Contained within the razor-sharp words and commentaries by three intellectuals—Rasiah Halil, Associate Professor (A/P) Hadijah Rahmat and Sa’eda Buang—is the precious promise of literature. It is not a simple functional tool to cut, observe, critique or even untangle the dilemmas of society. Through their words, literature and critical theory have the power to both unsettle and resolve the existential dilemmas that plague us.

Rasiah Halil

Rasiah Halil (1956-present) is an independent translator, editor and writer who was introduced into the world of literature as a teen. Her undergraduate years saw her publishing literary criticism and fiction to journals and magazines published by the National University of Singapore. Inspiring minds through her love of literature, she has collected several awards including the Anugerah Tun Sri Lanang Award by the Malay Language Council.

a/p Hadijah Rahmat

Associate Professor (A/P) Hadijah Rahmat (1958-present) has numerous publications under her belt, from fiction, to literary essays to academic research. Malay literary development in Singapore owes a lot of Hadijah’s leadership; her contributions have earned her numerous accolades including an appointment as a Justice of the Peace by President Halimah Yacob in 2018. She is currently an Associate Professor in the National Institute of Education.

Sa'eda Buang

Among the first published works by Sa’eda Buang (1957-present) was Seorang Pemuda Mahu Meniup Api Revolusi (A Young Man Wishes to Fan the Flame of Revolution) (1978), cementing Sa’eda’s reputation as a writer committed to social change. She was awarded Hadiah Sastera (Literary Award) for her poem, Pustakaku dalam Remang Senja (My Reading Room in Twilight) (2003) and short story, Ke Puncak pun Tidak (Not Even To The Summit) (2005). Currently a senior lecturer at NIE, Sa’eda’s commentaries often focus on the role of intellectuals and educators in society.


Explore the impressive portfolio of works that Rasiah, Hadijah and Sa’eda have produced.

Like many other writers, Rasiah, Hadijah and Sa’eda began writing from an early age, contributing their poetry and short stories to magazines and journals such as Jejak Kembara. But it was university life that cemented their fervour for the development of Malay literature and critical thought.

Lacing together the creative and the critical, these writers draw from their long-standing writing experiences, academic training at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Malay Studies, and inspiration from academic leaders like prominent sociologist, Syed Hussein Alatas. They grapple with homegrown values and sociological thought, captivating readers with their intellectual and community-centred contributions.

Being Malay in Singapore is a dissonant experience of marginalisation, kinship, deep loss and connection. With the cultural and political anxieties of their community at the forefront of their minds, Rasiah, Hadijah and Sa’eda write not to water down these experiences, but to unpack their complexities and do justice to them.

These writers gaze staunchly into places others refuse to look, exposing the tensions and contradictions between change and heritage, between the reclamation of a worldview and the futurity of a people.

Sa’eda Buang’s story, Razi (2021), follows the tormenting ableism that stalks Razi, an autistic child, and his mother Nani in their everyday life. From the taxi, to their own home, nowhere is safe from abuse in the hands of a society that demands militant regulation, over one’s actions, expressions and body.

“…would you mind not coming to the party this weekend?
My friends will be bringing their children. And, what if Razi pulls down his pants again?”

“Grandpa was praying and Razi was dancing in front of him. When grandpa was prostrating, Razi suddenly ran into him. Grandpa fell over. He got mad and hit Razi with a towel.”

Sa’eda Buang, Razi (2021)

"...bolehkah awak tidak datang ke majlis pada hujung minggu ini? Kawan saya akan membawa anak-anak mereka. Dan, bagaimana jika Razi menarik seluarnya semula?"

"Atuk sedang solat dan Razi menari di hadapannya. Ketika atuk sedang sujud, Razi tiba-tiba terserempak dengannya. Atuk terjatuh. Dia mengamuk lalu memukul Razi dengan tuala."

Sa’eda Buang, Razi (2021)

Sa'eda Buang, Razi (2021)

In Rasiah Halil’s Monolog Pemandu Teksi (The Taxi Driver’s Monologue) (2013), we witness how the tentacles of progress, so revered by our nation, do not simply drag us along ruthlessly. They choke, forcing an imagination of unity and aspiration for material success, for the collective worship of the economy.

The taxi driver’s grievances—often the butt of the joke in Singapore—is revived here, a dissenting voice so often silenced in the humdrum of urban life. Modernity speeds ahead, too fast and wrapped up in its own momentum to slow down for those who have been deemed dispensable.

