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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Uncle Hashim tells how discrimination made him leave Malaysia


Uncle Hashim says although he had to give up Malaysian citizenship, his heart never left the country. (Bernama/Amust.com pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two instances of favouritism by Malaysian authorities convinced Hashim Abdul Rahman to migrate to Australia half a century ago. He never returned, save for occasional visits and instead rose to prominence in Australia, becoming known as Uncle Hashim.

Last week, the 79-year-old received one of Australia’s highest honours, the Order of Australia Medal, for his services to the Muslim community and setting up halal certification.

Hashim said his heart never left the country, even though he had to give up Malaysian citizenship as an Australian public servant, and also to better represent Malaysians in Australia.

Reflecting on why he never returned, he said that family obligations and the favouritism that had gone against him helped make the choice clear.

“I was hesitant to talk about these things, but people need to know that things like this go on,” he told FMT from his Canberra home.

The first instance of being played out by favouritism in Malaysia took place in the 1960s.

As a teacher at SM Sultan Abdul Halim in Kedah in 1966, he was chosen from nearly 2,000 candidates to participate in a pilot programme for what would later become TV Pendidikan.

He recorded 20 biology lessons for broadcast to students. “The unwritten agreement was for me and this girl I was working with to go to Canada for a few years of training, and then we’d come back and run the programme ourselves.

“We waited, and we waited, but didn’t hear anything from the ministry. Eventually, after two years, we got word that somebody else had been posted to Canada, and it was the son-in-law of one of the people high up at the information ministry,” Hashim said.

Then, in 1972, when Hashim was already working in Canberra, the government approached his father and offered RM14,000 to acquire the family’s plot of land in order to build a bridge spanning the river behind their house.

“Across the river there was another piece of land, but that was empty. We later learned that the owner of that plot was an MP, and they were offered RM70,000.

“These experiences really upset me and my family, and really made up my mind about where I wanted to stay.”

Hashim landed in Australia in 1969 to pursue a degree in computer science. As computers were not in general use in Malaysia yet, he established a bevy of organisations and societies for Muslims, Malaysians and students, and helped lobby for halal certification and slaughtering in Australia as well as for Islamic-compliant burial plots in cemeteries.

He then spent 26 years with the Australian civil service, and secured senior diplomatic postings in Indonesia and the Philippines before retiring in 1998. He has been doing community work ever since, assisting in Muslim burials, teaching the Quran and helping care for the elderly.

His latest project is the launching of the Australian Muslim Aged and Respite Care, a platform to serve the Muslim community in Canberra and provide the elderly with a comforting environment and full medical care.

Despite all that happened to him, and the community he’s built for himself in Australia, he said he’s already set his sights on his next trip to Malaysia.

“I’ll come back home for a bit once the pandemic is over, I have a lot of people to see.”

He said his five siblings and their families, spread across Kedah and Kuala Lumpur, were as surprised as he was when he got the news of the award.

“I don’t think they really knew it’s significance or what it meant to be honest,” he chuckled. “A few people asked me ‘is it like being a Datuk?’” - FMT

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