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History and the Indigenization of the Arabs in Kedah, Malaysia

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The Arabs in Southeast Asia have to a large or small extent been indigenized as a result of exposure to and interaction with local cultures and societies. For those Arabs living in colonial and post-independence times in the state of Kedah, Malaysia, making the transition from being an Arab to a Malay means employing different assimilative strategies. In colonial times, because of their close relationship with the Kedah ruling family and the favour shown to them by the British, the Arabs assumed high social status in Kedah. During that time, and consistent with Malay preference for status-ranking, becoming Malay for the Arabs involved acknowledging their moral and social superiority over the local people. In the years following independence, the process entailed the new generation of Arabs in the state downplaying status differences, externalizing values of equality and demonstrating loyalty to the Malaysian nation. In so doing, they almost completely dissolved into Malay society. Though still vaguely recognizable as a social category by their phenotypical features and the use of clan names and the honorific titles of sayyid and sharifah, the Arabs in Kedah are so strongly acculturated to Malay customs, norms, beliefs and political aspirations that to them, Arabness is now an anomaly.


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