I Studied Jawi in School — Here’s My Experience

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The Education Ministry recently announced that effective next year, three pages of Jawi lessons would be included in the Standard Four Bahasa Melayu textbook as an optional course.

I’ve always wondered how it’s really like learning Jawi so I got a hold of my friend Tamara, who studied Jawi during her school days. This is her story:

How I Ended Up Studying Jawi

The words I see being written down in the religious classes I attend with my fellow Muslim colleagues always bring me back to 2003. That was the year I first came to know about Jawi.

Being a little Indian girl in Terengganu, I attended a “kampung school”. If you guessed it, yes, there was a majority of Muslim students. There were only about ten of us who were non-Muslims.

Jawi was included in the lesson timetable where I studied. We, the non-Muslims had a choice to join the classes or leave it be.

So, I thought to myself, “why not?”

No one around me made me feel weird for wanting to learn Jawi. There wasn’t any dismay coming from my parents either. In my mind, I was just learning something new in school.

A Peek into My Jawi Lessons

I was in Standard Four at that time. I joined my other Muslim classmates during the scheduled Jawi lessons. That’s where it started. 

The teacher had us write ABCs, but in Jawi, of course. It almost felt like preschool all over again.

Remember those A5 exercise books with brown covers and had triple-lined pages? Those books were the Jawi battlefield for us. With our pencils in hand and erasers close by, we practised writing Jawi letter by letter.

I still remember the expressions of intense concentration on everyone’s faces when we tried to write Jawi for the first time. Everyone looked so constipated!

Apart from writing, the teacher taught us to read as well. First, the teacher would say out loud on how to pronounce the alphabet. Then, we would all mimic her reading. 

We would go on and on chanting those Jawi letters to a point where it got really sing-songy. That was the fun part!

It wasn’t a piece of cake, at least not in the beginning. I guess the process is the same for any new language. Somehow I managed to catch up as time went by. I got the hang of it, just like my other classmates.

How Learning Jawi Has Helped My Personal Growth

Looking back, my friends were really supportive of me throughout the learning process. They gave me the confidence and boost that I needed.

Tackling Jawi made me realise that I could take on anything ahead of me without fear. Honestly, the Tamara today is pretty proud of mini-Tamara for taking up a challenge like that.

All in all, studying Jawi was a breeze when I got better at it.

It has made me a more versatile person socially. I could get along with anyone from any background regardless of the person’s beliefs.

I think introducing Jawi the way it is right now isn’t bad at all.

Three pages out of the entire textbook would be more of a fun lesson than a burden, similar to learning any other new languages.

Plus, learning Jawi could help students appreciate the authenticity of the Malay language with an open mind. 

Hints of Jawi In My Present Life

So how has Jawi impacted my life as an adult? Well, I work as a dentist for the armed forces. 

I see many Muslim patients daily that I care dearly about. At times, my patients come up with excuses to dodge the scary and painful teeth fixes, especially during the fasting month and Ramadhan season. 

So I started attending Islamic religious classes just to understand them and their practices a little better.

I am able to build trust and foster a healthy relationship with my patients, having understood their religious practices well.

So, they better not be fooling me about what’s okay and not okay for Muslims when it comes to treatment!

When I attend these classes, I often come across Jawi writings that I could recall, and it just makes me smile like a fool. 

I would ask my friends if my recollections are right and they would correct me when I get rusty. To this day, the help and support I get from learning Jawi has not changed.

Should Regular Malaysians Take Up Jawi?

To be frank, I think it is up to the individual and their personal perception. While Jawi has been beneficial for me due to my working environment, it may not be as useful for others.

While it hasn’t been a great help in my daily routine, I personally feel that you should go for it if you have the interest. 

It could be a boosting point in your resume: Employers tend to favour someone who is able to master several languages. An additional language skill shows how versatile a candidate is.

Imagine travelling in a Muslim country –  Being able to read Jawi would be so useful. You would be able to read shop signs, street signs and product labels!

You know, studying Jawi has not affected my own personality or my other language abilities. I am still able to speak fluently in my mother tongue. It made me feel “more Malaysian”, in fact.

It’s actually a good thing to embrace the multilingual identity that Malaysians are known for. A new language skill should not divide us Malaysians. As long as we stay true to ourselves, no external factors can break us.

If you can read or write Jawi, let us know in the comments!

For more stories about Malaysians’ experiences with different languages, read How I Survived in the Working World without Reading or Writing Mandarin and Amusing Conversations Overheard in a Language They Think You Don’t Know. 

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