There is a big difference between the two. “Malay” is an anthropological and a legal definition, while a “Muslim” is one who ‘surrenders’ to Allah as defined by the Quran. The act of surrendering to Allah would require that one leaves or strives very hard to leave all that which contradicts or prevent this surrendering. For example, the pagan Arabs who embraced Islam gave up the concept and practice of Arab tribalism.
A Muslim views all human beings as the creations of the Grand Designer. He does not, therefore discriminate people based on racial lines. He is not a racist. This does not mean of course that one cannot think or talk about races. If so, it will not be possible to identify racism in all its ugly colors.
Malaysia is unique. “Malay” is constitutionally defined. Muslims become constitutional Malays once they fulfill all the requirements of Article 160 of the Federal Constitution. This means that if a Javanese was before Merdeka Day born in Malaysia or Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in Malaysia or in Singapore and the said Javanese professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language and conforms to Malay custom, he/she is a Malay by definition under art. 160(2) of the Federal Constitution.
On the other hand, a Javanese who is a Christian is not a constitutional Malay. Similarly, an Indian Muslim or a Chinese Muslim who satisfies the conditions under Article 160 is likewise a constitutional Malay. Clearly therefore, a constitutional Malay is a legal definition. However, even this simple fact can cause confusion among many, in particular in the Government and the civil service.
In fact, with respect, even no less than a Judge appear to have been confused with this legal definition. Preconditions of being Malay have been confused with preconditions being Muslim. Justice Faiza Tamby Chik J while sitting in the High Court stated that:
“Therefore a person as long as he/she is a Malay and by definition under art. 160 cl. (2) is a Malay, the said person cannot renounce his/her religion at all. A Malay under art. 160(2) remains in the Islamic faith until his or her dying days”. LINA JOY v. MAJLIS AGAMA ISLAM WILAYAH PERSEKUTUAN & ANOR  6 CLJ 242
NO where in the constitution do you find a requirement that a Malay SHALL profess Islam. Article 160 clearly sets out who is a Malay in law and if you do not have any one of the conditions thereat, then you are no longer a Malay in law. Going by Faiza’s logic, does it therefore mean that “a person as long as he/she is a Malay cannot stop conforming to Malay customs”? Surely, he can stop practicing Malay custom. If he does so, he ceases being a Malay under art 160 (2). This is not the same as saying that because art. 160 defines a Malay in this manner, therefore he cannot stop practicing the Malay custom. Hence with respect, there appears to be a reasoning flaw in this part of Faiza’a judgment.
A Malay and a Muslim must surely be different in fact. For example a Chinese Muslim who does not follow the Malay custom and does not habitually speak the Malay language is a Muslim but not a Malay under art. 160. Ahmad and Ah Mat Chong who both practice and profess Islam are Muslims but one is a Malay while the other is a Chinese.
What then is the commonality between Ahmad (Malay Muslim), Ah Mat (Chinese Muslim) and Hameed Sultan Basha (Indian Muslim)? The answer would be that there are all Muslims and that the common factor among them is “Islam”. What, however, is the significance of this commonality? What does it mean in real terms?
In Malaysia, being Muslims, all three will certainty be subjected to the state Syariah laws and all the fatwas by the religious authorities. The Quran says that all believers are brothers of each other and that they should assist one another. The Quran enjoins all Muslims to be united to the “rope of Allah”. Is this possible under the current laws in Malaysia?
Let’s take a very simple example for the sake of discussion. Let us say for example that Ah Mat, the Chinese Muslim is from the low income group. He wants to buy a house. Ahmad is from the middle income group. Ahmad will be eligible for the 7% discount when he buys a house but Ah Mat will not. This is perfectly legal and in line with current policies but certainly appears unjust in Islam. In this situation, would it not be correct to state that the “malayness” overrides the ‘Islamness’? I stand to be corrected.
In any event, I have never heard of any fatwa by any learned ulamak in Malaysia that it is harm to discriminate favours among Muslims while they are all subjected to the same state Syariah laws. In any event, isn’t it an Islamic principle that the poorer should be assisted more than the richer in these situations irrespective of racial considerations?
To me, there is a big difference being a Malay or a Muslim. The underlying philosophy, world outlook and motivations are totally different. A Muslim will not be unjust even to an unbeliever or even the heretic. He mindful that Allah has created the world in a balance and He has enjoined on the Muslims to uphold justice and fair play. He is ever conscious that Allah is omnipresent and hence, the Muslim will forever be wary of his commitments, behaviour, task and duties. He will strive to do his best barring human failings and weaknesses.
A Muslim’s entire life existence is for Allah. This is conscious in the mind of everyone who considers himself a Muslim. What is the basis of the Malay’s life existence? If it is the same as the Muslim’s then is there a need to be conscious that you are a Malay or Indian or Chinese or German? Why can’t Muslims just speak and be concious in “Islamic terms”? Just be Muslims?