Key traits of being Malay not as well understood among young Chinese and Indians

93 per cent of the Malays surveyed perceived being Muslim as at least somewhat important to their ethnic identity.
93 per cent of the Malays surveyed perceived being Muslim as at least somewhat important to their ethnic identity.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Eating Halal food, wearing the tudung as well as avoiding alcohol and not touching dogs are perceived as important traits of being a Malay here, based on the responses of about 440 Malays out of 2,020 respondents in a new study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and Channel News Asia.

However, when it came to understanding these key facets of the community, younger Chinese and Indian respondents were found to be less likely to understand their importance.

For instance, on the point of not touching dogs, just 49 per cent of Chinese and 46 per cent of Indians aged 21 to 25 said this was important for the Malay community compared to 74 per cent of Malays in the same age group.

Researchers said this lack of inter-cultural understanding among young Singaporeans may be a result of fewer interactions and friendships across racial lines, adding that it is a trend that "bears watching".

IPS senior research fellow Dr Mathew Mathews said: "One takeaway is that while we care about our own ethnic identities, we need to learn how to respect and understand the important (ethnic) markers of other groups."

The study showed that younger Malay respondents felt less strongly about some of these ethnic markers compared to their seniors.

For instance, 72 per cent of Malay respondents aged 21 to 25 indicated that wearing the tudung is "somewhat important" or "important" compared to 93 per cent of their counterparts aged 56 to 65.

When it came to avoiding alcohol, 84 per cent in the younger Malay respondent cohort indicated that it was "somewhat important" or "important", compared to 96 per cent in the older age group.

There was a greater difference in sentiment when it came to touching dogs. Almost all Malays in the older age group indicated that it was important to avoid this compared with 74 per cent among their younger counterparts.

In addition, and almost unanimously, 93 per cent of the Malays surveyed perceived being Muslim as at least somewhat important to their ethnic identity.

This sentiment towards religion was stronger among the Malays compared to the 70.6 per cent of Indian respondents in the case of Hinduism and 37.4 per cent of Chinese respondents in the case of Buddhism or Taoism.

Dr Mathews added: "While it is important for other communities to better understand the important identity markers that the Malay community holds, it is also important for the Malay community itself to ensure it is open and tolerant if other communities may not readily understand."