Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia).
He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia."
Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill.
This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.
No "Lazy Malays" During The Japanese Occupation M. Bakri Musa www.bakrimusa.com
The Japanese Occupation briefly interrupted British colonial rule.
Japanese troops landed in Kota Baru in the early morning of December 8,
1941, and surrendered some 43 months later. That was only a blink in our
history but to those who suffered through that terrible period, it was
eternity. As brutal as it was, Malays as a culture and community
There was one significant but not widely noted disruption and
humiliation of Malay culture during that period. The Japanese, despite
their reverence for their own Sun God Emperor, had little use or respect
for Malay sultans. At least the British maintained the facade of
respect even though those sultans were essentially colonial puppets.
The colonials saw in the institution of Malay sultans an
effective means of indirect rule. The British knew full well the
reverence Malays had for our sultans. The British must have learned a
thing or two from observing kampong boys herding their kerbaus
(water buffaloes). Pierce a ring through the lead buffalo’s nose and
then even a toddler could effectively control the herd by pulling on the
rope tied to that lead beast's ring.
That essentially was the British approach to controlling the
Malay herd; pierce a ring through their sultan’s nose. The rope may be
of silk and the ring of gold, but the underlying dynamics are the same.
The Japanese on the other hand totally ignored the sultans.
They did not even bother going through a formal ceremony of
“de-recognizing” the sultans. The surprise was not how quickly and
easily the sultans ceded their power, rather how unceremoniously those
sultans lost their honor and prestige among their own subjects.
I once saw a documentary shown in the village by the
Information Department about the royal installation of the first Agong.
He happened to be the Yang di Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, my state.
The next morning I overheard a group of Malay women chatting with my
mother. They were making fun of the pompous ceremony depicted in that
Those villagers did not see a Queen as the rest of the country
did. Instead they saw their former fishing mate made pretty and regal.
They remembered her only as a woman wrapped in her wet tattered sarong
arguing over a fishing spot in the river during the Occupation. Neither
pretty nor regal! My mother remembered her as particularly inept with
her tanggok (fishing net). If not for the generosity of fellow
villagers, the future queen and her husband would have starved during
There was something else amazing about those shared fishing
trips my mother and the other villagers had with the future queen, and
that was the obvious absence of royal fuss or protocol. Only a few
months before the Japanese invasion, those members of the royalty could
with a click of their fingers command a villager to do their bidding. He
would then have to stop whatever he was doing, stoop low, crawl towards
the raja and express what a great honor it was to be a slave of the
sultan! And if he were to inadvertently make eye contact with the
sultan, may Allah have mercy on him for the sultan certainly would not.
All that royal pomp and ceremony together with other elaborate
palace rituals vanished overnight under the Japanese. The remarkable
thing was, and the villagers did not fail to notice this, how quickly
those former royals adapted to their new plebian status! They were not
above bickering over a coconut or their favorite fishing hole.
The Japanese also had a profound effect on the behavior
of ordinary Malays, especially the youths. Once as a youngster a few
years after the war, my father and I were strolling in the village when
we encountered a bunch of unemployed Malay boys hanging around and
making a nuisance of themselves. Behind them was an abandoned field
covered with overgrown brush.
My father commented that such a scene would have been
unthinkable during the war. Those idle youths would have been
conscripted and sent to work on the infamous Death Railway in Burma,
never to return. So everyone, especially able-bodied young men, knew
better than to loiter. Likewise the owners of idle but otherwise
tillable land; they risked being punished and their land confiscated.
Yes, the Japanese did all those terrible things, scaring young
men to go into hiding. However, boys will be boys; they will defy
authorities despite the cruelty of the punishments. Indeed if you keep
the young repressed for too long, they will eventually blow up, as we
saw in Egypt and Tunisia recently, and what Malaysia is now
The Japanese were smart enough to go beyond simply meting out
cruel punishments. They set up many vocational training centers and
those youths eagerly enrolled. Whether that was out of passion for
learning and acquiring useful skills or merely fear of being caught
idle, I know not. Perhaps both! Whatever it was, they became highly
My cousin, an unemployed teacher during the war, took up
carpentry. He became sufficiently accomplished to build for his family a
fairly decent house. Another villager became a tailor, and he continued
his business after the war. Yet a third became a radio repairman and
later expanded into heavy equipment, a skill he learned from the
Japanese. All those young men became productive, each with their own
enterprises. There were no GLCs or a benevolent government ready to
employ them; they started their own businesses.
As revealed in a recent History Channel documentary, P.
Ramlee’s talent was first discovered and honed while attending a
Japanese Naval College in Penang. To “catch” these young men, the
Japanese used the ruse of giving out free movie tickets. After the movie
those young Malays were then led to waiting trucks to be sorted
according to their abilities. Young Ramlee was fortunate not to be sent
to work on the Death Railway. That was a tribute to the Japanese skill
in spotting talent.
During the Japanese Occupation every square inch of tillable
land was cultivated. Even poor soil was tilled, to grow the hardy ubi kayu
(tapioca), a cheap but not very good source of starch and calorie.
Consumed too much and you would get beri-beri from Vitamin B deficiency.
Similarly, every inch of the rice field was cultivated. Had the
Japanese discovered short-season rice then, there would have been double
and triple plantings per year.
Malays worked very hard then; there were no “lazy natives”
despite all the produce going to the Japanese. The consequences of being
idle were too horrendous to contemplate.
Even my father, who always complained of how difficult it was
for him to learn English, quickly became facile with Japanese and
proficient with kanji. The reason for my father and other
Malays becoming fast learners was clear; the very effective Japanese
teaching technique – learn, or else! That “or else” was the most
As for our cultural values during that terrible period, I
refer readers to that wonderful movie "A Town Like Alice," based on
Nevil Shute’s novel of the same title. It is the story of a group of
British women who were abandoned by their husbands in the rush to escape
the onslaught of the Japanese. Those women later found refuge in a
Malay village and were subsequently adopted en mass by the villagers.
Earlier I mentioned my Chinese-looking friend. In the villages
today there are plenty of such individuals of my vintage, especially
women. Their parents had given them up during those trying times. Those
were the lucky ones.
