Suleka, 49 & Adam, 56. Married since 1987.
“Wow, who’s this hot chick who looks like Donna Summers?” – Adam, on his first encounter with Suleka.
It was the 80s, and Suleka’s parents were ultra-conservative and strict. “All I did was go to school and come home. I hardly had any friends. I curi-curi looked at the classified ads for a job. My parents tried to stop me. They even called my boss and asked him to let me go. He refused. That’s how I met Adam, at work,” she recalls.
“Anywhere also jadi lah,” Adam laughs, reminiscing about their dates. “I could only take her out during lunch time at work. Even the next-door mamak also can! I thought, wow, this woman is beautiful but so down-to-earth!”
After two years, Adam converted to Islam even before meeting her parents to ask for her hand in marriage. However, as the eldest child, they insisted that she had to marry a fellow Indian Muslim. In a tearful phone call, she informed him that they objected to the union and would be sending her off to India.
That’s when they came up with a plan. Suleka left home on the pretext of going grocery shopping at the pasar pagi and did not return. “My friend drove us all the way to Kota Bharu where we stayed overnight at some uncle’s house whom we’ve never met. But everyone helped us, no questions asked,” Adam says. The next day, they crossed the border into Thailand and were married in a Muslim ceremony.
“My mum was very upset when she found out,” says Adam. “It was hell! I told her, my name has changed but I’m still your son!” Back in KL, Adam returned to his job at the Royal Malaysian Air Force. His commanding officer summoned him. “He told me that a police report was made against me for kidnapping. I explained everything to him and produced my marriage certificate. He asked me to see him again the next day, and to bring my wife. Little did I know her parents would be there!”
Suleka’s mother yelled in rage, throwing her slipper at Adam. After lengthy negotiations however, they couldn’t deny that Suleka and Adam were lawfully married. Suleka persuaded him to move in with her parents to pacify them. He agreed, and for one and a half years he adapted to their lifestyle and culture. “I proved to them that I was a responsible guy, and eventually they accepted me.”
The couple says that they’re very liberal with their own children. Suleka says, “Who you’re dating doesn’t matter, as long as you have that magic and chemistry.”
Kui Lan, 38 & Imri, 36. Married since 2008.
“That guy looks like he’s interested in you, better be careful.” – Kui Lan’s friend at Akademi Filem Malaysia, upon noticing Imri.
Kui Lan grew up in an estate, where her father worked as a rubber tapper and spoke fluent Tamil. As a child, she went to a Malay kindergarten, a Chinese school, and later a kebangsaaan school; yet her father found it difficult to accept that she was dating a Malay boy. “I think the biggest letdown was that he couldn’t have a kenduri kahwin where he could yam seng,” she laughs. Her mother, on the other hand, had the same advice for her when she insisted on studying film: “Do whatever you want. Kalau sakit, don’t complain.”
“Kahwin Melayu, masuk Melayu. What does that even mean?” her husband Imri muses. Growing up in an interracial community in Subang in the 1980s, Imri’s side of the story seems like a breeze. According to him, interracial relationships have always been viewed positively among Malays. He recalls his friends saying, “Alhamdulillah, you’re bringing in a mualaf (convert).”
Imri says the media played a major role in the Chinese perception of Malays. “It was so common to see a Malay man on TV marrying four women and leaving the first wife. Of course her [Kui Lan’s] parents were worried that it would happen to her! By then she would have already ‘masuk Islam’. What would she do?”
Imri says they have been lucky. He recounts a story of a friend who was taken out of college and sent overseas just because she was dating a boy of a different race. Yet, they believe that interracial relationships were easier in the past. They spoke of the Islamic revolution where only as recent as the 90s, newscasters started to wear the tudung. “Did you know Malaysia is the first country in the world to broadcast a shampoo commercial featuring a model [Wardina] with her head covered? Look at us now, we’re talking about hudud,” Imri says.
“The divorce trend is happening now, whether relationships are interracial or not. The human relationship is more important. Regardless of religion, the most important thing is to be a good, honest, and truthful human being.”
Shareen, 21 & Derryk, 26. Dating since 2012.
“After our first date, I was contemplating if I should ask her out again or run away.” – Derryk.
Shareen met Derryk at a science club. She recounts him asking her out for a movie, lunch, dinner, and then to watch him perform a gig – all in one day! “How did I know I was in love? Well, I hugged him and I felt fuzzy,” she giggles. “We made it official, then I told my parents immediately.”
Being of Malay and Chinese mixed parentage, Shareen acknowledges that it was much easier for her than for her parents. “My parents told me that their parents worried that they would lose their culture. The Chinese side was afraid that they wouldn’t come home for Chinese New Year, and the Malay side had the same concerns. Well, it turns out that we celebrate both! I think it was difficult for my grandparents also because it meant that my dad wouldn’t be carrying forward the Chinese family surname.”
Derryk, however, has yet to mention anything to his own parents. He is very certain that they would oppose the relationship, especially his mother, whom he describes as conservative and traditional. But he has no game plan at the moment. “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he says. “My siblings know that we’re dating, and they have no issues.” This is his first interracial relationship, but jokes that the only difference with the other relationships he’s had is that they’re different girls. “Race and religion has nothing to do with the person.”
The couple brought up an interesting point that the majority of their friends are of mixed parentage and/or in interracial relationships. “To be honest, I can only think of very few of my friends who are in same-race relationships,” says Shareen. She attributes her generation’s open-mindedness to the Internet: “Information is so readily available. We learn about other cultures and nations, and what they’ve gone through historically. So that helps.”
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