Confusing Rigidities in a Multi-Racial, Multi-Religious Nation

by Rukhshana Maufiqah


As an Indian Muslim, Tamil-speaking 20-year-old, I have come to learn over the years that the locals here tend to mix race, religion and language together. They have this mindset that the Malays will speak Malay and that they are Muslims; Indians speak Tamil and that they are Hindus; Chinese speak Mandarin and that they are Buddhists. Many or I dare say almost everyone knows that it is definitely not true that the Chinese speak only Mandarin and they are only Buddhists. They have different dialects such as Hokkien or Cantonese. Furthermore, there are many Chinese Christians as well! However, sadly it does not apply the same way for us, the minorities. I made a speech when I was 16 years old in my Secondary school about this topic and I would like to re-iterate some points that I think that are very important to be spoken about.

Firstly, your religion does not define your race and your race does not define the language you are speaking. This is very important for Singaporeans to grasp. Ever since primary school, many has been shocked to find out I am a Muslim when my mother tongue is Tamil. The first question I am always asked is “Oh are you half Malay, half Indian?” and I would reply, “No, I am just an Indian who is a Muslim.” Still being confused, the next question being asked would be “Does all your family members speak Tamil like you, too? There must be Malays for sure!” and I would reply, “Yes all of my family members speak Tamil like me and are Muslims and yes I do have non-Indian relatives as well but they are not all Malays.” This confuses them even more. Some may say, “Of course it would be difficult for children to understand this at a young age, I’m sure adults do!” Sorry to burst your bubble but they don’t as well.

Secondly, I am a Muslim, who follows the religion, Islam. You don’t have to be a Malay to follow Islam. In fact, I am glad that more people have come to realise now that there are Chinese Muslims and many other Muslims from different ethnic groups now, but definitely not enough. It doesn’t matter what language you speak to follow a religion. Yes, often a race is linked to a specific language. However, not all the time and especially not for Indians.

Now, I would like to get into the details of this term “Indian” that we Singaporeans use. I would like
to clarify that Indian is not a language but a race; and importantly, Hindu is not a language but a
religion. We do not speak Indian or Hindu that some do ask. We speak Tamil or Hindi or many other
languages. Did you know that there are more than 19,500 languages or dialects spoken in India as
mother tongues, according to the latest analysis of a census released?

When I was younger, when my peers or even teachers asked me if such questions, I would just laugh it off and correct them. However, as I entered secondary school and especially JC, I realised how us minorities know so much about the majority ethnic groups but it is not reciprocated to us. That is when I realised how ignorant people can be. We take so much pride that we are a multi-racial and religious country, but how well do all of us know about the races or religions outside of our own? A question that has always been bugging me is, if all Singaporeans are treated equally, why do mostly only the minorities take the initiative to learn about the different races and religions of our neighbours but not them? Do not mistake me, I have many friends from the majority ethnic groups who are educated about others races and religions. You not knowing does not make you ignorant.

We are all more than pleased to let you know about our races and religions. You choosing not to find out more from what you know and making your own assumption makes you ignorant. I have accepted after denying for very long that I tend to identify myself as a Muslim more and not Indian, just to escape the racist remarks of being an Indian. I have even let strangers think I am a Malay since I don the hijab and understand the Malay language. I have heard remarks from my friends such as “You are fair for an Indian, probably because you are Muslim” or “You are my only Indian friend, probably because you are not exactly like them”. I am so disappointed to say that I took pride in those remarks and did not see how racist those remarks were, just because it was meant as a compliment to me. I would like to apologise to my Indian friends for not sticking up for us. I have learnt from my past mistakes and have been using whatever opportunity I can get to educate people about this.

Lastly, I would like to say, I am proud to be an Indian, proud to be a Muslim and of course, proud to
be a Singaporean, as should any other South Asian Muslim be respectively for their race. However, it is time for us to take action and speak up about this matter which has been pushed aside as maybe a taboo subject for too long. In this unprecedented time, it has shown us how united as a nation we are and I am sure if we all play apart to spread awareness and knowledge, we can improve further as a multi-racial, multi-religious nation.


Rukhshana Maufiqah is a 2nd year student at SIM, University of London, studying BSc Business and Management. Volunteer at Indian Muslim Social Service Association(IMSSA)

Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu