Wearing One Another's Traditional Costume Fuels Muhibbah Spirit

Last update: 21/07/2015

By Nur Aimidiyana Zuher

KUALA LUMPUR, (Bernama) -- Malaysia's plural society affords diversity in terms of traditional costumes. Unfortunately, traditional attire like the Malay baju kebaya, baju kurung and baju Melayu; Chinese cheongsam or samfoo; and Indian saree, salwar khameez, kurta and dhoti are not exactly clothes that people from the various ethnic groups wear on a daily basis.

Instead, they prefer to dress casually in T-shirt and jeans when going shopping, watching a movie or going about their daily activities. As for office wear, the men opt for shirts and pants while women go for dresses and skirts or pants with blouses, as well as baju kurung.

It is apparent that Malaysians reserve their traditional costumes for festivals like Aidilfitri, Aidiladha, Chinese New Year and Deepavali. Many also choose to attend weddings and official functions dressed in their traditional finery, and in more sober variations when they attend religious functions or funerals.

Even the occasional display of traditional attires can give a glimpse into Malaysia's rich diversity and keep traditions and cultures alive.


Open University of Malaysia lecturer Dr R. Nambiar said apart from the traditional costumes, Malaysians should also be encouraged to wear the national dress, namely baju kurung and baju Melayu, to forge unity among the various races.

He said mutual understanding, tolerance and respect provide for closer ties, as well as pave the way for unity among the various ethnic groups.

It was also important to understand the religions, cultures, customs and traditions practised by the various communities, including those in Sabah and Sarawak, to avoid any form of provocation which could disrupt the nation's harmony, he said.

"The Malays, Chinese, Indians, as well as the various ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak, all have their own traditional costumes. The most effective way to appreciate one another's cultures and traditions is by wearing their traditional dress.

"We should also feel thrilled when we see our Indian friends wearing baju Melayu or baju kurung, which is not only the Malay traditional attire but also our national dress," said Nambiar, who is also an expert in the traditions and cultures of the Malayalee community.


Clearing misconceptions about wearing the traditional attire of other races, he said clothes were only the symbol of an ethnic group's traditions, and have nothing to do with the religion itself or its rituals.

"For example, it's not correct to link the kurta or sari to Hinduism... in fact, people should get rid of such a perception from their minds," said Nambiar.

He believed that inculcating the spirit of unity into every citizen would promote goodwill and foster solidarity among the various races.

And, he added, choosing to focus on the similarities that exist among the various races could help overcome prejudices and the stereotyping of certain ethnic groups.

"Malaysians have the right to enjoy peace and prosperity, and to keep these 'treasures' intact, everyone should cooperate," he added.


It is obvious that the baju kurung has won a place in the hearts of non-Muslim women in Malaysia as it is not only comfortable and elegant, it is also a fitting attire for any occasion.

Ong Phaik Hoon, an assistant legal officer at the Legal Aid Department in Ipoh, Perak, is a firm fan of the baju kurung and has more than 10 pairs in her collection.

"My favourites are the baju kurung Pesak and kurung Riau, while I'm not that interested in the modern baju kurung.

"I usually go shopping for baju kurung with my Malay friends, and I get so excited seeing all the beautiful patterns," said Ong, 43, adding that she liked to dress in the traditional outfit as it was loose-fitting and comfortable and that her husband has no objections to her wearing it.

S.Muthammah, 29, a private-sector employee in Johore Bahru, also likes wearing the baju kurung.

"It's important for mutual understanding to exist among Malaysians in order to safeguard the nation's harmony and the people's well-being.

"I'm proud that Malaysia is viewed as unique by others in the world because we live in peace although we belong to different races and our religions and cultures are different," she added.


Nor Saifullah Ramada Syahruddin, 29, a bank officer in Kuala Lumpur, is also fond of donning the traditional outfits of other ethnic groups, saying that he does it out of respect for their cultures, traditions and way of life.

Nor Saifullah, who is fluent in Mandarin, said his fondness for other cultures has resulted in him having a better grasp of the plural society he lived in.

"I own several samfoo and kurta sets and I wear them when attending official functions like weddings.

"Each outfit I have is unique in terms of its fabric and design. Some are decorated with beads and crystals," he said.

Nor Saifullah said although the wearing of traditional attire was not compulsory, it reflected the individual identities of the various races and helped fuel the 1Malaysia spirit.

Many Malay women can also be seen dressed in salwar khameez, the traditional attire of North Indians and Pakistanis, as its long and loose-fitting top and pants are deemed suitable for Muslims.

People like Ong, Muthammah and Nor Saifullah enjoy wearing traditional outfits other than their own but it does not make them any less a Chinese, Indian or Malay than they are.