The Chinese were not the only ones to do that; so did some
Europeans. They willingly gave up their babies and young ones to escape
the Japanese unencumbered. There was the spectacular case (spectacular
because she triggered a deadly riot in Singapore after the war) of Maria
Hertogh or Nadra Binte Ma’arof, depending upon your biases and
Her Dutch mother gave her up for adoption to a Malay family
during the war. When it was over she tried to reclaim her child who by
now had become fully attached to her adopted family. The ensuing ugly
court battle spilled into the community, pitting the natives against the
ruling colonials. In the end the ruling colonial trial judge followed
his tribal instinct instead of the evidence presented, and awarded
custody to the biological mother. In so doing the judge ignored the now
important sociological concept of parenthood.
Han Suyin’s gripping novella Cast But One Shadow, though under a different setting, re-chronicles that drama.
The Japanese Occupation, terrible though it was, offered many
useful lessons. It also revealed many positive and resilient aspects of
Malay culture. For one, as mentioned earlier, there were no lazy Malays
then; we were all very productive. For another, as can be seen from the
movie "A Town Like Alice," even during times of severe deprivation we
maintained our values and willingly shared whatever little blessings we
had with others, including those who were once our oppressors.
There is one other significant aspect to the Japanese
Occupation now forgotten but nonetheless bears highlighting. That is,
the Japanese effortlessly destroyed a significant part of Malay culture -
our institutions of royalty. The Japanese did not purposely do so; they
simply found no significance to the sultans and simply ignored them.
Yet our culture and society survived. That should tell us something of
the value and utility of these sultans.
Today when I see these sultans and other members of the royal
family lording it over the rest of us, I wish someone would kindly
remind them of their fathers' and grandfathers' fate during the
Occupation. If that could happen then, it could happen again. Such a
reminder might just curb some of their excesses.
Next: Path Towards Independence
Adapted from the author’s latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia , 2013.
Deepening Malay Polarization More Dangerous Than Inter-Racial Divisions
Deepening Malay Polarization More Dangerous Than Inter-Racial Divisions
Over 46 years ago a largely Chinese group of demonstrators
celebrating their party’s electoral victory triggered Malaysia’s worst
race riot. Last Wednesday, September 16, 2015, an exclusively Malay
rally in predominantly Chinese Petaling Street of Kuala Lumpur triggered
only the riot police’s water cannons.
What flowed on Petaling Street last Wednesday was clear
water, not red blood as in 1969. There was also minimal property damage
(except for loss of business) and no loss of life. That is significant;
that is progress.
Malaysia has come a long way since 1969, the current
shrill race hysteria notwithstanding. However leaders, political and
non-political, Malays as well as non-Malays, are still trapped in their
time-warped racial mentality of the 1960s. They still view the nation’s
race dynamics primarily as Malays versus non-Malays.
That is understandable as the horrific memories of that
1969 race tragedy, as well as the much earlier and more brutal Bintang
Tiga reign of terror, had been seared into the collective Malaysian
consciousness, permanently warping our national perception.
The challenge today is less the risk of inter-racial
conflagration of the 1969 variety, more a Malay civil war similar to
what is now happening in the Arab world and what has happened on the
Korean Peninsula. Last Wednesday’s red-shirt rally illustrates this
While the earlier and visibly non-Malay Bersih 4.0 demonstrations had considerable Malay support,
including from such luminaries as Tun Mahathir and National Laureate
Datuk Samad Said, the exclusively Malay red-shirted Himpunan Rakyat
Bersatu drew condemnations from many Malays, leaders and otherwise.
The head of the Malay NGO Group of 25, Noor Farida,
contemptuously dismissed the red shirts as “rent-a-mob crowd.” As a
former diplomat I would have expected her to be, well, a bit diplomatic
and try to heal the division, not add to it.
The fact that these supposedly enlightened Malay
leaders saw fit to condemn and not try to at least understand the
aspirations and frustrations of those red-shirted protestors underscores
Make no mistake. Ethnic and racial conflicts are still a
tragic reality today in much of the world, even in the enlightened
West. Witness the reaction in Western Europe to the current flood of
non-European refugees. Only a few months ago America went through
another of its all-too-frequent wrenching race riots in Ferguson,
Missouri, a century and a half following Reconstruction and over half a
century after the adoption of the Civil Rights Act.
In the Middle East, the Jews and Arabs are still at it.
Nonetheless and to put things in perspective, more Arabs have been
killed in modern times by fellow Arabs than by Jews, or the Jews and the
That observation underscores the lethality of
intra-racial conflicts. The present undercurrent of Malay xenophobia
however, blinds us to this new emerging and far more dangerous reality.
This peril is amplified and abetted by the glaring
deficit in our community today of a buffering body or mediating
mechanism to bridge and heal the divisions within us. While our
traditional ethics and culture had served us well in the past, our
pseudo or culup modernity has destroyed those pristine values.
Consider that when the British imposed the Malayan
Union Treaty with the acquiescence of our sultans, Malays (except for
our sultans of course) were united in opposing it. Our grandparents
expressed their disagreement and displeasure with our sultans in our
traditional halus (subtle) ways – by demonstrating our loyalty
publicly. That mass display prevented our sultans from attending the
inauguration of what would have been the first British Governor of
Malaya. The protest was so subtle that our sultans missed the message.
Bless the British, they did not.
Back then we were blessed with “towering personalities”
like Datuk Onn. His courage led him to defy his own sultan in the
tradition of Hang Jebat, to the point that he (Onn) was once labeled a derhaka (traitor) and banished to Singapore.
Today we are bereft of such smart, strong and honest
leaders. Instead we are cursed with an abundance of the pseudo-towering
variety. Like Hang Tuah of yore, they are corrupt, incompetent, and
obsessed with sucking up to their superiors, the sultans as well as
sultan wannabes. These leaders do not bring us closer; they would rather
divide us so as to maintain their positions.
Najib personifies this type of leadership.
One expects our commonality of Islam to bind us. Far
from it! Islam and its institutions in Malaysia have failed miserably on
this front. Instead of bringing us together, Islam divides us, mocking
our Koran and the teachings of our Prophet.
Our muftis could not even agree as to what is halal and
haram. Our government-issued ulamas could not say enough kind words on
UMNO leaders, even blessing their corrupt deeds, all in the name of
Islam! Meanwhile those aligned with PAS would have us believe that not
voting for PAS would doom us to eternal hellfire.
