The Malay Heritage Foundation

Cendekiawan Lestari Series #01 – “MALAYS IN THE NATIONAL IMAGINATION: DEFINING OUR IDENTITY”

The first Cendekiawan Lestari Series (CLS) organised by the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) in conjunction with Raikan Ilmu took place online. The event covered discussion topics surrounding the challenges and struggles faced by the Singaporean Malay community titled, “Malays in the National Imagination: Defining Our Identity” led by honourable Guest Speaker, Advisor to the President of Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and Director for SIT’s Community Leadership and Social Innovation Centre, as well as former Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Professor Yaacob Ibrahim.

Dr. Azhar Ibrahim addressing online participants with an opening speech at the first Cendekiawan Lestari Series. (Credit: MHF)

30 September 2020 – Due to the ongoing pandemic, the CLS launch was premiered online via a successful livestream conducted on Facebook. The inaugural CLS event was moderated by vice-chairman, Dr. Azhar Ibrahim and Singapore’s Parliamentary Secretary Ministry of Health, Mdm Rahayu Mahzam, was invited as Guest-of-Honour for the evening.

The online event commenced with an opening speech by Dr. Azhar Ibrahim where he addressed viewing participants with a brief introduction of the newly launched lecture series. This was followed by a welcoming speech by Mdm Rahayu Mahzam. Professor Yaacob Ibrahim was then introduced to the podium where he began to deliver a discussion speech regarding his perspective on the Malay community’s path in finding a place for itself in Singapore.

Guest-of-Honour, Mdm Rahayu Mahzam delivering her welcome speech online. (Credit: MHF)

In his speech, Professor Yaacob Ibrahim shared a lot of challenges often faced by the Malay community, including the all-too-familiar common stereotype that ‘Malays are lazy’ and even examples of how our identity is being defined by others. Professor Yaacob Ibrahim observed that in many of these occurrences, there is a lack of social and historical context. For instance, the idea that Malays are incapable of understanding Mathematics ignores the fact that some families can extend more advantages to their children than other families can.

Professor Yaacob Ibrahim added that community leaders have recognised the problem and have since brought up the issues in many forums and seminars, which led to various groups coming forward to propose solutions. For example, in the past, Majlis Pusat sought clarification from the government on why Malay male youths were not called up for National Service, which made them less employable. He stressed the need to demonstrate the abilities of our past community leaders and although situations may have changed today and for the better, we must not ignore the anxieties and anguish faced by the community then.

Professor Yaacob Ibrahim explains how others cast Malays into a single identity. (Credit: MHF)

The issues that were addressed during his speech were brought up as a reminder that the struggle for Malays to define who they are is never ending. Professor Yaacob Ibrahim commented that the community must continually work at it, learning from past experiences and informing the way forward with new experiences and new and diverse voices from the community. He went on to recommend the need for a continuous range of efforts from intellectual discussions and writings, to the analysis of our community’s history and the dissemination of positive images of our community through popular culture.

Professor Yaacob Ibrahim ended his speech on an inspirational and encouraging note, expressing that, “The challenge is for all of us to come together and to accord respect and dignity to each other, irrespective of race, language or religion. It is the meritorious thing to do.”

Dr. Azhar Ibrahim (left) and Professor Yaacob Ibrahim (right) engaging in a thought-provoking Q&A session. (Credit: MHF)

The online lecture concluded with a Q&A session in a casual sit-down setting with Dr. Azhar Ibrahim and Professor Yaacob Ibrahim. Some questions were taken from participants tuning in via Facebook Live. At one point, the livestream garnered over a thousand viewers. CLS is a new discursive platform organized by MHF where the contributions from prominent community leaders and scholars are specifically curated thus, allowing them to share their perspective and insights into the variety of issues affecting experiences by the community.

Useful Links

  1. Full video
  2. Malays in the National Imagination: Defining our Identity by Professor Yaacob Ibrahim

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