Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor defines the social contract as “compromise between the rulers and subjects as well as between Malays and non-Malays.”[1]

This is a new definition when compared to the typical understanding of the subject. The conventional understanding refers to the willingness of the Malays to accept various non-native migrants as citizens on the condition that the special position of the Malays is respected always.[2]

I do not agree to such unwritten contract. The only contract I hold is the non-aggression axiom, which in many ways given the current environment, it satisfyingly embedded in the Constitution. There is room for improvement but the Constitution does provide a good point to begin any journey of similar nature.

If such social contract as conventionally defined really had existed, it would be outdated anyway and incapable of moving this country forward. It unfairly condemns newer generations to mistakes of the past.

My opinion notwithstanding, the definition employed by the Sultan, while new, actually tries to reach back as far as the time the Malay Annals was compiled and edited by Tun Sri Lanang in the early 17th century in Johor. The concept of a contract between the king and the people was articulated by the Malay Annals more than 100 years earlier than Rousseau, the author whom popularized the actual term “social contract”.[3][4]

In the Malay Annals, the so-called contract between the monarchy and the Malays is mentioned during a conversation between Sri Tri Buana, the Prince and Demang Lebar Daun, the minister representing the Malays in time when Palembang was the center of the Malay universe.[5]

Sri Tri Buana as claimed by the Malay Annals traced his lineage back to Alexander the Great. The veracity of the claim made by Tun Sri Lanang in the Malay classic is suspect but such claim is typical of effort to legitimize the rule of any monarchy, including that of Johor. Tun Sri Lanang was the Bendahara, or the Prime Minister, within the royal court of Johor at the time and the Sultan of Johor then was the direct descendant of the last Sultan of Malacca originated from the royal court of Palembang.

As one can see, even without the grand claim to Alexander, the lineage of the Sultan of Johor at that time was already impressive, reaching back to the days of Srivijaya. But Tun Sri Lanang needed to reposition the royal line to assume more Islamic tone while discarding the Buddhist and Hindu past.

Back to the conversation, Sri Tri Buana was requesting for the hand of Demang Lebar Daun’s daughter in marriage. The marriage here is really symbolic to the partnership between the royalty and the Malay people.

The latter would only consent to the marriage if the Prince would agree to two conditions. Firstly, the daughter must never be banished from the palace. The second condition demands, as translated by Sabri Zain,[6]the descendants of your humble servants shall be the subjects of your majesty’s throne, but they must be well-treated by your descendants. If they offend, they shall not, however grave their offence, be disgraced or reviled with evil words: if their offence is grave, let them be out to death, if that is in accordance with Muslim law.”

The Prince quickly agreed to the conditions.

Upon agreeing to the condition, Sri Tri Buana wanted Demang Lebar in return to agree “that your descendants shall never for the rest of time be disloyal to my descendants, oppress them and behave in an evil way to them.”

Both further agreed that if one or the other departed from the undertakings, the pact would become undone by itself.

But is that the Malaysian social contract?

It seems as if the idea from the Malay Annals is being combined to the conventional definition.

Like the idea of Bangsa Malaysia, the Malaysian social contract is becoming so nebulous that it basically could assume so many definitions. As for me, I have mentioned before, I prefer the simpler non-aggression axiom.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — SHAH ALAM, Nov 30 — De facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim yesterday blamed Prime Ministergo to table a motion of no confidence against the government. [Social contract means compromise, Selangor Sultan explains. Leslie Lau. The Malaysian Insider. December 7 2008]

[2] — See Social Contract (Malaysia) at Wikipedia. Accessed December 9 2008

[3] — See Malay Annals at Wikipedia. Accessed December 9 2008

[4] — See Social Contract (Rousseau) at Wikipedia. Accessed December 9 2008

[5] — Page 25 – 26. Sulalatus Salatin: Sejarah Melayu. Tun Sri Lanang. Edited by A. Samad Ahmad. Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka. 1997

[6] — Sejarah Melayu: A History of the Malay Peninsula. The Tuah Legend. Sabri Zain. Accessed December 9 2008.

One Response to “[1848] Of Sultan of Selangor’s definition recalls the Malay Annals”

  1. on 09 Dec 2008 at 13:41 bumilangit

    cerita malim daun lebar dengan sang sapurba sering dikitar semula mutaakhir, bukan untuk mengingatkan tentang isinya, tetapi hanya untuk mengingatkan bertapa lamanya perkara ini telah berlangsung.

    ringkasnya, melayu ni dah lama beraja, tok nenek kita semuanya beraja. itu saja.

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