Perdana Leadership Foundation


“Rum, Ferringghi and other foreigners:

The Ethnic “Other” in the Malay Imagination”

A Talk by

Prof. Dato’ Dr. Ahmad Murad Merican

 Recipient of the Honorary President’s Resident Fellowship at Perdana Leadership Foundation & Professor, Department of Management and Humanities, Universiti Teknologi Petronas

26th November 2015

9am – 12:30pm


Professor Dato' Dr. Ahmad Murad Merican's talk was well-received today at Perdana Leadership Foundation, with many of the attendees who came from the academic and corporate sector keen to know more about how Malays perceived themselves and foreigners throughout history. We will be publishing the notes of the talk soon. In the meantime, feel free to download Professor Murad's lecture slides here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 

 NST on Prof Murad s Talk


Source: New Straits Times, 27/11/2015



prof murad's talk
















9:00am : Registration (Tea & Coffee will be served)
9:45am : Welcome Remarks & Introduction by Moderator, Dr. Hamisah Hasan, Senior Lecturer, Communications Department, Universiti Putra Malaysia
10:00 : Talk "Rum, Ferringghi and other foreigners: The Ethnic "other" in the Malay Imagination" by Professor Dato' Dr. Ahmad Murad Merican
11:00 : Dialogue Session
11:30 : Closing Remarks
11:45 : Refreshments


Topic Brief

A multitude of different peoples had been visiting the Malay archipelago (and Southeast Asia) for centuries prior to the Europeans in the sixteenth century. These were visitors and traders who were part of extensive networks from China, to India, and to West Asia and the Mediterranean region. From West Asia, which includes India westwards – from the meaning of ‘atas angin’ (above the wind) as a Malay geographical and ethnic marker, – the visitors formed as least semi-permanent communities in the main trading cities. The often-quoted account of Portuguese historian Tome Pires mentions 1,000 Gujerati merchants, and 4,000 Persians, Bengalis, and Arabs together with a sizeable number of Tamils.

We know of the Batu Ferringhi in Pulau Pinang. If we translate the name of that well known beach area, it would come to mean ‘foreigner’s rock.’ Not many take the name seriously. We can imagine how the Malays in Kedah (Pulau Pinang before Francis Light), like the Malays in Melaka earlier or at the same time, had likened the foreigner in the Portuguese as a Ferringhi (meaning foreigner,outsider). It depicts an early encounter between East and West. Early Portuguese fleets, carrying hundreds of Portuguese with little prior experience of non-Christians were perceived as the “Franks” by the larger non-European Asian population. The Muslims who first encountered the Portuguese brought the idea of the “Franks” as the people who had attacked the holy places during the Crusades. The word “Frank” originated from the Farsi Farang or Farangi, meaning European (Frank). Some attributed Farang to the Arabic afranj. Hence, we hear of the Faranj, Franji, Paranki, Parangiar, and of course Ferringhi. While there is the ‘us-them’ distinction, there was no presumption of moral or cultural superiority involved in the Malay categorization of the Ferringgi as the Other.

Drawing from geographical and cultural location as ethnic markers and self-identity – the other is ‘bawah angin’ (below the wind), referring to most obviously the Chinese and the Japanese. While also the ‘atas angin’ in the Ferringgi was in the immediate environment and the observable pasts, that of Rum seems to represent a revered, an almost sacred realm in the traditional Malay psyche. In the narrative of Hang Tuah, we find that Melaka had become a significant power in the region and wanted to pioneer relationships with the great powers of the ‘negeri di atas angin’ (lands above the wind) such as Rum, Eqypt and Makkah. Accordingly, Hang Tuah led missions to Majapahit, Kalinga, Brunei, Acheh and Rum. On a few occasions he, or other representatives of the Sultan, bought gems and elephants, to reflect their prosperity and finally, of necessity, purchased weapons from Rum, as Melaka was being threatened by an invasion from the Ferringghi’s (Portuguese). The unknown author of Hang Tuah portrayed Hang Tuah as a much respected statesman in the various polities of the Malay archipelago, and also that of “Byzantium, the outpost of ‘Rome.’ Rum, certainly than, was not the city of Rome. Although reference was made to Byzantium, then Constantinople, Rum also refers to the region of the farthest extent of Hellenism and the ‘Occidental’ reach in Asia. And this would stretch until the regions on the north of the Indian sub-continent. Perhaps a re-reading of ‘Rum’ as narrated by such text, and including other known ones such as the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is inevitable to demythologize the expanse of the Malay worldview. The Raja Rum, whether understood as Greek, Persian or Turkish ruler is a popular figure in traditional Malay literature. An array of the kings of Rum occurs in many Malay literary genres conjuring images in the Malay imagination.

Thus from the known (or unknown) writers, we know much of Malay society, encounters and influences from the outside world. Apart from the numerous classical texts from across the ‘Malaysia’ of the Malay archipelago which need constant reinterpretations, not only in its literary form, but in sociological, anthropological, historical and geographical perspectives. There are also autobiographies, sociological and journalistic narratives that definitely deserve a revisit.

This talk is about how Malays have viewed foreigners from the time of pre-Independence. It promises to shed light on the present complexities of ethnic relations in Malaysia.