In many villagers there are separate mosques for PAS
and UMNO followers. Even funerals and marriages have been boycotted in
the name of Islam.
This religious fissure goes deep. The intolerance of a hijab-clad Muslimah for her tudung-free sisters goes beyond attire.
There are other equally dangerous fissures. There are
those who consider English fluency an asset and strive hard to acquire
that for themselves and their children. Others view that as denigrating
our national language and culture, an act of treason no less. Again,
that reflects the profound differences in our worldview.
These fault lines are fast converging. Given their
proper alignment and timing, they could all explode simultaneously, with
catastrophic consequences to all, Malays as well as non-Malays.
I am less concerned with the differences between
non-Malay yellow-shirters and Malay red shirts, rather between
yellow-shirted and red-shirted Malays. The latter division is becoming
increasingly irreconcilable and more dangerous. Yet they share some
common elements beyond race and faith. Both recognize and value the
rights of citizens to demonstrate publicly and or otherwise petition
their grievances to the government.
Yes, both have a lot to learn about public
demonstrations. They are not alone. Even the University of California is
still grappling with the issue of where to draw the line between
freedom of speech and intolerance.
Barisan, specifically UMNO, must appreciate and address
the concerns of Bersih if it hopes to win the next election and then
govern without much harassment. Likewise Pakatan, specifically DAP, must
not dismiss the apprehensions and frustrations of the Himpunan Group.
Those red-shirted Malays may be crude in expressing their frustrations
nonetheless their concerns are legitimate.
The shrill offensive cries of Tanah Melayu and Balek Tongsan
are but emotional outbursts of those who feel marginalized and
helpless. Their emotions preclude them from seeing beyond. If all the pendatangs
were to leave and Malaysia to become exclusively Tanah Melayu, who
would fix those Mat Rempits’ motorcycles, defend them in courts, or sell
them smart phones at affordable prices?
Bersih and Himpunan need to appreciate each other’s
positions, and then help solve or at least ameliorate those differences.
To Himpunan, Bersih’s criticisms of the UMNO government are seen as
belittling Malay leadership specifically and the Malay race generally.
To Bersih, if only the government and UMNO leaders were to be a wee bit
more competent and a whole lot less corrupt, the plight of Malays
generally and those red-shirters in particular would be much better.
It does not take much effort to appreciate the other
side’s point of view. I was impressed with the recent incident at Bayan
Lepas when a redshirt leader came to disrupt a Berseh 4 gathering. The
quick and counterintuitive thinking of the organizer had that individual
address the gathering. Thus instead of confrontation, there
was communication. That is the sort of gestures that need to be done and
For Malays, we first need to build bridges, not dig
trenches within our own community. As for the offensive cries of pendatang and Balek Tongsan,
Zunar’s latest cartoon encapsulates my point well, and with lots of
humor. It depicts a Mat Rempit begging an Ah Peck to fix his (Mat’s)
Intra-Malay fissure is not just a Malay problem.
Malaysia cannot be stable if its largest racial entity is fractured.
RM 2.6B – Generous Donation or Grand Corruption?
In the 1950s the Americans were alarmed with the
leftist-leaning and shrill anti-Western rhetoric of Indonesia’s Sukarno. To
neutralize him, they concocted a scheme to blackmail the man by portraying him
as other than a true nationalist.
So on one
of his many visits to America the CIA secretly set-up Sukarno to be in the
company of high-priced hookers, and then clandestinely filmed him in his
frolics. Sukarno must have felt that he was already in heaven with some of his
was to screen snippets of the tape in the movie houses of Jakarta. Surely in
pious Muslim Indonesia such scenes would enrage the audiences such that they
would take to the streets demanding Sukarno's downfall.
everything went according to the well-rehearsed script, one that would be
repeated in different places and with different players.
horror of the local CIA station agent when the audiences instead roared their
approval of their President!
jantan kita!” (That’s our stud!) they roared as Sukarno, like the bunny,
powered by the Eveready battery, kept going and going (or coming and coming)!
“It’s about time one of us gets to screw them, they did that to us for years!”
Indonesians could not conceal their pride in their leader’s virility, perhaps
fantasizing a part of themselves in him.
preamble here is to put forth a simple proposition. While the reality may be
the same, the perceptions may be radically different. The world and many
Malaysians may view Najib’s RM2.6 billion “donation” as corruption on a grand
scale, but to red-shirted Malays and their UMNO Putra patrons, it is but a
measure of an Arab’s high regard for their man.
comparing Najib with Sukarno. Najib is no Sukarno in leadership talent or
oratorical skills; he is in priapic proclivities.
It is not
coincidental that Najib’s spinmeisters would have the donation come from the
Middle East, the land of the Prophet. To Muslim Malays, the Arabs and their
desert are blessed. In Saudi Arabia even the flies on your food are halal. As
for the ensuing diarrhea, well, that’s Allah testing you.
– differing perceptions of the same reality – extends in nature. A rotting
carcass is revolting and haram but to vultures, a heavenly gift. Does the
fastidious diner have moral superiority over the scavenger vulture?
with the relativism, let’s examine Najib’s bonanza from a practical and more
consequential perspective. Najib claims that the money was reward for his
“exemplary” leadership, and to ensure that it be continued. More directly
stated, it was to fund his re-election.
fact or precedent is now established. Malaysian leaders and elections can be
bought, or at least influenced by foreign money and individuals. That is
significant, and pivotal. Today, a generous Arab; tomorrow, the CIA! Next could
be China or Singapore. Before long, a non-Arab Middle Eastern state! With the
ringgit fast becoming worthless, topping the RM2.6 billion should be easy.
money is not the only means of influence peddling. The Americans and
Singaporeans in particular are more sophisticated. They are not crude, careless,
or stupid like the Arabs as to write a massive check or drop off a bundle of
that many children of Third World leaders end up at top American universities
despite not having super SAT scores. Similarly many Third World leaders are invited
as visiting fellows and professors. They lap up the accolades! If those refined
tricks fail, there is the White House visit or a presidential golf game.
