Malaysia Interracial Relationship
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Dating is hard. Dating another race? That’s even harder.
When we visualize a soulmate, a perfect partner or “The One”, their attributes must always match ours. They should share similar thoughts, views, ideals & beliefs with us. Any less and you’re already writing them down as “frog”, and not a Prince Charming hidden in disguise.
But what if you fell in love with someone from a completely different racial & cultural background from yours? Surely, there’s going to be a lot of disagreements and opposing views.
But the beauty of an interracial relationship is the exchange of new information and the compromise of respected beliefs & ideals.
Now a Malaysia interracial relationship is getting harder because you got to consider Malaysia’s Federal Constitutional Law that requires a non-Malay/non-Muslim who wishes to marry a Malay/Muslim to convert to Islam. Opposing this law leads to the (Muslim) individual to face not just punishment from the country but also religious Sharia laws that are both equally strict.
And in Malaysia, Muslims (born or converted) are not allowed to convert into another religion, sealing their fate forever in practicing Islam. See, if it was a personal choice and not something dictated by the law, that wouldn’t be bad at all. However, it poses a doubt of freewill that rightfully belongs to every human.
It also defeats the whole point of an accepting multicultural & multiracial society that Malaysia so brazenly boasts about having. Because what happens if your marriage ends in a divorce? Too bad, you already converted so a Muslim forever you shall remain and this counts towards your children too.
So, fear has always been interpolated among non-Malays. There were many times my parents cautioned me in avoiding any form of romantic relationships with my Malay and Malay peers. I distinctly remember “Any race is fine but not a Malay, never a Malay”, something I wrote off as racist but the older I got, I understood the underlying fear that came with that warning.
Unfortunately for them, I’m currently in a relationship with a practicing Muslim. And let’s include a quick self-interview and an interview with my partner to realize that the differences in our race are just that, a difference.
Kat, a Chinese woman from a religious Christian family, currently in a relationship with Omar, a Malay Muslim man.
1. Tell us a little about yourself & your background.
Kat: I’m 22 this year, last year of my Communication degree so yay for that. I’m from a Chinese Christian family but personally I don’t practice any religion.
Omar: Age 24 going 25 male of Malay background, I have worked before but I’m currently unemployed and living with my parents.
2. How did you meet your partner?
Kat: Through this dating app, Bumble. We bonded over our love of the TV series, Shark Tank and that was basically it for me. I knew I had found “the one”.
3. Have you been in another interracial relationship before? If yes, how was it?
Kat: All my “significant” relationships have been interracial relationships. My friends & I joke that I have a Malay fetish. My sisters even said I’m probably the only one in the family that’s gonna convert to become a Muslim. This “fetish” of mine probably stems from a rebellious aspect of going against my parents’ warnings. Something I shouldn’t be gloating about anymore at age 22.
I can gladly say that the difference in our race in those relationships was never the biggest issue. Compatibility of our personalities & views on certain issues, on the other hand…
Omar: Nope, my first time!
4. If not, have you been in the same racial relationship?
Kat: No, unless you want to count a Chinese boy I dated for a week back in high school.
Omar: Yeah, I have been in one before this.
5. How does an interracial relationship differ from a same-race relationship?
Omar: In interracial relationships, it’s more fun cause there’s a lot you can learn from your partner who has a different background. Example: you learn more about the food, lifestyle and other things.
6. What are the pros & cons of dating someone of a different race?
- Learning and experiencing new cultural customs, religious beliefs & even slang. It’s given me a more open perception of how the other races live and perceive things. And it’s pretty funny to see reactions from other Malays I encounter when they realize I’m not as typical of a Chinese as I seem (But you wouldn’t know it because of how pelat my speaking Malay is).
- The obvious issue here is compulsory religion conversion. Personally, I’m not a religious person (which is also another reason why I can be more open learning about new religions) but knowing that the conversion is NOT my own choice really dampens the mood. But thankfully, marriage is not on the cards anytime soon so I’m gonna continue having fun first.
- The fear of khalwat (when an unmarried couple is caught in close proximity) whenever it’s the two of us just hanging out. You become more cautious about being affectionate in public, especially somewhere less liberal. Even holding hands gets you kinda nervous. Although I’m not a Muslim and Sharia laws don’t apply to me. However, it does to my partner and being helpless to do anything about it is also a con.
