The Malaysian government is seriously looking into a request by the local Indian-Muslim community to be recognised as bumiputera, Prime Minister Najib Razak said, adding that he personally accepted their status as one of the country's indigenous races.
The government will study the best way to take in the Indian-Muslim community as bumiputera (or sons of the soil, in Malay), he said at a function on Tuesday involving Malaysian Indian-Muslim organisations leaders.
"I have listened to the requests made (by the community) and I accept that Indian-Muslims are bumiputera," Datuk Seri Najib was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insight (TMI) news website. He said the community has requested the move be carried out legally through a government gazette.
Malaysian Indians comprise 7 per cent, or some 2.2 million, of the country's 32 million population, according to the Department of Statistics. A vast majority of them are Hindus. According to the department's 2010 census, 4.1 per cent of Malaysian Indians are Muslim.
The official bumiputera races in Malaysia today are the majority Malays, the aboriginal Orang Asli and the native races in Sabah and Sarawak such as the Kadazans and Ibans.
To raise their generally lower economic status, they get government help in education and business, and enjoy discounts when buying homes.
According to the government's statistics for last year, published on its website, 68.8 per cent of Malaysians are bumiputera. Excluded from the group are the 23.4 per cent Chinese, 7 per cent Indians and the 1 per cent labelled as "others".
Federation of Malaysian Indian-Muslims president Dhajudeen Shahul Hameed requested that their new status be made official through a circular, TMI reported. "Even though we are acknowledged as bumiputera, we still face a lot of bureaucracy and misinterpretation.
"Therefore, we hope Datuk Seri Najib Razak will issue a circular to state that Indian-Muslims are indeed bumiputera," Mr Dhajudeen said in his speech at the event attended by about 20,000 people.
In his speech, Mr Najib took a dig at former premier Mahathir Mohamad, now an opposition leader, who has Indian heritage.
Said Mr Najib: "My personal relationship with Indian Muslims is very good, and hopefully, all here will give support to the government led by myself.
"There is someone on the other side, a certain person who is also Indian Muslim, but I believe the Indian Muslim community is more supportive of me and (I) hope this relationship will continue forever."