Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Haji Ibrahim TY Ma

Note to photo: Akad nikah wedding ceremony of Shukreen Ma (ex-TV3 newscaster, grand daughter of Ibrahim TY Ma. Her father is Nasir Ma Lee and mother Rosey Ma, dressed in light blue in photo)
In the more recent history of Malaysia, Haji Ibrahim Ma Tian Ying [ ] stands out as the person who contributed most in introducing Islam to the Chinese people, for the first time in the Chinese language. This writing will briefly highlight a few aspects of his life and work pertaining to propagating Islam.
Haji Ibrahim Ma, from a long-standing Muslim family in Beijing (originally from ShanDong) first came to Malaysia in 1938-1940 as head of a three member Chinese Muslim Goodwill Delegation to the Southeast Asia region. The two other members were Wu JianXun [誤建勳] and Ma DaWu [馬達吾]. During one and a half year’s period, the delegation covered many places and met many people. In Malaysia they went to all the States including Sabah and Sarawak. Everywhere they went they were accorded warm welcome and grand receptions both by the Malays and the Chinese. The local Chinese thus had first hand information about Islam and Muslims in China. During this successful trip, Haji Ibrahim secured many friendships among dignitaries and the general public which would prove to be very useful when he came again to this country.

Haji Ibrahim Ma came back to Malaysia in 1948, this time with his family and as the Consul General of Ipoh sent by the Kuomintang (Guo Min Dang) government. He had with him his wife Feng Yun Xia [馮雲霞 ], his three daughters and two sons. During the short period of his tenure at this office, Haji Ibrahim Ma not only played with great success his role as a diplomat, but, at every occasion he also showed to the local Chinese a very positive profile of a progressive Chinese Muslim. When China fell to communist rule, the Consulate closed down. Haji Ibrahim chose not to go to Taiwan to join the government, and stayed in Malaysia.

After a few years trying his hand in rice mill and other businesses, he joined his two daughters in Singapore and lived there for a couple of years. In 1957 Malaysia gained independence from the British. In 1961, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj extended Haji Ibrahim an invitation to come back to Malaysia to assist him in an important aspect of nation building. Tunku had the vision that if more Chinese were to understand Islam, or better still, became Muslim, this would help in bridging the racial gap between Malays and Chinese.

Thus, PERKIM [Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia], a welfare association for Muslims was born, with Tunku Abdul Rahman, Haji Ibrahim Ma, Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, and Tan Sri Ubaidullah as the founding members. With this, Haji Ibrahim Ma’s work in the path of Islam took another step, and did not stop until his last days.

With his position in Perkim, Haji Ibrahim started his rounds in every corner of Malaysia, giving speeches about Islam in Chinese. He talked on radio, on television, in schools, in non-governmental associations, and even in prisons. In a span of many years he wrote booklets in Chinese, introducing Islam in very simple language, easily understood by any non Muslim reader. These booklets were not sold. They were always, and even until today, are still given free in all the states, all the religious institutions. The titles include: 益斯蘭教問答 [Questions and Answers on Islam], 爲什麽穆斯林不吃豬肉], [Why Muslims Don’t Eat Pork], 伊斯蘭教義與中國傳統思想 [The Teachings of Islam and Traditional Chinese Philosophy], 什麽是伊斯蘭教? [What is Islam?]. His last book ‘Muslims in China’, which he started to write at the age of 75, was written in English.

Apart from these publications, Haji Ibrahim also started a Chinese-English bilingual, bimonthly newspaper called ‘The Light of Islam’, or in Chinese, 回教之光 [Hui Jiao Zhi Guang], later changed to 伊斯蘭之光 [Yi Si Lan Zhi Guang]. He was not only the publisher, but at the same time, the editor, and the main contributor of articles. Once every two months, when the new issue was ready, his gracious wife would sit with mounts of papers, address slips, sheets of stamps, scissors and glue, folding, cutting and sticking addresses and stamps to get them ready for posting to hundreds of subscribers within Malaysia and overseas. Many people will remember Haji Ibrahim and his wife, seated around the large dining table, engrossed in this labor for the love of God. Often, grandchildren who came for a visit would also be enrolled to help in the task. This first Malaysian Islamic newspaper in Chinese was a family commitment for Haji Ibrahim Ma’s family. 

In Perkim, Haji Ibrahim Ma was ably assisted by a few other Chinese Muslims, namely Zhao Guo Zhi [趙國治], Hu En Jun [胡恩君], Ma Zhi Bin, and a few others who came on shorter contracts … They were recruited from Taiwan, Libya, Saudi Arabia or other Middle East countries. They did missionary work, counseling for Chinese converts, and Islamic teachings in Mandarin. It is their combined work that is directly responsible to a very big extent, for a positive understanding of Islam by the Chinese in this country, and also for the conversion to Islam by hundreds or even thousands of Malaysian Chinese over the years.

Haji Ibrahim passed away almost two decades ago. But the legacy of his work in Islam is carried on by his children. His eldest daughter Aliya Tung Ma Lin [ ], a lecturer and writer, has published a few books on Islam and is still actively taking part, at the ripe age of 75, in Islamic conferences in various states in the United States where she lives, to give information on Chinese Muslims and Islam in China. His third daughter Minuira Sabki Ma Min [ ] is actively involved with Wanita Perkim, the women’s branch of Perkim. She served as President of this organisation for many years. His elder son Mustafa Ma Chi [ ] is also active in Perkim, and is also currently the President of MACMA, the Chinese Muslims Association of Malaysia. His younger son Nasir Ma Lee [ ] is often sought by Chinese friends with children who have embraced Islam, to give advice and clarification on the religion. 

In present day Malaysia, Ibrahim Ma and his children are known as a Hui Chinese family who have contributed to the advancement of Islam among the Chinese in Malaysia. They are also a fine example of selective acculturation towards Malay culture, without bordering on assimilation. All of them speak perfect Malay and Mandarin, in addition to English, and even Cantonese and Hokkian, and are very much at home among the Chinese as well as the Malays. They are knowledgeable about the Malay traditions blended in the local Islam, as well as the Chinese, especially Beijing culture, including food.

Among Haji Ibrahim’s children, Ma Min is the only one who married a Malay. Her husband speaks perfect Mandarin and is totally at ease within the Chinese community. The children understand some Mandarin, the daughter more than the sons, even though they shy away from speaking. Two of the sons and the daughter are married to Malays, and at their children’s level, assimilation may begin. But at least three of her grandchildren take Mandarin lessons and are very familiar and fond of the special home cooked Chinese food. However, they do not have any Chinese names. None of the other siblings’ children and grandchildren live in Malaysia, except for the younger son’s family.

The younger son Ma Lee’s children grew up in Kuala Lumpur with Mandarin as the mother tongue, and Chinese education at primary level followed by Malay secondary and high schools. Only one among the six pursued Chinese education up to high school. With both parents from Hui origin, and an environment that has become more favourable with time, these children may very well carry on the Chinese Muslim identity in Malaysia at least for a few more generations.


Rosey Wang Ma (PhD in Socio-Anthropology). Retrieved from Chinese Muslims in Malaysia – history and development.

Rosey Wang MA is an independent academic researcher and writer on various aspects of Chinese Muslim communities. Of HUI parentage herself, she was raised in Pakistan and Turkey. She was a French language lecturer for more than twenty years before taking up a career in Education Counselling. She still conducts education training programmes. Her doctorate is on: Negotiating Identities: HUI, the Chinese Muslims.

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