- It’s more open compared to being in a relationship of another Malay Muslim background cause of our shared religious beliefs. Example: sleeping over, going on vacations.
- Can learn and accept a lot about other cultures, or a term that suits this is “cultural exchange”.
- Not being able to be open about our relationship at certain places or people will stare or give us awkward glances. I guess cause it’s taboo for them to see a Malay Muslim date a Chinese non-Muslim. Example: if we hang out at Malay-dominated area.
- Opening up to parents is another con. I don’t know what they will think of us because they are super religious. I’m pretty sure they’ll be okay eventually, but you know having to be the first one in the family to date a non-Muslim, there’s a huge fear but I will one day! Insyaallah.
7. Do your parents know of the relationship? If yes, how did they take it?
Kat: Yeah, they do. Albeit disappointed (again), they are used to it by now. However, when I first came clean about my first interracial relationship with them, that got many unhappy reactions. Lots of passive-aggressive remarks and grumbling but I guess they realized it’s my choice at the end of the day so they just accept it.
Omar: Nope they don’t, but they will when the time is right!
8. If not, would you ever tell them about it?
Omar: Of course, just need to see where this relationship goes first in the long run and I’ll wait for the perfect timing to tell! Because I want them to get to know my girlfriend, pretty sure they will love her! (Kat: I swear I didn’t put a gun to his head for this answer. Or maybe I did… Who knows?)
9. Are there any reactions from the public when you’re out with your partner or when introducing your partner to friends?
Kat: Originally I’m from a small town in Pahang with the majority of the population being Malays. And as the small town stereotype goes, interracial relationships still got more eyebrow raises & double takes. So thanks to those years of practice, the reactions out here in KL or Selangor are super minimal. I can gladly say people really couldn’t care less unless Omar and I start hardcore making out. (“Hello, Jais!”)
And with my friends, I mean… they’re not surprised. I think if I announced I was dating a super religious Chinese Christian, that would get a reaction.
Omar: Public as mentioned before, we tend to get glared at or stared at in more Muslim dominated areas. But with friends, they have all been super supportive and they all love my girlfriend and think we’re a perfect match! (Kat: Again, no gun to the head, I swear… Maybe a machete.)
10. With Malaysia’s stricter laws towards Muslims, are you ever afraid of getting called out or caught while with your partner?
Kat: Yes, actually. It hasn’t happened yet while living in Selangor/KL. But back in my hometown, lots of schoolmates teased my boyfriends (at that time) of becoming murtad and dating a kafir. Harmless teenage jokes but not to my boyfriends at that time who still believed heavily in their religions.
And there were a few times back then of getting called out by religious polis or sibuk uncles for being alone with each other despite not doing anything sexual. We were just stuffing our faces with food in the car or just seeing a movie in the cinema…
Omar: Not really, In fact, I feel a lot safer when I’m dating a non-Malay/Muslim, I guess cause how I don’t really look Malay so when people see me with my chinese girflriend, they simply assume I’m not Malay too. And that helps me avoid all the strict laws against Muslims who are dating in general.
11. Advice to interracial couples who can’t be open about their relationship?
Kat: In this day & age of everything been up online for the world to see & comment on, a hidden relationship could be a blessing in disguise. Cynicism aside, don’t be discouraged just because your relationship isn’t openly accepted yet. In the end, the relationship is between the two of you. If it works, it works. Don’t allow naysayers to influence what you feel is right.
Omar: Just take time and don’t care about what people say about you and your partner! Just have fun learning and loving each other and if it’s meant to be, it will be accepted by everyone!
Just like any relationship, conflict, misunderstandings & disagreements are definitely bound to happen. Throw in different cultural & racial background and those become more pronounced.
However just like in any relationship, compromise & understanding is key to success and if you & your partner are willing to work at it, the relationship (interracial or not) will surely bloom.
This article is a part of Woke’s Taboo series where we discuss & examine the many taboo subjects & topics of Malaysia. You can check out our previous article on LGBT Malaysia and sex education in Malaysia.