"How can we survive, Miss? What
do they know, these rich people.
We are the ones struggling, we feel like dying.
Who would want to just sit around, Miss?
Everything needs to be paid for. Our family
needs to eat. Who will provide the money?
I can't be begging for help. It's so difficult, miss.
No money, no opportunities, only suffering."

Rasiah Halil, The Taxi Driver’s Monologue (2013)

Macam mana mahu hidup, Cik? Mana
dia orang tahu, semua orang senang.
Kita yang susah, matilah sekarang.
Siapa nak duduk-duduk saja, Cik?
Semua mesti bayar. Anak bini nak
makan. Siapa nak kasi duit? Takkanlah
saya nak tadah tangan. Susah betul, Cik,
duit tak ada, langkah pendek, terseksa.

Rasiah Halil, Monolog Pemandu Teksi (2013)

The predatory nature of capitalism raises its head once again in Rasiah and Hadijah’s critiques around the popularisation of the idiomatic “Melayu Baru” (the “New Malay”) in Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. There, a generation driven by middle-class values of entrepreneurship was being built. Disillusioned by this call to materialism and wealth, Rasiah and Hadijah found alternatives in portraying Singaporean Malay perspectives and vision.

"Are we the new Malays
who are easily embarrassed
by our heritage & community
except those from foreign lands
forever entrenched
are we the new Malays
Confused in living the bourgeois life
ashamed of our tradition, heritage
and trapped by a captive mind?"

Rasiah Halil, The New Malay (2013)

"Kitakah orang Melayu baharu
yang sering terasa malu
masyarakat & warisan
kecuali nan di seberang
berpaksi anutan.
apakah kita orang Melayu baharu
Bercelaru menghidupi fahaman borjuis
aib pada khazanah, warisan,
dan bertingkah dengan minda tertawan?"

Rasiah Halil, Yang Baru Melayu (2013)

Together, they reject the post-colonial scramble to denounce Indigenous and non-Western traditions and worldviews as “backward”, in service of a capitalist dream. In the competitive drive for business, colonialism reemerges as a blight to be eradicated—this time from within our own nation, and the values we have internalised. 

The predatory nature of capitalism raises its head once again in Rasiah and Hadijah’s critiques around the popularisation of the idiomatic “Melayu Baru” (the “New Malay”) in Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. There, a generation driven by middle-class values of entrepreneurship was being built. Disillusioned by this call to materialism and wealth, Rasiah and Hadijah found alternatives in portraying Singaporean Malay perspectives and vision.

are the New Malay youths
we are not the ungrateful Tanggang
nor are we the heinous Malin Kundang
we want to stop perpetuating these stories
Mat Jenin, Pak Pandir, Pak Kaduk and Lebai Malang
we have to create our own magnum opus
documenting and reflecting a struggle
unfurling steps towards excellence
getting rid of waywardness"

Hadijah Rahmat, At the Centre of the Universe (2000)

anak-anak Melayu baru
bukan Si Tanggang durhaka
bukan juga Si Malin Kundang durjana
kita mahu mengakhiri seloka
Mat Jenin, Pak Pandir, Pak Kaduk dan Lebai Malang
kita perlu cipta sebuah karya agung seni
rakaman dan cerminan sebuah perjuangan
mengorak langkah-langkah cemerlang
menghapus kesesatan"

Hadijah Rahmat, Di Tengah Alam (2000)

Readers may glean from some of Hadijah’s poems, such as Portret Pembangunan (A Portrait of Development) (2002), a stoic acceptance of the narrative of development. However, her poems also speak to the traumas of displacement, where loss has seeped into the Singaporean Malay experience, turned into bitter pills to swallow.

One appears to have little choice but to bear and navigate through these destructive cycles of loss. But it is in the depths of grief where new ways of being can grow. For Sa’eda, this growth can only emanate with the guidance of strong intellectual communities.

"The analysis carried out by these so-called intellectuals deviates from Islamic teachings in historical, social and political terms."

"How can you be so sure they are wrong? Have you already done a thorough study? At least they have made the pursuit of knowledge a tradition in their own society…isn't the pursuit of knowledge Islamic? You should analyse everything rationally, not emotionally."

Sa'eda Buang, (Not Even to the Summit) (2005)

"Analisis yang dilakukan oleh golongan intelektual ini menyimpang daripada ajaran Islam dari segi sejarah, sosial dan politik."

"Bagaimana anda boleh yakin bahawa mereka salah? Adakah anda sudah membuat kajian yang teliti? Sekurang-kurangnya mereka telah menjadikan menuntut ilmu sebagai tradisi dalam masyarakat mereka sendiri...bukankah menuntut ilmu itu Islam? Anda harus menganalisis segala-galanya secara rasional, bukan emosi."