with Singapore; Malaysians covet invitations to address institutions there, a
reflection of its influence. The Republic today is far different from the early
days of Lee Kuan Yew when its leaders took every opportunity to snipe across
the causeway. Today Singaporeans are active partners in the development of the
southern corridor. They choose their partners prudently however, preferring for
example, the Johore royal family. The same shrewd calculation applies as to
whom they invite to address them.
is learning fast. The Chinese are now partnering with the Johore royal
household to develop some swamps at the tip of the peninsula. With the sultan
on your side, there won’t be too many intrusive questions.
reminding that not too long ago the same royal family sold off the entire
island of Singapore. With this propensity to sell, what else would they dispose
perspective to Najib’s bonanza is to analyze its opportunity cost. Granted we
do not know how or where he spent the money; Najib is still trying to spin that
one out. Nonetheless even a devalued RM2.6 billion could buy you both
Australia’s Anna Creek and the Texas King Ranch (world’s and America’s largest
respectively), with plenty left over. And if you run both outfits in other than
the manner of Sharizat family’s National Cattle Feedlot, there would be plenty
of jobs and halal meat for generations of Malaysians and others.
nature’s vultures, beyond gluttony they do provide a useful service, as with
cleaning up the environment and preventing the spread of diseases. They deserve
our respect. Najib and his vultures on the other hand pollute our social
environment and corrode the integrity of our institutions through their corrupt
deeds. They deserve our contempt.
the lucky few around Najib who benefit directly from him, what purpose would
there be for the others to view his loot as reward for his performance instead
of an act of grand corruption?
understand (though condemn) Najib’s ministers and UMNO warlords for being his
ardent cheerleaders. They could not otherwise afford those luxuries; these
characters have no marketable skills or professional accomplishments. Their
flair for “sucking up” is appreciated only by insecure and untalented
superiors. To these unabashed supplicants, even Najib’s crumbs are worth
scrambling for. Absent that they would be back to their old kampong mode.
I feel most sorry for are the young red-shirted pemudas (youths) and
pink-frocked puteris. Surely their maruah (reputation) is
worth much more than just the few hundred ringgit for their free trips to the
capital city, plus their complimentary colorful attires and perhaps a sarong pelekat
support them if they were to demand their share of the booty. Not as direct
handouts as that would quickly end up in the hands of those retailers at Low
Yat Plaza but to create enduring programs to train them as plumbers, mechanics,
and electricians, or to improve our schools and universities.
then benefit from those initiatives and do something meaningful with their lives,
quite apart from contributing to society and having a bright future. That would
be a legacy worth bequeathing to their children and grandchildren. Those values
and sense of self-worth are worth cultivating. Itu maruah Melayu tulin!
(That’s respect to a genuine Malay.)
our perception of reality. Our maruah says that when we receive money or
favors for which we are not entitled to or have not worked for, that is
corruption, not donation. Those who claim otherwise have no maruah.
[After last weekend's mass protest against the nation's entrenched
corrupt and incompetent leadership, I reflect on a moment in our
colonial history. If Merdeka has any meaning it is this - our freedom to
express our views. We have to remind ourselves and our leaders of this,
and often, lest it be forgotten. As we celebrate the nation's 58th
anniversary of independence, I salute those brave Malaysians of Bersih
4. May you succeed! Your courage humbles and inspires me.]
The Europeans entered the Malay world a few centuries after the
arrival of Islam. First were the Portuguese in 1509, followed by the
Dutch and finally the British.
Unlike those early Muslims, the Europeans came not to
trade, at least initially, but as explorers during their Age of
Discovery. Only when they saw the abundance of the rich natural
resources of the land did they go beyond mere exploring.
With their primordial form of capitalism of the heartless and
exploitative variety so well captured in Dickens’ many novels, it did
not take long for their greed to manifest itself and be all-consuming.
Like all capitalists, they were obsessed with domination, and that
quickly expanded beyond mere trading. Colonial aspirations soon
Preoccupied with commerce, those ancient Portuguese were not
interested in converting the natives though that was the penchant with
old-world Catholics. Yes, there were priests hauled along to bless their
mission, if nothing else. Consumed as they were with profits they could
not be bothered with the salvation of the heathens. Either that or
those Europeans were aware of the fate of the crusaders and knew better
than to try and convert the already Muslim natives.
The Portuguese did try, and suffered the consequences. Their
brief stay in Malacca was characterized by frequent warfare with the
natives there and elsewhere in the region. It spilled over even to
faraway China where the Portuguese also received a far-from-warm
welcome. The Spaniards had better luck in the Philippines.
Capitalism was a far more powerful cause and master than
spreading their Catholic faith, the crude and bumbling initial attempts
by the Portuguese excepted. Those Europeans were not at all interested
in the natives except when they interfered with trading. Then they were
removed in the most brutal and efficacious way.
Thus began European colonial rule, initially more as a scheme
to increase trade and less at empire building. Colonization was an
extension of their capitalistic and exploitative culture.
It is in the nature of humans to carry things to extremes, to
test the outer limits. So it was with the capitalistic exploitation by
the early Europeans. Slavery was very much an integral part of that,
limited only much later when it shamed their Christian sensitivity. That
dampened their activities somewhat, only to be resurrected under a new
guise, the banner of the “White Man’s burden.” In their fervent belief,
Almighty God had imposed upon them the divine mission to salvage the
lot of “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child!” to
quote Kipling' s poetry.
With their ethnocentric worldview and confident of their own
sense of God-given superiority and entitlement, those early Europeans
were not in the least interested in learning the ways and cultures of
the natives or in any way interacting with them.
As a consequence, the impact on and reaction from the Malay
society to the arrival of the European traders could not be more
different than with the earlier Muslim ones. While Malays readily
welcomed the Muslim traders and embraced their faith, treating them more
as enlighteners, in striking contrast our ancestors had nothing but
contempt for the European colonizers. No doubt the feeling was mutual.
A measure of contempt for those European
traders-turned-colonizers, especially the Dutch, can be gauged by such
expressions as a “Dutch deal.” Legend has it that an early Dutch trader
was bargaining to buy a piece of land from a native. “Only the area
covered by this piece of buffalo hide!” the foreigner pleaded.
