JOHOR BARU: Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah has once again stressed the importance of creating opportunities for youths to master the English language in order for them to take their place on the global front.
This time, she cited her personal experiences in seeing how by mastering English has helped correct misunderstandings about Islam during international dialogues.
Raja Zarith Sofiah also addressed some of the concerns raised by social media users, who feared that a focus on English would affect the usage of the national language.
"There have been many differing views about learning English – as evident in the comments made with regards to the NST (New Straits Times) article I shared.
"All of us are entitled to our views and opinions. In the same way, those who disagree with me have their own opinions about learning English. I hope they will have the patience to try and understand why I believe learning the English language is important, and it all has to do with my own experience," she said on Facebook on Monday.
She cited instances where English proficiency helped Malaysians, including herself, whenever she engaged with foreign academicians, thinkers and policy makers during discourses about Islam on the global stage.
"In a world where Islam is misunderstood by the Western world and by those who are not Muslims, I gave a talk at Somerville College, University of Oxford, in 2012 about being Muslims. I did so because of my love for Islam," said Raja Zarith Sofiah.
She cited similar situations during a conference on Islam and science conducted by former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice chancellor, Datuk Zaini Ujang at the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies (OCIS) and the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), which she attended a few times.
"In all three examples, it is the use of the English language which had made it possible for those of us here in the East to express our opinions and concerns with those from the West.
"That is WHY I believe our young people should be given the chance to learn the language," she said.
Raja Zarith Sofiah said that speaking English does not make a person any less Malay or Malaysian.
She said she never forgot her mother tongue even when she was studying and living in the UK for more than a decade.
"I did not forget my 'Bahasa Ibunda' (mother tongue) either because all my phone conversations with my parents were in Malay. I wrote letters to my mother in Malay too.
"My father loved the older Malay literature. I read many of the Hikayats in his office. Until now, I would say that one of the most beautiful and elegant pieces of Malay literature is the 'Sejarah Melayu'," she said.
She recalled the weekend cookouts she had with her family when they gathered in the UK during her youth, and how they would warn their English neighbours in advance whenever they decided to grill belacan to make their favourite Malaysian condiment, sambal belacan.
"During the eleven years I lived in England, I did not for even one second forget that I was a Malaysian.
"I did not dye my hair blonde or wore blue contact lenses (although I see there is a trend in Malaysia now for ladies to look 'pink-skinned' and wear coloured contact lenses)," she said.