had pawned the right to a Chinese merchant for $ 400.00 per year. Many of Arabs during this period of time became bancrupt.

These recent, there are also Arabs who tried to involve themselves in agriculture and fishing industries. They were landlords in Yan, Kota Setar, Kuala Muda and Kubang Pasu districts. They were also active in renting their lands to others and never work on their own lands. They just love to stay at home and take everything for granted. 
 
Their attitude is related to the importance of status and their position as aristocrats and noblemen who possess properties as what had been viewed by Malays as having big houses complete with facilities and they have less working hours.

Paddy field is a main economy source in Kedah Sultanate during the time of British Malaya. With 12 miles early channel of water developed by subjects of Kedah Sultanate had made paddy cultivation become more advanced and Kedah could also supply rice to other areas as well. The water channel project of Wan Muhammad Saman and other figures like Syed Othman who had pawned his duty rights to a Chinese merchant had also involved with the regard to his area of supervision in Little Yan district was quite succesful.

Small portions of Arab communities became fishermen and there were also poor Arabs in Kedah since they only worked with others. They refused to admit that they were Arabs or even of Sayyid lineage. They had ommitted their Sayyid title as they were ashamed of their life if compared to other Arabs in the state.

During the reign of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Mukarram Shah (1854-1879), there was a new position given to an Arab with the name Syed Muhammad. Syed Muhammad became a captain for a ship and was ordered to maintain and looking the ship with two sails bought by the Sultan from English.

Early history had shown that Arabs directly was involved in most of religious posts and affairs in the sultanate. When Kedah was surrendered by the empire of Siam to the British empire, all of the posts were paid with salary. Main posts like the mufti, judges, imam and others were held by Arabs. In education, they held postions such as directors, headmasters of religious and English schools, and supervisors of schools.  
     
Regarding lands, last time I heard that elders had also fighting and quarreling over lands until some of them had to run to Southern Thai as it turned into bloody conflict. We had also sold our grandpa land for dad’s part in Kodiang in Kubang Pasu district. Mum had forced dad to sell his inherited land when I was in the second year doing my first degree because it was not easy to maintain the land for paddy and considering that the family who rent the land didn’t help us to pay the tithe as they are non-Muslims and we are not living in the state so it was difficult for us to monitor renting rate and tithe for crops. The land was rented to a Chinese  family under the surname Hooi. After the land being sold, I heard that dad cried on the land as he felt guilty to his father but what to do. The land had already been problematic since before it was inherited to dad and we had gone to courts for solutions but to no avail. Dad sold the land to a rich Malay man. I was busy at that time so I did not also look at the process.  I also do not want to inherit the land. It only bring headache.

We had also encountered many problems like being cheated and stabbed by friends or ‘relatives’ as we helped people without checking their background. I don’t know whether our custom is suitable at all of the time. We would consider our close friends even not related by blood as brothers or sisters. So each time close friends having problems, we would also been dragged into their problems as we would feel guilty to let them alone. It’s like we live and die only for the happiness and comfort of our friends, brothers and sisters. We also would repay back the goodness done on us. In the case, one of a Tabligh guy that I sheltered. Last time, he actually had helped me with internet password. It was not really a big deal but we see even small matters as big and we must repay back whatever is given. I always remember people treatment to me because I count everything. Even a cent that people gave me, I actually never forget. I keep every detail in my memory. Sometimes it would be so absurd and people would regard us as crazy or perhaps scary, hahaha.

Urmmm, the fact about renting the land is true. But according to dad, our grandpa was not a lazy man. This is individual case. He was a hardworking man and also worked as a seeker of fertilizers. If dad lied then I am also lying. Like in our case as individuals and not as groups, we do not live in Kedah but we have to migrate to other states because of family problem, fate and we do not work only as traders and farmers. Some of these Arab decents children had been educated in nursing schools in case of my aunties and my dad was educated in a Singaporean Catholic school just after grandpa died. He was 12 years old at that time and luckily he was not baptized though he lived like a person without a religion, without a mother to teach him because his mother died when he was three years old being casted by black magic and I always thought that Malay village folks always love to cast spell on others that they are envious at. This is my generalization on other ethnics. Why people around the world love to generalize things without looking at discreet root problems instead of trying to do interview with both sides either the pros and contras? Life would be easy if we can always do generalizations ya? 

What had been mentioned in this research is also right in certain parts, because I also met other Arab descents and I myself do not like their attitude. Most of them who are still rich today or filthy rich could we say, are arrogant and Westernized too. I don’t even consider myself as related to them but rather stay quite though we know each other. I don’t even dare to go into cousin brother house because my feet perhaps are dirty and I am not also close to them. 

Some of us also received and accepted religious teachings with the Mercy of the God. We soon realized our responsibility to propagate the faith and the noble life and morality to ourselves and environment. I myself never try to take any advantage from privileges but instead trying to strictly follow morality guidance of religion. I just live like a hermit, wearing clothes like a street wanderer, isolating myself if I did wrong to others, I hate possessions and I don’t want anything associated with world attachment like lands, money, or etc. We look everything at individual capacity can’t we? : )    

I think it is also a good idea for us to find more researches about Arab communities in our state. Because I saw that many of those "racists" are actually of foreign ancestral lineage and that means that they are the one who are tak sedar diri. They perhaps are afraid that their "rights" would be uprooted in what we call as attachment to the world. This earth is not our possession but the possession of the God, the King of the Universe. No need to boast about true blood, Aryan blood, strong race blood, genius race, or whatever it is. In the end everyone will be rotten in the grave holes and we carry dirty things in our intestines. Look at everyone first as a human-being and whether he is a God fearing person or not. We do not look as this race or that race or looking at their status or position in society because the God does not care about that. He is far More Great, possessing Dominion, and Rich compared to anyone in the earth or heaven. I had talked about this with a Malay friend too in our discussion maybe I could make a post about the discussion regarding our experience : )

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

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