The trusting native readily agreed; after all he could do
without such a small plot of land. Imagine his horror when the trader
began slicing the hide into a long thin strip and then began laying it
over the property and claiming everything within it! Not even the most
crooked lawyer could have thought of such a sly scheme. In Malay culture
such a deed was considered duplicitous if not outright fraudulent and a
breach of faith. To the Dutch and perhaps also in a few other cultures,
it was a shrewd if not brilliant move.
If you visit Malacca today you can still see the distinctively
red-colored museum and other buildings, remnants of the earlier Dutch
settlement. It is said that the red color is due to the permanent stain
of the betel nut juice those ancient natives contemptuously spitted on
those buildings, a measure of their scorn for the Dutch.
While those early Dutch traders obviously thought they had the
better end of the deal – they did, at least in the short term – in the
long-term, well, those red buildings are perpetual reminders of the
natives' contempt for them.
There are others. The best is reflected in the expression, Bini Belanda
(Dutch wife), referring to the long white fluffy bolster found in the
bedrooms of Malays, only good to rest your legs on and the occasional
cuddle when you are lonely, but not much else! Then there is Orang Belanda (Dutch people), the proboscis monkey with its distinctive large white nose.
Both Islam and Christianity are known for their proselytizing
zeal. The ancient Muslim traders by not focusing on converting Malays
but only on being good Muslims in their trading activities and other
dealings with the natives ended up being effective propagators of their
faith. Meanwhile the Catholic Portuguese and Protestant Dutch, otherwise
and elsewhere famed for their equally fanatical zeal at conversions,
forceful if necessary, ended up merely being the butt of cruel Malay
The credit should not all go to the Muslim traders or the
blame entirely on those early European colonizers. The large and as yet
unexamined question is why did Malays react warmly to and be so
welcoming of the Muslim traders but became downright hostile to the
later European traders? Here I attribute the differences in attitudes
and behaviors between the Muslim and European traders to account for the
varying receptions of the natives.
Viewed from another perspective, what is it about Malay
society which before the coming of Islam was so welcoming of foreign
people and ideas while after adopting Islam became so hostile to the
Portuguese, Dutch, and other foreigners.
There is a price - and not a small one - to be paid later for
that general hostility to foreigners and foreign ideas when Malaysia
fell under a less malevolent colonial power. I will explore that in my
analysis of our responses to British intervention in our affairs.
This antipathy towards foreigners and foreign ideas still
persists to this day. This insularity is a major handicap for us in
facing up to the challenges of and seizing the opportunities afforded by
this era of increasing globalization.
Next: Soft Spot For The British
This essay is based on the author’s latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia , 2013.
Post-Najib Unity Transition Administration M. Bakri Musa www.bakrimusa.com
the bravado, Najib Razak’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. Last
weekend’s massive Bersih 4 demonstrations are only the latest and most
public expressions of citizens’ disgust and contempt for him and his
I hope Najib is
spared the ignominious fate of many corrupt Third World leaders. The
visceral hatred for him not just as a leader but also a person is
palpable. The sentiment is worse for his obscenely ostentatious wife.
Judging by the extraordinarily tight security around him these days,
Najib too is aware of this.
If Najib were to suffer a Marcos, or worse, a Ngo Dinh Diem, that would
plunge Malaysia into an abyss; likewise if Najib were to execute an
Assad. Assad is still in power but I shudder to imagine the images of
his last days, as surely that would come. I saw enough gory details of
of Najib’s fate, prudence calls for Malaysia to be ready for a
post-Najib administration. Those arguing for patience have it wrong.
Nothing in the constitution precludes the removal of a sitting prime
minister between elections. It has been done.
If Najib’s successor were to be chosen in the manner of recent past,
meaning, by UMNO power brokers, that would only ensure another mediocre
pick. Najib is worse than Abdullah (who would have thought that
possible!); rest assured that Najib’s successor chosen thus would be
even worse. This Ahmad Zahid character, Najib’s current deputy, is fast
living up (or down) to that low expectation.
Mahathir has apologized for his role in picking Najib, and Abdullah
before that. It is not productive to continue blaming Mahathir; he
retired over a decade ago. Malaysia should be able to recover from his
blunders by now. At least the man recognizes his error and is trying to
rectify it. He succeeded in ridding us of Abdullah; let’s hope he would
be too with Najib.
is not enough to dump just Najib. His entire cabinet too has to go, plus
half a dozen top heads in the permanent establishment. To redress
Najib’s legacy of endemic corruption, I propose granting temporary
amnesty to corruptors who confess. To discourage future such acts, I
propose a permanent body to scrutinize all gifts and public contracts
awarded to the top 100 officials. They would also have to declare their
assets annually to this body.
Anything less would condemn Malaysia to “business as usual.” It cannot afford that.
Transition Prime Minister and Unity Cabinet
successor should be chosen through consensus by the parties now in
Parliament. That would be the only way to get a unity leader. That
individual would of course have to be ratified by Parliament. As UMNO
has the largest number of representatives, it is only right that the
Prime Minister should be a current UMNO MP. His cabinet however, should
comprise nominees of all parties.
The new Prime Minister and his ministers should commit to three
stipulations. One, they should not be candidates in the next general
elections; two, give up their party positions (if they have any) in the
interim; and three, agree to stay out of government for at least a year
immediately following their tenure.
Reduce the cabinet to about a dozen ministers, as with Tunku’s original
team back in 1955. The current bloated one is inefficient, designed
less to pick the best candidates more to bribe compliant and none too
bright supporters. Former Parliamentary Accounts Committee Chairman Nur
Juzlan tasked with investigating 1MDB, now a junior minister, is Exhibit
stipulation would ensure that ministers focus on their cabinet
responsibilities and not be sidelined with jockeying to be candidates in
the next election. Without this stricture those new ministers would
begin their next political campaign right away, mocking the unity theme
of the cabinet.
second – decoupling cabinet appointments from party positions – could
prove to be a worthy precedent for future administrations. The duties of
a minister are onerous enough without the added burden of party
obligations. This stipulation would also widen the talent pool beyond
Najib’s current ministers have to go with him. They have either
explicitly or implicitly by their silence endorsed Najib’s corrupt ways.
They do not deserve to lead the nation. Firing them would impress upon
new ministers that while they may serve at the pleasure of the Prime
Minister, their ultimate paymaster and thus clients are the citizens.
