Ku Li: My mother feared I'd become a Christian if I studied in England

KUALA LUMPUR: Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, in his memoir Ku Li: Memoir 205 recounted his early days in Kelantan and the challenges he faced getting educated in the early days.

The fifth child of a former Kelantan menteri besar and a royal descendant of the Long Yunus line which ruled Kelantan until 1794, Razaleigh faced the challenge of learning Japanese under the Japanese wartime education policy.

"I was not even five years old at the time, yet I was still forced to go to school. Every morning, we had to sing Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem," he recalls in the memoir.

When the British returned to Malaya, English education was reinstated.

"In Kelantan, there was only one English school, Ismail English School (IES). That's where I went to school.

"The Malays in the Malay Peninsula, especially on the East Coast, have always been deeply religious, recalls Razaleigh, and this influenced many aspects of their lives. His father once planned to send him to Harrow School in England for his primary education, where Winston Churchill was one of the alumni.

"But my mother said no," reveals Razaleigh in his memoir. She was worried that he might become a Christian and be influenced by non-Islamic religions.

"That's why I wasn't sent," he explains, adding: "my mother became anxious when she learned that I would have to attend church and Sunday School.

"As much as possible, she didn't want her children to be exposed to elements that contradicted Islamic teachings."

The previous generation of Malays had it even worse — they were forbidden to speak English because they deemed it to be the language of Christians. Because of this, many Malays refused to send their children to English schools, opting instead for madrasahs to learn Jawi and become proficient in reading the Quran.

"That's why we're backward," he states bluntly.

"This was a mistake, as language is a vehicle for knowledge and progress, and has nothing to do with religion. The Prophet himself encouraged his followers to seek knowledge even as far as China, and that didn't mean that going to China would make them adopt Buddhism."

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