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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.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Reflections on Ramadan's Many Gifts/Mengimbau Fadilat Ramadhan

Reflections on Ramadan’s Many Gifts

[First published in the Sun, November 6, 2004]

To many, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Ramadan means fasting, and only fasting. This narrow obsession leads to such strict but silly rules like closing restaurants during the day and jailing those not fasting. Recently a Malaysian religious official suggested that Muslims caught eating during the day be paraded around town in a hearse. This cruel and punitive streak, alas all too common among the religious establishment, is the very antithesis of the spirit of Ramadan.

To me, Ramadan means much more than just fasting from sunrise to sunset. This holy month is a time to pause and to ponder, to be forgiving and to seek forgiveness, and to be generous not only to others but equally important, to oneself. It is also a time for self-restraint and self-discipline.

Unlike the other pillars of Islam (shahada, praying, tithe, and pilgrimage to Mecca), fasting is a very private and personal act. No one but Allah knows that you are fasting. You may not be eating but that does not mean you are fasting. Those silly rules serve nothing more than to discourage people from eating in public during the day.

Living in largely secular and predominantly non-Muslim America, I am thankfully spared of these bullying religious functionaries. Nobody forces me to fast; there are no religious police wandering around looking for sinners. I fast because I want to, and for that reason it is a much more meaningful act.

In today’s harried and hurried world it is easy to be caught up in the maelstrom. Ramadan forces one to pause and reflect; in short it is a “time out.”

The drastic change in my daily routine during Ramadan forces me to view matters differently. The quiet of the morning, with ample time now available that was previously consumed with preparing and eating breakfast, is ideal for such contemplation. Such moments alas are too rare during my regular day.

My lunch break is now my most productive time as I am alone and uninterrupted. It is amazing how much time we idle away at lunch. I can also count on losing five to ten pounds during Ramadan. It is flattering to hear comments on how fit I look at the end of the month!

Today, fasting has been “modernized,” with evenings now consumed with never ending feasts. I once attended an iftar (break fast) in Malaysia hosted by somebody important. Far from enjoying it, I was offended by the display of crass commercialism. It was in a luxury hotel, hardly the place for pious reflection, and the culinary extravaganza was matched only by the guests’ gorging appetites. No wonder many Muslims gain weight during Ramadan; they simply rearrange their gluttony from daytime to nighttime. Where is the spirit of restraint called for during Ramadan?

The traditional teaching is that fasting would remind us of the hunger pains endured by those less fortunate. It is hard to empathize with the poor when you know that your own hunger will be satiated – no, indulged – come sunset.

We would remember the poor best and empathize with them more were we to pause and contemplate their fate. Then we would realize how much good we would do for them if only we were less extravagant in our desires. Imagine how many of the poor could be fed with the leftover food from one of those lavish feasts.

This preoccupation with fasting distracts Muslims from other equally important elements of Ramadan. Consider charity. While Muslims are familiar with giving tithe, more important is the generosity of spirit. I have yet to see a formal amnesty program for our prisoners during this blessed month. Nothing would demonstrate this charitable spirit more were the government to release some prisoners, especially those held under the Internal Security Act. That would be far more meaningful than all the rhetoric on Islam Hadhari.

Praise be to Allah, this Ramadan I am blessed with health, peace and prosperity. I am also mindful that millions of others are less fortunate, which makes me even more thankful of my blessings.


Mengimbau Fadilat Ramadhan
(Reflections on Ramadhan’s Many Gifts)

Terjemahan Arif Hazlan

(Pertama kali disiarkan oleh The Sun, 6 November, 2004)

Kepada kebanyakan umat Islam dan juga orang-orang bukan beragama Islam, Ramadhan membawa makna berpuasa, dan hanya berpuasa.

Kepercayaan yang sempit ini menyerlahkan peraturan yang sempit dan menyepit seperti menutup restoren di siang hari dan memanjarakan sesiapa yang tidak berpuasa. Baru-baru ini pegawai agama (Islam) di Malaysia mencadangkan agar orang beragama Islam yang ditangkap makan di siang hari diheret merata jalan dengan kereta usung di pekan. Contoh hukuman yang zalim ini memang terlalu lumrah difikirkan oleh pihak berkuasa tentang agama, dan merupakan sesuatu yang amat bertentangan dengan semangat Ramadhan.

Saya menganggap Ramadahn membawa erti yang lebih besar, bukan sahaja berpuasa daripada awal pagi sehingga maghrib. Bulan yang suci ini adalah ketikanya kita bermenung untuk sejenak, bermaaf-maafan, dan bermurah hati bukan sahaja pada pihak lain tetapi yang lebih penting lagi, kepada diri sendiri. Inilah juga masanya untuk kita berdisiplin diri dan bermuhasabah.