One standout candidate for Prime Minister is Tengku Razaleigh. He
commands instant respect at home and abroad. Untainted by the many
sordid UMNO scandals, he is also highly regarded by the opposition as
well as ordinary citizens. At age 78 we can believe him when he says
that he would not stand in the next election, as he informed Najib last
week. He is robust physically and mentally. No other candidate comes
close to Razaleigh.
reluctant leaders make the best ones, then the Tengku is the embodiment
of that principle. With his accomplishments he does not need yet
another accolade, especially now that the prime minister’s post has been
Fire Key Leaders in the Permanent Establishment
least-noted but very revealing aspect to the present 1MDB scandal is
the less-than-admirable to downright despicable performances of many
heads in the permanent establishment.
Bank Negara Governor, hitherto distinguished by her sterling
professional reputation, was reduced to saying that her duties were done
with the handing in of her report on 1MDB to the Attorney General. She
was not in the least interested on whether her findings would be acted
upon, using the Jamaican excuse, “It’s not my job, mon!”
She felt no compulsion to protect the integrity of her institution. She
also failed in her obligation to the public, her ultimate paymaster.
It gets worse. Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, the top civil servant, announced the retroactive
retirement of Attorney-General Gani Patail while he (Gani) was in the
final stages of investigating Najib’s scandal. Not to be outdone,
Hamsa’s new appointee as AG, Apandi Ali, announced even before being
sworn in that Najib was cleared of any wrongdoing!
If you want to bodek
(suck up) at least do so in a credible way so as to spare yourself and
your master needless embarrassment. In case the point is missed, Apandi,
a retired judge, was a former state UMNO treasurer. A political hack,
the number one and two at the Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) chose to
be on elective medical leave in the midst of the crisis. To top that,
Inspector-General of the Police (IGP) Khalid Bakar made himself the
subject of international ridicule when his request to Interpol for the
arrest of the Sarawak Report editor was rebuffed. In an unusual
departure, Interpol asserted that its Red Alert is meant to nab
terrorists and dangerous criminals. The smack to the IGP’s face was
heard around the world.
The IGP tried to keep that rebuff secret. The first blunder was bad
enough, but a second one so soon! Sheer incompetence and lack of
At a minimum Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, IGP Khalid Bakar, MACC Chief
Abu Kassim, and new Attorney-General Apandi Ali should be fired. They
should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice with respect to the 1MDB
are many capable Malaysians who could replace those four, and others.
However, with citizens now so deeply polarized, it is unlikely that any
local replacement could command the confidence and respect of the
populace. Thus the new administration should initiate a global search to
get the best talent without regard to nationality.
An important task for these new appointees would be to groom their
local successors, to impress upon them the importance of protecting and
enhancing the integrity of their institutions. They should not be
handmaidens to their political superiors. This is especially critical
now as our public institutions, even religious ones, are hopelessly
corrupt and politicized.
Consider that Najib was embarrassed enough to withdraw his previously
arranged address to an international conference on anti-corruption. The
urbane and sophisticated audience would laugh him off. Not so at local
mosques. There he was in his long white jubbah a la the Grand
Ayatollah, Najib leading a congregational prayer with the compliant
local media in full force with cameras on hand. Next the man would go
for umrah and announced that he had a vision that the RM2 billion “donation” was rezeki, and the donor a descendant of the Prophet!
Samuel Johnson had it off; religion, not patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels, at least Malay-Muslim ones.
Amnesty for Corruptors and Asset Declaration
is now endemic in Malaysia; it is the norm at all levels. The only
reason Najib’s RM 2 billion “donation” raised a raucous was the sheer
colossal amount (even in today’s devalued ringgit) and the utter
brazenness of the man.
It is hard to gauge the extent of or aggregate loss from corruption. Its
corrosive consequences are of course beyond quantification, from
collapsed buildings endangering their occupants to watered-down academic
standards depriving the young their rightful opportunities.
One suggestion would be to grant amnesty to encourage corruptors to
come forward. That would give some insight as to the extent of the
blight as well as its infinite variations. There is no limit to human
ingenuity in disguising corruption, from friendly “wagers” at golf games
to the funding of Hajj pilgrimages. Nothing is sacred to the corrupt.
Amnesty would also create a prisoner’s dilemma between the corrupting
parties that could potentially be exploited. If one side confesses and
the other does not, you now have the evidence to prosecute the other
To reduce future
opportunities for corruption, there should be a permanent body to
scrutinize all gifts and contracts given to the top 100 public officials
and their immediate families. This 100 would include the sultans and
governors, cabinet and chief ministers, top civil servants and heads of
major statutory bodies, as well as Federal Court judges. They would also
have to declare their assets annually to this body.
There are many excellent models of such bodies out there; there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Meanwhile Bersih 4 and other protests against Najib must continue until
the man is out. However, dumping only Najib without the other needed
changes would only condemn Malaysia to business as usual. The nation can
ill afford that.
smooth assimilation of Malays into Islam was the result of both
“down-up” and “up-down” dynamics. The average Malay peasant in his or
her interactions with the ancient Muslim traders saw the value of this
new faith. This message then spread laterally among the other villagers
and later upwards to the nobility and ultimately the sultans. They too
saw the merit of this new religion and that acceptance trickled down to
the masses. The result was the quick transformation of Malay society.
Today in the retelling of the arrival of Islam to the Malay world,
there is not a dissenting voice. All agree that it was a positive
development, for the faith as well as for Malays. We also agree that our
culture adapted well to Islam.
Those sentiments have more to do with the human tendency to romanticize
the past, especially one perceived as being glorious, rather than a
true reflection of the reality. We spare ourselves from looking more
critically at our past for fear that we would discover something that
could blight that pristine image and sweet memory.
Yet in all human endeavors nothing is pure white or all black. The
noblest deeds often have a sliver of tarnish if we were meticulous and
fearless in our scrutiny. At the other extreme, even in the horror and
depravity of a Siberian prison camp one could still discern sparks of
compassion and humanity, as Dostoyevsky noted in his House of the Dead.
