Horseback Archery Sees Revival Amongst Elite Malaysian Muslims
Horseback archery was commonly used in hunting and warfare in Malaysia for thousands of years. While the ancient discipline declined with the introduction of firearms, it is now seeing something of a revival amongst upper-class Malaysians. "It's a challenging sport -- and Malaysians like a challenge,” explained Syed Abdul Muiz Syed Alias, a 59-year-old veteran archer and president of the As-Sibaq Malaysian Horseback Archery Association, in an article for France 24.
A horseback archery event in 2021. (As-Sibaq Horseback Archers Association of Malaysia)
Horseback Archery - A Most Challenging But Rewarding Sport
Horseback archery requires really intensive training wherein riders are treated like machines being programmed to shoot small targets, while riding at high speeds on horses. Syed Alias said it was “the most challenging but rewarding sport” he had ever tried.
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A modern tournament was first established in 2018, but due to coronavirus lockdowns it didn’t take place for the following two years. The tournament has now returned however, and a recent event was held at the Cape Cavallho Equestrian Club in central Rembau district. During the event, the competing riders donned traditional Malaysian horse riding outfits, associated with the country's ethnic Malay Muslim majority.
Horseback archery in Malaysia has become popular amongst Muslim Malaysians. (As-Sibaq Horseback Archers Association of Malaysia)
A Blending of Mind, Body and Spirit – The Tight-Knit Community of Horseback Archery
During the tournament, riders gallop along a 200-metre-track (650-ft), explained Syed Alias. They are tasked with hitting nine targets within 30 seconds, and the archers were judged on both accuracy and speed. According to Zaharudin Rastam Yeop Mahidin, one of the riders competing in the tournament, “the mind has to be focused on the task at hand, and the body must conform to what’s needed, that is riding the horse and handling bow and arrows on a moving horse.”
A fundamental aspect to ancient Malaysian horseback archery is trust. “You have to trust in the horse, trust in yourself and surrender,” stressed Mahidin. Gulf News reported him as saying that the sport represents “a blending of mind, body and spirit at its best.”
However, this isn’t a sport that just anyone can participate in, due to the elevated costs involved in anything related to horses. This fact means that in the whole of Malaysia only about 100 people are able to take part in this emerging sport. France 24 reports that the sport’s “tight-knit community” is trying to entice sponsors and government support, and to make horseback archery more accessible to the wider public.
Horseback archery has ancient origins in ancient forms of horseback warfare and hunting. (anibal / Adobe Stock)
Reviving an Ancient Sport With Deeply Sacred Origins
More than half of the country’s population of 32 million Malaysians are Muslims. The reason for why horses, and all horse sports, are so celebrated amongst this large Muslim population is because the Prophet Mohammed encouraged both horse riding and archery. Zarina Ismail, owner of the Cape Cavallho Equestrian Club where the tournament took place, explained in France 24 that people all over the country see this as “an opportunity to practice the ‘sunnahs’ (traditions and practices of the Prophet).”
Now, let’s look a bit closer at this claim. According to Question Islam, the Prophet “dwelled insistently on the games that have a purpose.” Back in the 6th century, all games were related to the military and were only played by men. It is said Mohammed “uttered many hadiths to encourage” horse riding and archery, and that the issues that Mohammed dwelled on the most were “archery, horse riding, walking and swimming.” Furthermore, when the Prophet described fatherly duties to teach children, he again mentioned the importance of teaching archery to children.
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Teaching a child how to use a wooden bow to align their mind, body and soul, is a tradition which goes back at least 1,400 years in the Muslim world. Texts speak of Hasan and Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet, who “shot arrows and competed in the presence of their grandfather.” Hasan was seven and Husain just six years old at the time, confirming the ancient tradition of teaching children how to shoot arrows from charging horses, the basis of horseback archery, at a very young age.
Top image: Horseback archery is seeing a comeback in Malaysia. Source: lisheng2121 / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie