by a JB EC parent
I have a query for you about the English College, Johor Bahru, which is now also known as Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar.
My son who is in Form Five this year, has been a Prefect in EC
since he was in Form Two. He has always been an exemplary student, as well has won praise from many teachers for his exemplary conduct and commitment to his duties and studies. He is also a member of the ExCo of the Prefectorial Board.
Recently, in the beginning of this year, there was an instruction from the school, which I believe came from the teacher advisor to the Prefectorial Board, that Prefects have to start wearing the Songkok as part of the official uniform. At first, the instruction was that it would only be required during “official functions” like school assemblies and during interschool events or major events like sports day and speech day. Hoever, this has now been revised to include daily prefectorial duties.
There are reasons to believe that the practice of getting Prefects to wear the Songkok, is a prelude to getting ALL the students of the school to eventually follow suit.
My son, after conferring with me, has decided that he will NOT wear the Songkok. He is willing to resign from the Prefectorial Board if forced to wear the Songkok.
The rationale behind his refusal, which I stongly support, is that the Songkok is an emblem of the MALAY identity. As non-Malays, he should not be forced to don attire which does not reflect his true identity.
Also, since the Constitution defines Malay as someone who is Muslim, it may give others the wrong impression that he may be Muslim. Although, at first thought, this may sound a bit far-fetched, as the complexion of a Chinese is very different from that of a Malay. But it is also about principle and of providing a precedent. What of the case of a dark-skinned Chinese, or even an Indian, who wears a songkok? Will they be mistaken for Malays?
The issue is also that of “stumbling others.” My son is a devout
Christian, and has been on two trips overseas in the past two years on mission outreaches, to help the poor, and to spread the Gospel. In Christianity, there are exhortations to Christians not to “stumble your brothers.” Apostle Paul had written in the case when food which had been offered to idols should not be consumed esp in the presence of Christian brothers who are not strong in the faith. Perhaps the wearing of the Songkok may also lead others to stumble, as the songkok is associated with Malay identity, and Malays are invariably Muslim. People who see my son wearing a songkok may think that he is a Malay, and thus a Muslim.
There will be those Malays who wish to enforce their culture, albeit in a creeping fashion, unto others, who may defend the move to enforce the songkok, claiming that the Songkok is a National identity, rather than a Malay or Muslim identity.
To that, I ask why:
- the songkok is part of the uniform of the Royal Malay Regiment, and not of say the rangers and others.
- the songkok is worn by Malays who go for Friday prayers, and not on other days.
- the songkok is worn by Malays on Hari Raya and Hari Raya Haji, but NOT on Hari Merdeka.
In fact, the songkok is identified with Malay cultural dress, just as
the cheongsam is with Chinese, and the saree with Indian. And just as the tudung is for Malays, so too the turban is for Sikhs.
IF the rationale behind the move to enforce students is “uniformity” then are Sikhs exempt from wearing them? Where then would be the uniformity?
My other contention, and which should probably be more IN THE INTEREST OF THE MALAY MUSLIM COMMUNITY, is that my son’s refusal to comply with the requirement for non-Malays to wear the songkok, WILL ACTUALLY PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY AND SANCTITY OF THE SONGKOK.
Despite all the denial about the Songkok being associated with Malay identity and hence with Islam (since all Malays are Muslims), the common perception even amongst Malay Muslims themselves, are that someone wearing a songkok IS a Muslim. IMAGINE a situation where a man wearing a songkok is having a beer, or a group of men are photographed in a pub, all wearing songkoks and each lifting a pint into the air!
What would Malays have to say about it then?
Would these be considered as an insult to Islam?
There are other situations where men in songkoks should not be
seen doing things which a Muslim should NOT be doing. For instance, would Muslims be upset if I were to wear a songkok and have my picture taken with a roast pig and the picture displayed?
What if my son wears a songkok and eats in a mamak shop during the month of Ramadan? Of if my son wears a songkok, and walks in the park at 7pm with his girlfriend, who is wearing a tudung (she also a non-Muslim!)
Would Muslim feel a sense of their culture being violated by
non-Muslims in Malay dress, doing things which good Muslims should not be doing? A non-Muslim boy walking sitting on a park bench at night with a non-Muslim girl would be nobody’s business but their own (or their parents). However, this would be a no-no for Muslims. Imagine the confusion if a non-Muslim boy with songkok were to be seen in this “khalwat” situation with a non-Muslim girl in a tudung?
Therefore, I reiterate - it is probably best to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the songkok and tudung, IF they are reserved for Malays and NOT enforced upon non-Malays. Alternatively, it should be left to the personal choice of the individual.
Do you think that my arguments have a basis?
I have no complaints if they make the songkok NON-COMPULSORY, and IF wearing it is just “encouraged” rather than. Would they have a problem if a small cross is pinned to the songkok, to designate that the wearer is not a Muslim?
Since I'm 1 of the prefect in Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar(English College), 1 of the ExCo & also a student that has study in EC for 7 years (currently in upper 6), let me explain the story behind this songkok thing. As far as I know, the wearing of the green songkok has existed for a very long time (around 20 or 30 years) & it didn't pop up just recently as some people assumed. It is clearly stated in the constitution of the EC's Prefectorial Board as 1 of the accessories that needed to be wear on by male prefrect in school. As for everyone knowledge, our songkok is not those normal songkok but songkok which is similar to those songkok that MP & minister don on. The difference is the colour is not black but green.
The wearing of songkok among prefect still exist when I 1st get into form 1 but then it disappear suddenly in my form 4 year due to relaxation in enforcement of this rule. During the past & those who are same batch as me, to us, prefect wearing songkok is a tradition & not a big deal to us but when this rule is bring it up again, a lot of complaints & objections are heard due to lack of knowledge towards the history of prefectorial board especially among non-Malay juniors.
To me, wearing the songkok is not a religious matter or a race matter. I didn't turn me into a Malay nor did I become Muslim. I still a Chinese Buddhist & will remain Chinese Buddhist forever. Wearing songkok makes me feel that i'm Malaysian, a truly Malaysian. By the way, we are not force to wear it but for unifomity we choose to wear it. Those who are not comfortable with it can choose not to wear it. No one forces the person to do things they don't want to do.
The current situation is due to miscommunication between the school authorithy & the prefects. A meeting will be held soon & I hope everyone don't turn this issue into a racial or religious issue.