So it was with the coming of Islam to the Malay world. Those early
Muslims came not to proselytize, though that was a well-established
tradition with the faith, rather to trade. In that respect those Arab
and Indian Muslim traders were no different from the subsequent European
explorers who came for our spices.
natives were so enamored with the way those Muslim traders conducted
themselves – with honor, piety and honesty – that soon their ways rubbed
off on our ancestors and they too became Muslims. They, as a culture
and community, were free minded enough to recognize a better way and did
not hesitate to incorporate it as part of their own.
Our ancestors were enthusiastic converts. They willingly absorbed this
new faith based on its evident merit, and did so with an open mind. They
accepted its teachings with complete trust.
They could not however, claim to be diligent learners. If they were,
they would have discovered a much bigger and richer dimension to Islam
beyond the spiritual and metaphysical. After all this great faith had
emancipated the ancient Bedouins and caused them to give up the more
gruesome aspects of their culture like female infanticide and the
utterly destructive “eye for an eye” sense of justice.
Our forefathers would have also discovered the rich and varied
intellectual traditions of this great faith, from the rationalist
Mutazilites to the mystical Sufis. Islam, far from being a rigid and
uncompromising faith, is malleable and adaptive, which explained its
remarkable vibrancy and tolerance as demonstrated in such disparate
places as South Asia and Iberian Europe.
Those Arabs and Indians came to the Malay world in search of trade.
Spreading their faith was secondary, if at all, and only in so far as it
would facilitate their trading. The primary pursuit of all traders was
their customers’ satisfaction, not salvation. Traders want their
customers to return. Whether they would end up in heaven or hell is of
little interest to those traders.
Our ancestors missed this important but subtle point. They were so
obsessed with their fate in the Hereafter that they missed learning the
equally important but worldly trading activities of those earlier Arabs
and Indians. Our forefathers forgot or failed to discern the elementary
Islamic principle that our religious and worldly obligations were (still
are) related if not the same. Earning a living, as with trading, and
serving the needs of your fellow human beings, also a function of
trading, are but part and parcel of ibadah (worshiping).
Serve your fellow man and you serve God, exhorted our Prophet Mohammad
(May Allah be pleased with him). That's what trading does. The prophet
was himself a trader; he explicitly permitted and indeed encouraged
trading even during the Hajj to reinforce the point that earning a
living and worshiping Allah are but two sides of the same coin. Both are
far from being incompatible.
Thus while our ancestors learned much about Islam as a theology, they
failed to acquire the skills of trading from those Muslim traders. Then
consider the books that were translated. They were heavy on legends and
the spiritual aspects of Islam but precious few on trade, financing, and
the setting up of enterprises. Even on the theological aspects of
Islam, our ancestors restricted themselves to learning only a very
narrow interpretation of a particular fiqh (school of thought).
Our ancestors were not at all curious of the vast richness of the
intellectual heritage of Islam. Had they been, our ancestors would have
learned that those ancient Muslim luminaries beginning with Al Kindi and
on to Ibn Khaldun a few centuries later also wrote on such worldly
topics as astronomy, physics, medicine and sociology. To them, knowledge
was all encompassing, with no artificial differentiation between the
spiritual and secular, or worldly and "other-worldly."
Our sultans too were not diligent learners. Otherwise they would have
discovered that the Caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty, for example, had
their Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) where they gathered the leading
scholars and learn from them. Instead, our sultans of yore (and even
today) were content to be in the company of their gundek (concubines).
Malay society did benefit in one significant area. As Syed Naguib
al-Attas noted, “… [T]he most important single cultural phenomenon
directly caused by the influence of Islamic culture … was the spread and
development of Malay language as a vehicle not only for epic, romantic
and historical literature, but even more so for philosophical
discourse.” This was one of the paramount factors that displaced the
hegemony of Java in the region, Al Attas concluded.
With the adoption of the Arabic jawi
script, Malay culture transited from the oral to the written tradition.
Whenever that happens to a society or culture, it is a significant
advancement. We are indebted to those ancient Muslims for that precious
This unwillingness of our ancestors to learn about Islam beyond the
theological carried a heavy price. We did not benefit as greatly as we
should have from this encounter with Islam.
ancestors been more encompassing in exploring the vastness of the
intellectual and other traditions of the Arabs and of Islam, as those
folks in Iberia did, and studied the varied richness of this new faith,
its tradition of hosting a wide spectrum of opinions and its great
scholars, we could have triggered our own renaissance, our own Nusantara
(Malay Archipelago) Andalusia as it were, in the fine tradition of the
We could have then, like those ancient
Arabs who learned prodigiously from the Greeks, do likewise with the
Arabs. Those early Arabs (unlike their modern counterparts) had no
hesitation in translating Greek works and learning from Greek
philosophers, even avowedly atheistic ones.
Instead our ancestors were content with being ardent but passive
followers rather than engaged and active contributors. Had they done
more of the latter, there would be no limits to the height of our
achievement while at the same time enriching this great faith. Instead
they were satisfied with being merely takers and followers; they did not
contribute to nor enrich the faith.
Medieval Europe discovered Islam through Andalusia only a few centuries
before the faith landed in the Malay world. Unlike Malays who were
interested only in the spiritual aspects of the faith and perhaps some
accompanying philosophy and literature, the Europeans were interested in
everything the ancient Iberian Muslims had to offer, especially their
sciences and mathematics. And those early Muslims had much to offer in
The subsequent European Renaissance and the continent’s exit from its
medieval culture owed much to the contributions of those early Muslims.
Yes, the Europeans also translated the Koran and the various religious
treatises of ancient Muslim scholars, but unlike those in the sciences,
mathematics and philosophy, they were done less for learning but more
for demonstrating the “superiority” of Christianity and to “protect” the
flock from an alien faith. Thus the ensuing translations were clearly
jaundiced, presumably to spare the Europeans from yet another
Imagine the intellectual emancipation of Malay society had our
ancestors been more diligent in learning from those ancient Arabs the
full breadth of the intellectual endeavors of Islam beyond merely the
religious, and translated the great mathematical and scientific texts of
the ancient Arabs as those Middle Ages Europeans did! Our society
could have gone on to make our own unique contributions and trigger our
own Nusantara Renaissance.
Even to this day while we have an abundance of Malay translations of
religious texts and Arabic legends, no one has yet seen fit to translate
such seminal tomes as Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimmah (An Introduction [to the study of History]), Ibn Rashid’s Kulliyat (Generalities [of medicine]), or al-Khwarizmi’s treatise on Algebra.
