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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

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.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Making Peace, Piece by Piece

Making Peace, Piece by Piece
M. Bakri Musa


[Portions of this essay constitute my welcoming remarks at the recent Piece Process 3, an exhibition of works by Arab, Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian artists at Gavilan College, sponsored jointly by the local Muslim and Jewish communities, and the college.]
Reposted from www.Malaysia-Today.net, September 15, 2005

As President of the South Valley Islamic Community, one of the co-sponsors of today’s event, I welcome you all. I am very excited this afternoon to embark on this journey of discovery through this Piece Process 3, an art exhibit of Israeli and Palestinian as well as Jewish and Arab artists. *

Today is September 11, a time for us to pause and reflect on the tragedies that struck four years ago, and to keep the victims and their loved ones in our prayers and thoughts.

As I pause and reflect, two observations keep recurring. One, all faiths have the same purpose of bringing peace and order in this world. The other is that since time immemorial, religions have been invoked to justify killings and destructions.

The recurring refrain in the Quran is, “Command good and forbid evil!” I am certain that all the other Holy Books bear this same theme, or variations thereof. Another manifestation of the same idea is the “Golden Rule,” to do unto others what you would want done to yourself. Again, all the Holy men and Books preach this message. I have yet to come across a religion that commands its followers to create havoc.

Today, violence and terrorism are being perpetrated in the name of my faith, Islam. That is a reality. The followers of this great faith are invoking it to kill and maim not only non-Muslims but also fellow believers. The Sunnis and Shiites are slaughtering each other in the Middle East. Less publicized are the continuing persecutions of the Ismailis in Pakistan and elsewhere.

The other reality less well acknowledged is that this is unique neither to Islam nor to our current period. One needs only look at the continuing sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. History is replete with many more ghastly examples.


Potential Enemies Becoming Real Enemies

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir once made this observation of China. One sure way to make that great nation your enemy, he said, is to treat it as a potential one. A wise remark!

In labeling a nation, faith, or anyone for that matter as being prone to terrorism and violence, we are in effect making that faith, nation or someone our potential enemy. From there it is merely but a few short steps away from becoming a real enemy. We then would have fallen into our own unwary trap, and unwittingly create our own feared future.

The West must never fall for the trap of considering the Islamic world as its potential enemy. The clash of civilization may be the forecast of brilliant minds, but the fate of human society is never preordained. More often than not, we create our own future.

We must remember that those violent Muslim extremists and terrorists, like their non-Muslim counterparts, are the enemy of all peace-loving people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Muslims and non-Muslims, Westerners and Easterners, have a common mission to get rid of the extremists in our midst.

Just as a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, then embarking on the journey for permanent peace must begin with a small piece of peace at a time. The peace process is indeed a piece process, taken a piece at a time in order to achieve the whole. It is an appropriate theme for this event.

Today we gather not only to understand each other but also a troubled region dear and critical to us all, the Middle East. It is a region thirsting for peace. We are constantly being showered with news, commentaries and polemics on the issues so much so that we feel inundated rather than illuminated.

Today and in the subsequent six Sundays, we get to view the landscape not from the rarified macro plane of the policy wonks and pundits, rather at the micro level of the participants, in particular the artists.

Artists have a special talent that I admire – and envy – of making us view the familiar as well as the unfamiliar in ways we have never thought of before. As a bonus, they do so in ways that are artistic, meaning, esthetically pleasing. We thus satisfy our intellect as well as gratify our senses. We thank them very much for allowing their works to be displayed here today.

This exhibition has already achieved something remarkable even before it has started. First, it has further increased Gavilan College’s involvement in the community. An ivory tower Gavilan is not. What is remarkable this time is that Gavilan is reaching out to the Muslim and Jewish communities. Both are small minorities. I congratulate the Gavilan College community for its effort.

Gavilan has a special place in my heart. Not only have I taken many courses here for personal enrichment, but my wife Karen also taught here. This afternoon’s exhibition continues on Gavilan’s mission of enriching the lives of the members of the community.

Second, and equally important, this event has brought the Jewish and the Muslim communities closer together again. Shortly after 9-11, jointly with St. Catherine Church of Morgan Hill, we had an inter faith service to remember the victims of that tragic event. That singular service was a balm on our collective wound; it reinforced the theme that we are after all part of the same family.

We have some other exciting collaborative plans with South Valley’s Emeth Congregation. We hope to see their fruition soon.


Islam and Freedom

The Muslim community here is small, about fifty families. We came together only a few years ago. We gather in a converted barn at one of our member’s property for our congregational prayers and other activities.

Our local Muslim community, like the greater American community, is incredibly diverse. At last count we have members who come from all the continents and claim no less than a dozen native languages, from Malay to Mandarin and Swahili to Singhalese. Since this is a college audience, I will not insult you by asking you in which countries these languages are spoken!
We are equally diverse theologically, from the ultraliberal Ismailis to the conservative Wahabis. The only commonality is that we identify ourselves as Muslims, meaning, we subscribe to the five basic tenets of our faith.

Ethnically and culturally too, we are equally diverse. I need not dwell on our political views!
We can accept and celebrate this diversity and make it an asset, or by default, it becomes a liability. What a liability! Today’s headlines carry unending tales of woes of those who do not consider this diversity an asset.

As a Muslim, I am blessed to be living in this great country. The egalitarian ideals as well as that of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness crafted by the founding fathers, also represent the ideals of my faith. This freedom, enshrined in our constitution and validated daily in our lives, enables me to practice my faith. We take this precious freedom for granted. For those who migrated or escaped from countries where such freedoms are indeed precious but for a very different reason – its scarcity – we are forever thankful for the privileges afforded here.
It is this freedom that enables me to learn about the other great faiths as well as the various traditions within my own religion. From the conservative Wahabis I learn to value the anchoring stability of rituals and traditions, from the Ismailis, pragmatic accommodation and communal charity. I also learn from non-Muslim scholars of Islam. Alas, this freedom of intellectual and spiritual exploration is nonexistent in many Muslim countries.

I came from Malaysia, a country by the prevailing standards of the Muslim world, free and developed. There I would end up in jail if I were to read Shiite literature. Imagine if I were to make references to the Bible or the Torah. I do not have to wait for the Hereafter, I will suffer my own Hell right here on earth!

Islam flourishes only when there is freedom, and America amply provides this. This led Osman Bakar, a Malaysian scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for the Understanding of Christianity and Islam, to declare that America will be a second Mecca.

In his book, What’s Right with Islam, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf marvels at the splendid opportunity that America provides for him to practice his faith. He boldly proclaims that America is “Shariah-compliant” meaning, it is living up to the ideals of Islam. I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Let us then seek the blessings and guidance of The Almighty as we embark on this journey of discovery, and may peace be upon us all.

*The artists participating are: Granite Amit, Doris Bittar, Tom Block, Rajie Cook, Hanah Diab, Michele Feder-Nardoff, Nick Fox-Gieg, John Halaka, Kanaan Kanaan, John Pitman-Weber, and Amie Postic.

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