About the Speaker

Professor Dato’ Dr. Ahmad Murad Merican is a professor at the Department of Management and Humanities, Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, Bandar Seri Iskandar, Perak. His academic and research interests include Malay Media and Journalism Studies, Media History, Intellectual History and history of Social Science, and press Council and Self-Regulation. He has published three monographs, five books (three edited volumes), journal articles and book chapters on his areas of interest. He obtained a Ph.D in History and Philosophy of Science (Malaya), Master of Arts (Mass Communication), and a Baccalaurette in Political Science (Minnesota). He holds a Diploma in Mass Communication, majoring in Journalism from Institut Teknologi MARA.

He is a referee/contributor to such journals as the Asiapacific Media Educator, Current Sociology, Forum Komunikasi, International Sociology. Journal of the Malaysian Branch Royal Asiatic Society, Jurnal Komunikasi, Melayu: Jurnal Antarabangsa Dunia Melayu, and Southeast Asian Journal of Social Sciences. He is also on the editorial board of Analisis Sejarah (Department of History, Universitas Andalas),Forum Komunikasi (Faculty fo Communication and Media Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA - UiTM), International Journal of Communication and Media (College of Arts and Sciences, Universiti Utara Malaysia), and a consultant editor to Search: The Journal of the South East Asia research Centre for Communications and Humanities. He was advisor to Sasaran, the Malaysian journal of media criticism published by the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, UiTM. He has been interviewed both by the Malaysian and foreign media including the New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, the Star, RTM, TV3, ASTRO, Radio Singapura Internasional, Reuters, Padang Ekspres, Harian Singgalang, BTTV (Bukittinggi, West Sumatera) and TVRI, in Padang, Indonesia.

He was instrumental in establishing the journalism and media studies program at Universitas Andalas in West Sumatra, Indonesia. He is associated with the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI). His contributions to the journalistic fraternity was through moderating and conducting workshops mainly in science and technology journalism under the auspices of MPI, and at various times, being a member of the panel of judges for the Petronas-Malaysia Press Awards. He co-authored the Report on the proposal for a Malaysian Media Council.

He sits on various panels, among them the Malaysian Qualifications Agency and Radio Bernama Panel of Advisor, as well as the History and Philosophy of Science Committee under the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, He has been a member of the Ministry of Higher Education’s Social Science and Humanities, and Malaysian Qualifications Framework Panels. One of his books is titled Media History: Worldviews and Communication Futures (University of Malaya Press, 2005). He has put together and is editor of his latest book titled Blinded by the Lights: Journalism and Communication Study in Malaysia since 1971 (Upena, 2008). His current projects include Malay intellectual history, and developing alternative perspectives on the production of knowledge. He formerly taught at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, UiTM, and was founding editor of the School of Mass Communication Media Monograph Series, co-founder of the university’s Institute of Knowledge Advancement, and is founding-chairman of the Centre for Intellectual History and Malay Thought (Centis). He is working on several initiatives on the history of Penang and is a member of the Acheen Street-Armenian Street Heritage Conservation Committee under the auspices of Universiti Sains Malaysia. He was awarded the first Perdana Leadership Foundation Honorary President’s Resident Fellowship for research work on Malay Occidental discourse. He was a journalist with the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) in the early 1980s.




  • A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE : The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
  • PERDANA DISCOURSE SERIES : Keynote Speeches by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
  • Malaysian Maverick : Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times
  • Merealisasikan Wawasan Negara : Koleksi Ucapan Penting Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad = Realising the national vision : a collection of excerpts tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad
  • Pembaharuan Pemikiran Islam Tun Dr Mahathir
  • Beyond Mahathir : Malaysian Politics and its Discontents
  • Surat daripada Dr. Mahathir
Join Us
Join Us

Become a Perdana Library member today...

Sign up to receive our emails and be alerted of our programmes.



  • 2018 Malaysia's National Day Message by YAB Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
    2018 Malaysia's National Day Message by YAB Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
    Wednesday, 26 September 2018

    Assalamualaikum and Salam Sejahtera to all Malaysians.
    1. It is for the umpteenth time that we are celebrating the National Day. Officially, it is our 61st National Day, calculated from the announcement of independence on Aug 31, 1957, by Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Merdeka Stadium.

  • Tun Dr Mahathir: Look East Policy
    Tun Dr Mahathir: Look East Policy
    Tuesday, 12 June 2018

    The Seminar On 20th Anniversary Of The Look East
    Tokyo, Japan 12 December 2002

    "Look East Policy - The Challenges for Japan in a Globalised World"

    I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at this 20th Anniversary of the Look East Policy. I have chosen to speak on "Look East Policy- The Challenges for Japan in a Globalised World."

  • A Dialogue with Tun Dr Mahathir: Nature of Leadership in Digital Future
    A Dialogue with Tun Dr Mahathir: Nature of Leadership in Digital Future
    Thursday, 27 September 2018

    The Perdana Leadership Foundation in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Society for International Affairs (KL Society) held a dialogue session with the Foundation’s Honorary President and Malaysia’s 4th Prime Minister, YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The dialogue was held here at the Perdana Leadership Foundation on the 9th November 2017.

© 2018 Perdana Leadership Foundation. All rights reserved.