28 October, 2011

The Hadhrami Influence in Malaysia

Hadhrami Influence in Malaysia
Of all Muslim countries, none wins my total admiration and envy, as Malaysia. Not only because of its stunning, heavenly natural beauty; not only because of its foresighted, visionary leaders; not only because it is a democracy, unlike most Muslim countries; not only because of its advanced economic and technological achievements; not only because of its very fine educational and medical systems. But, too, because Malaysia is a true melting pot: where all its citizens, no matter where there origin be, live and work harmoniously together. Be their origin - Malay or Indian or Chinese or Arab. They all call themselves Malaysians. And they all are proud of being Malaysians. Of those with Arab origins, they are very few and almost all are descended from Hadhramaut. As few as they are, Hadhramis have been and are still very influential. Hadramis have long traded in Malaysia; trading in spices, timber, textiles and many other items. They have too, been leading scholars and politicians in the country.

Hadramis have a long history of contact with South and South-East Asia; most probably dating back to the pre-Islamic and early Islamic days. Mainly through the trade in spices and incense. It is in the 13th Century onwards, that large waves of Hadhramis migrated to Malaysia; especially in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Apart from trading, the Hadharem were missionaries too; preaching and spreading Islam. Most went on to marry converted Muslim women and settled in many parts of Malaysia. With time, Hadhramis became some of the leading scholars, academics and leaders in their newly adapted homeland. Being excellent merchants, as few as they are, Hadhramis were very influential traders; and still they are.

When the history of South-East Asia is mentioned, many times the role of Hadhramis is ignored. But very few other people have left such a deep, long lasting impact on Malaysia and many parts of that part of Asia as the Hadharem. It is the Hadhrami saadas, mainly from Wadi Hadhramout, who introduced and spread Islam in Malaysia; and by Islam, Malaysian culture was and has been totally transformed. It is they, who were the main advisers to the Malay sultans of old; and still are advisers and consultants to many of today's Malaysian leaders. At the Islamic Arts Museum, the extensive and strong Hadhrami impact is very evident. 

Today: the Hadharem of Malaysia, like people of other origins, though totally Malaysian, maintain in many ways - their ancestral identities, through religious and cultural occasions and celebrations. Like in Saudi Arabia, Amman and many other parts of the world where Hardhramis settled, a number of 'Hadhramout' restaurants can be found in Malaysia, serving Hadrami and other Yemeni cuisines. Any Arab visiting Malaysia feels very comfortable and very much at home, not only because of Islam but also due to the strong Hadhrami foundation and presence there. Go to Malaysia now and you will find thousands of Arab visitors, tourists, students and expatriates. Many Arabs from the Middle East are now investing, trading and having second homes in Malaysia.

Today, very small as they are, the Hadhrami community in Malaysia is still vibrant and exemplary. Many are highly educated; and leading businessmen and influential leaders. This prominence of Hadhramis, has very much helped Yemenis: while even the nearest neighboring Arab countries do not easily give entry visas to Yemenis - Malaysia is one of the very few countries in the world and, indeed, in the Muslim world, that easily allows entry for Yemenis. Back in Hadhramout, descendants of the Hadharem from Malaysia regularly visit. Other Malaysians and some of their leaders are also regular visitors. Hadhramis may not be easily visible in Malaysia, but their impact and mark has been extensive, long lasting and is very remarkable.

Photo: screenshot from Bin Gregory