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GUYS! Calm Down! Jawi IS NOT Arabic. It’s Bahasa Malaysia

GUYS! Calm Down! Jawi IS NOT Arabic. It’s Bahasa Malaysia

Tasneem Nazari

Malaysia is a melting pot of various races, religions and cultures. This diversity makes our food the best in Southeast Asia.

But unity in diversity is more than just the pride of our food.  It’s understanding, respecting, and participating in each other’s cultures and practices.

What a diverse Malaysia looks like (Credit: NST)

In July 2019, the Education Ministry announced that Jawi would be taught in all schools nationwide, including Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil (SJKT).

This decision also included a move to add khat, the art of Jawi calligraphic writing, to the year 4 Bahasa Melayu syllabus. 

The decision was strongly opposed by Chinese education groups and some members of the public due to fears of Islamisation.

Example of how some people think Maszlee Malik is slowly turning them into Muslims (Credit: WhatsApp)

What many people have misunderstood about Jawi and khat is that they think it’s Arabic. But the truth is, Jawi is just the old script used to write Bahasa Melayu.

Exactly like how Mandarin has two scripts: Hanzi and Pinyin, Bahasa Melayu also has two scripts: Jawi and Latin alphabets a.k.a Rumi. Khat, on the other hand, is just the calligraphical art of writing Jawi.

Historically, Jawi came about from the influence of early Arabic missionaries who travelled to this region sometime around the 13th century.

To educate the local folk, they had to translate books from Arabic to Malay and therefore used their own alphabet for that purpose.

Hanzi and pinyin vs Jawi and rumi (Credit: Han Trainer Dictionary and NSafira.Blogspot)

So, in that sense, the Arabic influence of Jawi to the Malay language is no different from the introduction of Rumi (Roman alphabet) as the written script for Bahasa Melayu by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s.

The explorers needed to write dictionaries for themselves to make it easier for them to understand the Malay language.

Although many Chinese Malaysians appear to be opposed to the idea, there are also many who are not opposed.

For example, the famous national author and poet, Prof Madya Dr. Lim Swee Tin believes that learning Jawi won’t threaten anyone’s faith and beliefs.

Dr Lim Swee Tin looks racially ambiguous but is actually Chinese. (Credit: NST)
TRP reader in support of learning Jawi in school who we assume to be Chinese based on his name. (Credit: TRP/Facebook)

So really, the implementation of teaching Jawi and khat in schools provides students with the chance at learning the country’s palaeographic history more than anything else. 


If you’re interested in the history of Jawi in Malaysia, you can read more about it in this very interesting but long historical research paper. And if you want to know more about the history of Malay scripts, we recommend you take a look at this excellent article by Cilisos.my.

Do you think teaching Jawi in schools is a waste of time? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

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