While Middle Age Europe eagerly learned from Andalusia, the Europeans
did not become Muslims. Only a few centuries later, Malays became Muslim
through their encounter with those Muslim traders but we did not learn
much from them. This irony, as yet unexamined, baffles me.
It is this myopic take on Islam that prevents Malays from fully
benefiting from this great faith. Like monkeys, we are content only with
imitating, and then only the superficialities of the faith and the
trappings of Arab culture while missing the core or essence. That was
true then and it is still true today.
Next: European Intrusion Into The Malay World
This essay is adapted from the author's latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, 2013.
The arrival of Islam was “the most momentous event in the history of the Malay archipelago,” to quote Syed Naquib al-Attas. It came not through the point of the sword but peacefully through trade. Islam did not land in a cultural and religious vacuum as Malays were already steeped in Hindu and animist traditions. Nor did the Arabs come to emancipate our ancestors; there was no messianic zeal or even an inclination to engage in their salvation.
Those Muslims came only to trade; there was no intention to dominate or colonize. Their Islamic faith and the prevailing Malay culture interacted through gradual and mutual accommodation. The result was that “the local genius of the people shone through” in the melding of the two, to quote Farish Noor, respected scholar and frequent commentator on Malaysian affairs.
This was vividly illustrated with my matriarchal Adat Perpateh. It coexisted peacefully with traditional male-dominated Islam, demonstrating a brilliant and workable synthesis of the two. Malays did not repudiate our traditional ways to become Muslims, and Islam was not adulterated to accommodate Malay culture. Both were remarkably malleable to and adaptive of each other.
This accommodative attitude is best captured by the Minangkabau wisdom, Adat menurun, syarak mendaki (‘custom descended, religion ascended’), in reference to the belief that the Minangkabau descended from the highlands, the heartland of the culture, to meet Islam as it ascended from the coast. Both Islam and Malay were elevated as a consequence of the melding.
Expressions like Adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi kitabullah (Customs based on shari’a; shari’a on Koran), and the more practical, Syarak mengato, adat memakai (Sharia prescribes, adat subscribes) attest to this grand accommodation. The sociologist Taufik Abdullah expressed it best, “The genius of Minangkabau is to synthesize contradictions harmoniously.” There were certainly contradictions real as well as imagined between Islam and traditional Malay culture, but our ancestors took them in stride and with composure.
It is said that a Minangkabau baby is fed white rice and red chili early so it could learn at a very young age to tolerate opposites. Later we would go beyond mere tolerating to actually relishing contradictions. Thus as adults we could not do without our rice and sambal (chili paste).
Of course all these happened several centuries ago, long before the advent of “purist” Islamists. Today these purists would condemn any accommodation of the faith as bida’a (adulteration). Little wonder that Malays of that religious persuasion are today busy rewriting history to obliterate our legitimate pre-Islamic existence. They would like us to believe that prior to the arrival of Islam, Malays were cultureless and devoid of any spiritual values, and that our history began only with the arrival of Islam.
Thus instead of learning and benefiting from the wisdom and ingenuity of our ancestors in synthesizing contradictions harmoniously, these later-day Islamists are obsessed with “purifying” and "cleansing" our faith of what they deem to be “un-Islamic” and “primitive” elements.
These purists obviously have not learned anything from our recent history. They should remember that the last time this “cleansing” effort took place it triggered the Padri War from 1821-37 in West Sumatra. That conflict succeeded only in further tightening of Dutch colonial rule.
Today there is little risk that the Malay world would ever be colonized again, our leaders’ fear of neo-colonization notwithstanding. Colonialism is no longer cool, except in such odd places like Chechnya and Tibet. However there is a fate far worse than being colonized, and that is being left behind by a rapidly modernizing world.
This preoccupation with Islamic “cleansing” distracts Malays, especially the idealistic younger set looking for a cause and meaning to their life, from making their rightful contributions to society. It is far too easy for their religious zeal to degenerate into something sinister, as with futile “jihads” against phantom enemies of Islam.
A notorious and tragic example was the “Bali bomber,” Dr. Azahari Husin. Smart enough to be the top student at Malay College, Kuala Kangsar, he was later selected to pursue his engineering degree in Australia and subsequently, doctoral work in Britain.
By all accounts he was a competent academic and an inspiring teacher. He could have made a significant contribution by training future engineers, quite apart from being a much-needed role model especially for young Malays. Somewhere along the line he acquired a zeal for “purifying” the faith. Instead of making a meaningful contribution, he ended up leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. A needless tragedy, for him, his family, and society!
At the community level, this increased emphasis in religion has resulted in, among other things, our national schools taking on all the trappings of a religious institution. As a result non-Muslims are abandoning the system in droves making these schools all the more insular. Malays too are abandoning the system but for the very opposite reason – these schools are deemed not religious enough! As a consequence religious schools now mushroom all over the country.
Unlike religious schools in America, those in Malaysia are heavy into religion, paying lip service to such important but deemed “secular subjects” as science and mathematics. Then we wonder why local companies cannot get enough qualified Malay applicants.
This emphasis on religion has resulted in the massive expansion of the bureaucracy associated with Islam just to employ these otherwise unemployable Malay graduates. This further encourages Malays to enroll in religious schools, feeding this non-productive cycle. Today thousands of Malay talents are diverted not in producing something for the economy but in the destructive pursuit of keeping citizens along the “straight and narrow path,” as these zealots see it.
If this were to continue, we could expect a modern version of the Padri War, with the Malay community in conflict with each other and be left behind. This time there would be no outside force coming to mediate or rescue us; we would be left destroying each other while the world bypassed us.
The need for Malays and Muslims today is not to further divide us by heaping useless labels as liberal or conservative Muslims, or needlessly dividing us into tudung-clad versus the well-coiffured. As so eloquently stated in the Koran, true piety lies not in turning your face to the east or west (as in praying) rather one who spends his substance on his kin, the orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer.
In order to do that we first must have the substance, that is, be productive. This obsession with the external manifestations of our faith distracts us from being so and thus contributing to the betterment of our society.
Adapted from the author’s latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia , 2013.