Sa'eda Buang, (Ke Puncak Pun Tidak) (2005)

Rasiah restores the many possibilities that our memories still hold, despite the distortions of colonialism and oppression.

"Have we never learnt
from history
changing empires, despotic rulers
those in cahoots are as unwavering
pawning their religion
pawning their dignity
pawning their identity
all for temporary pleasures
attracted by status, wealth and power
Will we ever listen to
the voices of the commoners
cucumbers which are often squashed*
because of greed
because of negligence
and those elites continually bark
regarded as honest champions, of pure heart."

* Malay proverb

Rasiah Halil, A Story of History (2021)

Kitakah yang tidak pernah belajar
daripada sejarah
empayar bertukar, pembesar kacau
yang bersekongkol semakin tegar
menggadai agama
menggadai maruah
menggadai jati diri
demi kesenangan seketika
dipikat pangkat, harta, kuasa.
Akankah kita mendengar
suara-suara si marhaen
mentimun yang selalu dilenyek
kerana keserakahan
kerana kelekaan
yang hebat menyalak tanpa henti
dianggap pejuang jujur, berhati murni

A/P Hadijah Rahmat, Yang Baru Melayu

We are often told white-washed stories of where theories, truth and power originate. But our Malay intellectuals stand firm on this land, deriving their power from our people, relationships, and histories, affirming knowledge as an intergenerational and traditional practice with deep roots here.

Scattered across their work is the power of Indigenous resistance, refusal and creativity. Rasiah, Sa’eda and Hadijah remind us that to plant seeds for future generations, we need to first unearth our histories and retell our stories.

Their Impact

It is impossible to do full justice to the impact Raja Aisyah Sulaiman, Kumpulan Bebas Melata, Adibah Amin, Sa’eda Buang, Rasiah Halil and Associate Professor (A/P) Hadijah Rahman have had on not only their fields of knowledge, but the wider cultural context of Malay literature. Their works do not stand alone: they are bound together with both the weight of history and clarity of foresight.

Collectively their words are invigorated by the same spirit for emancipation. Freedom is sought in different ways for our pioneers, but even in its most private and visceral form, politics, culture and society attempt to dictate the conditions of how it is exercised.

Our pioneering writers’ works must be understood not only through choice excerpts and quotes featured here, but as imprints that leave intergenerational marks. Rather than fading away with time, they crystallise.

"[A]re we the new Malays ... Confused in living the bourgeois life ashamed of our tradition, heritage and trapped by a captive mind?"

Rasiah Halil, The New Malay (2013)

"[A]pakah kita orang
Melayu baharu
fahaman borjuis
aib pada khazanah,
warisan, dan
bertingkah dengan
minda tertawan?"

Rasiah Halil, Yang Baru Melayu (2013)

Resistance begins when we interrogate what is taken for granted. What will you question?

A/P Hadijah rahmat

Dr Hadijah bte Rahmat is an Associate Professor and the Head of the Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Group (ALC), National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. She is a leading scholar in the Malay-Indonesian Studies and prominent Malay language and culture educator or educational expert and highly recognized literary author.

As a scholar, A/P Hadijah is a highly respected figure in the Malay-Indonesian Studies in South East Asia and Europe. She has made significant contributions in research in the fields of Colonial History in South East Asia; Malay and Indonesian literature; Malay Philosophy and Culture; Children’s literature, History of Malay Kampung and Literature Pedagogy. She has achieved outstanding achievements in multidisciplinary research-teaching-writing approaches; synthesizing literature, geography, history, sociology and arts. For almost 40 years of her professional career, she has been dedicated and consistent in serving and providing very significant and impactful leadership in her dynamic, diversified areas of expertise at national, regional and international levels.

She has written 9 scholar books and edited 16 scholarly books in both English and Malay languages; 18 book chapters, 35 journal articles and 30 conference papers; 1 play and 2 poetry books and two children books and numerous articles in professional books and newspapers. Her publications are regarded as ground-breaking works, multidisciplinary and for creatively blending academic insights with artistic expressions. Late President SR Nathan who launched her book (Kilat Senja/ Glimmering Sunset) in his personal letter to her (Oct 2005), commended her effort to write an impressive book on the social and cultural history of Kampungs in Singapore that would benefit younger generations of Singaporeans. Her latest book on Munshi Abdullah (1796-1854), published in 2021 by the World Scientific on the early pioneer of Singapore, is highly regarded as “The best and most comprehensive book so far on Munshi Abdullah” (, news, 21 Feb 2021).

