Should Mohd Faiz Subri Be Blamed? Yes and No.

Mohd Faiz Subri, a Malaysian football player who plays as an attacking midfielder for Penang FA (a Malaysian state club) has recently bagged the 2016 Fifa PUSKAS award for his physics-defying goal; an award bestowed on the scorer of the best goal in football for the year 2016. The award is the first for a player not only from Malaysia but from the Asian continent.

Non-Malaysians (like three of my friends who have asked me) must have wondered what ‘Mohd’ — which the great Ronaldo wrongly pronounced as ‘Mood’ — actually is. “Mohd” is the short written form of “Muhammad”. Just as Southwestern and Northern inhabitants in Nigeria bastardize a beautiful name as Abdur Rahman to “Ramoni” and “Abdul” respectively, it is a popularly accepted culture in Malaysia to not only shorten names of people but shorten their pronunciations. Thus, “Muhammad” is written as “Mohd” and pronounced as “Mad”. “Atiqah” is written and pronounced as “qah”. “Shamila” is written and pronounced as “Mila”. “Shafiq” is written and pronounced as “fiq”; “Shafinaz” is written and pronounced as “finas”. Though the aforementioned shortened names aren’t used in official settings, Mohd is an exception, as it is used in the country’s national identity card and other official documents. In short, know that, for every existing name, Malaysians have a shortened version for it in waiting.

Often times when they learn of my name, they immediately request for its shorter version, proffering suggestions like: “Rahman” or “Man”. I usually turn down such bastardizations and request that my name be left alone jejelly*. That is if I don’t go into a boring lecture about the honour names carries and how they should properly be conceived and used. They often respect that preference of mine to address me as “Abdur Rahman” even though in the initial stages of adaptation, they usually grumble of the mouth stress the long name requires of them to articulate. They are lucky my name doesn’t have any semblance to the alleged longest name in Africa. Well, since the Southwesterners only jestingly address me as Ramoni, my real battle is only with the Northerners who perpetually refer to me as “Abdul”. To challenge that could be counted as one of my New Year resolution if you really believe in that.

There have been two talking points among Malaysians regarding Faiz’s award speech. The first is with regard the long time he spent to locate his speech in his smartphone and the second and the major one is the awkward English language award speech he gave. I don’t have any issues with the former, as I think it was an inevitable combination of unexpectedness and nervousness for a first-time international award recipient like him, but I do have some issues with the latter. In fact, I’m shocked by its occurrence. I’ll tell you why later. Let me make a little related digression.

Faiz’s wobble English award speech is typical of the manner in which English is spoken by a large number of Malaysians (especially the largest ethnic group in the country known as Malays). The English speech of university-going students is only slightly better. Many non-Malaysians residing in the country (including my fellow Nigerians who fanatically believe that the ability to speak English is a measure of intelligence) often belittle them for their poor English. As they do so, they are often ignorant or mindless of the fact that Malaysia is not only close to reaching its objective of becoming a fully developed nation but has a household name in English debating competitions beyond the borders of its lively national debating competitions, having won several regional and international awards, beating giant institutions from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Philippines, United States of America, England, Ireland, Israel, etc. As a side note, paradoxically but true, though the country boast of mouthwatering achievements in the debating world, debating isn’t exactly a culture that’s systematically fostered within the country’s educational system. It’s largely perceived as a foreign culture.

Back to why I was shocked with Faiz’s awkward award speech. Malaysians are one of the most conservative people on earth when it comes to preserving their cultures by speaking the country’s official language known as Bahasa Melayu in international settings where non-speaking Bahasa Melayu individuals are present. In one Global Entrepreneurship Conference that I recently attended in the country, the Prime Minister began his speech and spoke at length in Bahasa Melayu. My Nigerian colleague who sat beside me bitterly enunciated his dissatisfaction with the prime minister’s gesture, questioning his decision to utter even a Bahasa Melayu word in a global conference instead of addressing the mixture of Malaysians and International audience in English language. I had no objection to that as long as he will speak in English afterwards. He eventually switched to the English language and spoke in it for the most part of the talk. In his initial complaint, my colleague complained that Malaysians’ obsession with their culture usually makes them to be insensitive to present non-Malaysian feelings. That was his opinion which I also agreed with, but not in the context of that conference.

To corroborate the aforestated example and the subsequent assertion of my friend, I’ve read in Malaysian netizens’ criticisms of Faiz speech that he should have adorned a popular traditional dress known as Baju Melayu to the Fifa occasion! Even more illustrative about the attachment to their culture is their preference of football viewing in open spaces for free general television viewing. You would expect that when my dear Manchester United or any other top European club is playing a match, the television will be switched to its channel for viewing. Well, that can only happen on a day when none of the local league games is being played. If two states in the country like Kedah and Selangor were playing in the Malaysian Cup competition, for example, and Manchester United were also playing Chelsea at the same time, keep it at the back of your mind that when you go to those open spaces, Manchester United won’t be playing against Chelsea. Rather, Kedah will be playing against Kelantan. I’m imagining a Nigerian friend sitting in front of the television to passionately watch Enyimba vs Nasarawa United! Though I hope it will be sane one day, as of the current time, I will disclose to my friend that they are doing him* However, in the Malaysian case, no one is doing them at all*. The scary and exhilarating emotion vested in a Champions League final in Nigeria and many parts of the world is completely equal to the one Malaysians vest in a Malaysian cup final. This ‘obsession’ to their culture, at times, can be mind-boggling and inspiring to many of us who are non-Malaysians.

That was why I was utterly shocked that a Malay like Faiz went on an international stage to speak English despite the fact that there was an established accommodation for him to speak in Bahasa Melayu, as speech translators were readily made available to translate for him — which is usually the preference of non-English and even English speaking players, like Cristiano Ronaldo who gave his speech in Portugese on the same night after bagging the Best Men Player Award. Listening to him speak only two words in English after the ‘impressive’ usage of “Asalamu alaikum” and “Alhamdulillah” (another Muslim and Malay culture) was very shocking and disconcerting. Even if he had given his speech fluently, the feeling will still be the same for me. I think the right decision was to have given his award speech in Bahasa Melayu, a decision that was later opted for when he addressed the nation after flying back home. Irrespective of whether it was his decision to speak in English or that of the officials in his club or the local football authority, it was a bad decision.

Conclusively, I think Faiz should be partly excused for that awkward speech because he’s a footballer and footballers do not need the English language to brilliantly excel in their profession like scoring the best goal of the year in the whole of the football realm. Many footballers we greatly admire do not speak the English language because they do not need it to be the great players that they are. Therefore, as long as Faiz is not occupying a post that compulsorily demands a good command of the English language, he should be partly exculpated. Partly, because he could have easily spoken in Bahasa Melayu, as the provision to do so was in place.

Congratulations, Faiz. We and future generations to come will never stop celebrating you for that stupefying goal.

Addendum

In a news published a day after writing this blog, Faiz revealed that he had to give his award speech in Bahasa Melayu because interpreters who could translate Bahasa Melayu speeches were not available. If this is true, then Fifa should largely be blamed for that. How on earth did they invite potential award recipients without facilitating interpreters for their speeches!

Having been intimated of the non-availability of Bahasa Melayu interpreters, he would have only been left with two options: to speak in Enlgish or to speak in Bahasa Melayu without caring about the audience understanding him. What will you have done if you were in his shoes? I can easily criticize any of the

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