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Bid for, nearly got, missed by half an hour, a translation job requiring Jawi to English skills. Jawi is a hidden language in Malaysia. It exists only on paper. Muslim children, a little over half the population, learn it for twelve years of their lives. Up until I was about thirteen-years-old, we had to answer Islamic Studies papers with it. That changed to allow us to use either Jawi or Rumi (Roman characters). We were always only responding in Bahasa Malaysia.

Jawi is still taught in school, only for Islamic Studies. Islamic Studies textbooks are still printed in Jawi. It used to be the printed and written language for every official document, about a decade or two before my parents got married. Unlike my mother's language, my father's language hangs on as a kind of fossil. My brother never even tried to learn, though he had to, for about seven years. I used to have to write all his homework for him. Jawi, Arabic letters used to write the Malaysian language, is beautiful. Its calligraphic form is certainly a lovely thing. In my eyes, an equal to beholding a piece of calligraphic art written in Han Dze.

Jawi is also part of my entire conflict with Islamic Studies as a compulsory subject for students of Muslim descent. We were taught Jawi, and in a larger view, the Arabic alphabet, in order to read the Quran. We were never taught to read the Arabic language, only to enunciate the sounds without meaning. Throughout my schooling experience, the Arabic language was and still is an elective subject that many students avoid, with perfectly justifiable reasons. Certainly, no one wants to slap on an added subject for students who already have an extra tertiary-preparedness subject over everyone else. So for twelve years, I was made to read the Quran blind -- for "exam purposes". That's all you really need to pass a paper and a practical. I never understood a word I said. For about the last six years, thanks to a very piecemeal education from moving around as much as we did, I was dependent on classmates willing to transliterate the Quranic text so I could read it. Jawi, and the Arabic alphabet, wasn't my problem. Apathy, and an inablity to read Arabic diacritics, was.

My question is, would the current Muslim population of Malaysia be better off being able to understand what they were reading in class, if they were able to speak the Arabic language? I don't really know. It's certainly an easier way to indoctrinate one version of the religion over any others. Many Malaysian students of Muslim descent would remember memorising the readings for Quranic quotations and their interpretations -- for "exam purposes". One of the great ironies of the Quran is that Muslims are taught to read it aloud, and walk away satisfied in understanding it only through the minds of others. It's a dangerous mentality, when you think about it. But at the same time, it's hard to say anyone really suffers for it. Proving that life does not revolve around the language of religion, only the interpretations of it, I suppose people do live better with just the idea of things instead of their reality.

Begs the other obvious question, really.


May. 24th, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC)
(Yeah, I know, all of this is ironic, considering that Christianity generally skewed toward the lingua frana, be it Greek or Latin, and the scent of sacred only attached to those languages afterward. But anyway, eh?)