A/P Hadijah’s outstanding achievements, was highlighted in the following local and international events:-

– She was selected and featured in “Aura Hawa” – A PPIS SG50 Project Initiative, as one of 25 Icons of vision, resilience and commitment of Malay-Muslim Women in Singapore by PPIS (Singapore’ Muslim Women Association), (2015)

– Selected and featured in “Bual” (In Conversation) – An inspiring documentary series that captures the unique life stories, memories and contributions of eight trailblazers in the local Malay Muslim community as part of Singapore Memory Project by NLB, (2017).

– She was Interviewed by French film producer, Mr Renaud Cohen from France TV – ARTE about the colonial history in Singapore in partnership with Singapore Tourism Board. Interviewed was done at Kampung Gelam area on 2 Dec 2021. The documentary on SINGAPOUR , MELTING POT ASIATIQUE, was telecast by France TV -Arte, (2022)


  • Hadiah Sastera (Literary Award)
    & Hadiah Penghargaan (Commendable Award) for Di Tengah Alam and Sastera dan Manusia Melayu Baru from Anugerah Persuratan (Malay Literary Award) (1999)

  • Hadiah Sastera (Literary Award) for Antara Dua Kota from Anugerah Persuratan (Malay Literary Award) (2000)

  • Hadiah Penghargaan (Commendable Award) for Citra Minda Kota from from Anugerah Persuratan (Malay Literary Award) (2005)

  • Hadiah Sastera (Literary Award) for Kilat Senja – Sejarah Sosial – Budaya Kampung Melayu from from Anugerah Persuratan (Malay Literary Award) (2007)

  • Public Administration Award (Bronze), by President Republic of S’pore, National Day (2007)

  • Tun Sri Lanang Literary Award (2011)

  • National Day Long Service Award, Pingat Bakti Setia (2013)

  • Infocomm Media Development Authority’s Long Service Award for her contributions to Broadcast, Publications and Arts Appeal Committee (BPAAC) (2016)

  • Appointed Justice of Peace (JP) by President of Singapore for a 5-year term (2018)

Sae'eda buang

Dr Sa’eda Buang is Senior Lecturer in the Asian Languages and Cultures academic group, National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Her research interests include comparative literature, cultural studies, curriculum development and reformation, critical literacy, Muslim education, alternative assessments, and Jawi manuscripts. She writes poetry, short stories, academic papers on and about literature.


  • Literary Award Anugerah Persuratan (Poetry), Singapore Malay Language Council (2003)

  • Literary Award Anugerah Persuratan (Short Story), Singapore Malay Language Council (2003)

  • Literary Award Anugerah Persuratan (Commendation) (Poetry), Singapore Malay Language Council (2005)

  • National Day Award – Commendation (2021)

RASiah halil

Rasiah Halil/Rasiah Bee Bte Abdul Halil alias Rashidah Bte Shaik Abdul Halim was born in Singapore in 1956. She obtained her B.A. (1979) and M.A. (3 January 1985) degrees and Postgraduate Diploma-in-Education (1985) from the University of Singapore/National University of Singapore. She attended the Iowa International Program from late August until the first week of December 1995 at the University of Iowa, USA, on a Fulbright Scholarship. Rasiah also participated in ‘World Poetry Reading’ (Pengucapan Puisi Dunia), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 15 – 20 November 1996. She writes poetry, short story and essay, does translations (Malay and English) and presents working papers.

She has been published since March 1972 in various mass media.

She edited books for Times Publishing/Marshall Cavendish in the 1990s. Rasiah wrote a fortnightly column on human interest stories using ‘Sri Anggerik’ (1998 – 2006) as her pen-name and a weekly literary column using ‘Tun Fatimah’ (2004 – 2009) as her pen-name, in the Singapore Malay newspaper, Berita Minggu. She has had her short stint as a TV documentary producer at the SBC (now Mediacorp) in the early 1980/81 and a translator for the Health Promotion Board and other organizations, besides literary translations since the early 1980s.

She trained civil servants (including teachers) in WITS (Work Improvement Teams) for the Civil Service College (late 1990s – early 2000). She also taught Malay language, using English as a medium of instruction, at the Civil Service College (1992-2012) and the National University of Singapore Extension (1990s-early 2000). Rasiah has taught in a few schools and three institutions of higher learning (University of Brunei Darussalam, National University of Singapore and the National Institute of Education). She is an independent trainer in creative, language and other courses, an editor and a translator.


  • Rasiah has been awarded several commendations and conferred with 5 literary awards by the Majlis Hadiah Sastera / Anugerah Persuratan and the National Book Development Council since 1983 for her poetry, essays, and books.

  • Tun Sri Lanang Literary (2017)