Berbeza dengan tiang agama yang lain, (shahada, bersolat, membayar zakat dan mengerjakan haji ke Mekah) berpuasa adalah satu pergerakan diri yang amat tersendiri. Tidak ada sesiapa kecuali Allah yang tahu apakah kita berpuasa. Seseorang itu mungkin tidak makan dan minum tetapi ini tidak bererti dia sedang berpuasa. Peraturan yang remeh-temeh itu tidak memberikan manfaat selain menghalang niat seseorang yang beragama Islam daripada makan secara terbuka di siang hari.

Saya tinggal di sebuah negara yang begitu sekular dan didominasi oleh orang bukan beragama Islam - di Amerika. Saya bersyukur kerana dijauhkan Allah daripada cengkaman pegawai agama yang terlalu ghairah itu. Tidak siapa memaksa saya agar berpuasa, kerana tidak ada polis (penguatkusa jabatan) agama berkeliaran mencari orang yang berdosa. Saya berpuas kerana saya mahu berbuat begitu, dan kerana itu ia membawa lebih besar makna.

Hidup dalam dunia yang sentiasa becelaru dan bergerak maju, adalah mudah untuk kita terjebak dalam kecelaruan itu. Ramadhan memaksa seseorang berhenti sejenak dan befikir, dengan kata lain ia merupakan satu perhentian sementara.

Perubahan mendadak dalam tugas harian saya yang sungguh rutin di bulan Ramadhan, memaksa saya merenung sesuatu secara yang berbeza. Ketenangan awal pagi, di mana banyak masa kini terluang sedangkan sebelum itu ia diisi dengan persiapan menyediakan sarapan, adalah satu peluang untuk bermenung. Suasana semacam itu memang amat jarang dapat dinikmati pada hari yang biasa.

Waktu makan tengah hari kini merupakan waktu saya begitu produktif kerana dapat bersendirian dan tidak ada sesiapa yang mengganggu. Memang menakjubkan betapa kita membuang banyak masa ketika kita makan tengah hari. Saya juga dapat menyandarkan harapan untuk mengecutkan berat badan antara lima hingga sepuluh paun ketika bulan Ramadhan. Memang seronok mendengar pujian betapa saya kelihatan lebih segar pada akhir bulan Ramadhan.

Kini, berpuasa sudah dimodenkan di mana setiap petang dihabiskan dengan santapan yang tidak ada hentinya. Saya pernah menghadiri majlis berbuka puasa (iftar) di Malaysia yang dihoskan oleh seorang ternama. Saya tidak dapat menikmatinya kerana terlalu tersinggung melihatkan pembaziran yang amat nyata. Majlis berbuka diadakan di sebuah hotel, tentunya tidak sesuai untuk satu majlis agama, dan pembaziran juadah yang disediakan telah diwajarkan oleh kerakusan nafsu para tetamu. Patutlah, ramai manusia Islam menjadi lebih berat badannya semasa Ramadhan. Mereka hanya mengubah waktu malahap, daripada siang hari kepada waktu malam! Manakah perginya semangat hidup sederhana semasa Ramadhan?

Secara tradisi kita telah diajar bahawa berpuasa dapat mengingatkan kita kepada penderitaan golongan yang kurang bernasib baik. Adalah sukar memahami penderitaan golongan miskin itu apabila kita sudah tahu kelaparan yang kita tanggungi itu akan terubat dengan kenikmatan sebaik muncul lembayung senja.

Tentu kita dapat memahami penderitaan golongan miskin itu kalau kita berhenti sejenak dan bayangkan nasib mereka. Ketika itu barulah kita sedar betapa kita dapat membantu seandainya kita berjimat dalam memenuhi keinginan nafsu kita. Bayangkan berapa ramai kumpulan miskin dapat disuap dengan makanan lebihan daripada majlis makan yang penuh pembaziran.

Segala gembar-gembur mengenai berpuasa melencongkan minda umat Islam daripada elemen yang lebih penting lagi tersirat pada Ramadhan. Ambil sedekah sebagai contohnya. Umat Islam memang biasa dengan pemberian zakat, yang lebih penting ialah semangat kemurahan hati. Saya masih belum melihat adanya program pengampunan untuk para banduan sepanjang bulan yang suci ini. Tidak ada contoh semangat keinsanan yang lebih besar daripada kerajaan selain pembebasan dan pengampunan banduan, terutama sekali mereka yang ditahan di bawah ISA. Tindakan ini akan membawa makna yang lebih besar daripada retorik mengenai Islam Hadhari.

Allahuakbar, pada bulan Ramadhan ini saya dikurniakannya kesihatan, ketenangan dan kesenangan. Saya juga sedar masih wujud berjuta-juta orang lain yang kurang bernasib baik, dan inilah yang membuatkan saya lebih bersyukur kepada Illahi.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mun Yi said...

May God Bless you brother Bakri,

I am a free-thinker and believe in God but not religious doctrine for yours truly believes that faith and trust in God does not have to start with associating oneself with 'religion'. It is just a tag that some members of society have chosen to wear to feel more secure.

Keep up the good work on this blog and in other Malaysian publications. You are an example to Malaysian youth who are seeking a channel to be heard and understood, but too afraid to speak up thanks to the ISA.

9:09 AM  

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