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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.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Allah's Second Quran

Allah’s Second Quran

The late Malay philosopher Haji Abdul Malek Karim Amirullah (HAMKA) once remarked that Allah blessed humans with two Qurans. One is open, which He revealed to Prophet Mohammad (May peace be upon him) in the seventh century; the other closed, this vast and wonderful universe.

Muslims are familiar with only the first Quran. Many neglect or are even contemptuous of the second Quran, dismissing it as “secular” knowledge.
We have an obligation to study Allah’s second Quran as much as the first. With the first, Allah generously provided us with an exemplary teacher in the person of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

With the second, Allah has left that to our own. In His wisdom however, Allah did not leave us ill equipped for this pursuit. He endows each of us with akal (intellect), an ability to think and reason. This attribute differentiates us from the rest of His other creations. We must use this divine gift to pursue vigorously the secrets and wisdom of this second Quran.

The words, sentences (Ayat), and verses (Surah) of the Quran are finite, but their meanings and comprehensions are not. They have taxed and will continue to tax great minds. Those who declare with great certitude that the truth of the Quran had been fully uncovered reveal more the limitations of their intellect rather than the vastness of the knowledge and wisdom within the Quran.

These ulamas proclaim that all we need to do to be good and pious Muslims is to simply follow their dictates (taqlid). They would us be the sheep, and they, the shepherd. They would have us suppress that greatest gift Allah could bestow upon us, our ability to think and use our reason.


The Equally Infinite Second Quran

The second Quran too is infinite. In verse 27, Surah Luqman (31:27) (approximate translation), “If all the trees on earth were pens, and if the sea eked out by seven seas more were ink, the Words of God could not be written out unto their end.”

Scientists exploring the physical universe beyond and the living world within are in effect studying this second Quran. Allah has bountifully rewarded them – and mankind – for their efforts. Biologists diligently studying the viruses – that most elemental form of life – gave us lifesaving vaccines. Today smallpox is no longer a scourge, only a laboratory phenomenon, and perversely, also a potential lethal weapon for terrorists. Newton’s insights on physics gave us the jet engines, rockets and satellites. And from there we have cellular phones, MTV, and satellite television.

The Quran and the Sunnah (sayings and practices of the prophet s.a.w.) exhort us to seek knowledge and to use our akal. Having acquired that knowledge, we must act upon it to better ourselves and our fellow humans. If we do not, then we would be no better than a donkey carrying the Book of Knowledge on its back: an unnecessary burden, not a source of enlightenment.
With akal we have the capacity to decide between right and wrong, and even whether to believe or disbelieve.

On the Day of Judgment, Allah will judge us solely by our deeds. We cannot excuse what we did during our lifetime simply because we were merely following the teachings of this inspiring ulama or that mesmerizing mullah. Islam does not provide for “being a good German” defense. (In the Nuremberg trials Nazi operatives used the defense that they were merely “being a good German” by obeying their superior’s command.)

In Islam, it is us mortals and Allah, there being no need for an intermediary. We have no popes, bishops or priest to intercede on our behalf. Nor do we have a great savior who had sacrificed himself to save us all.
Yes, our faith has been blessed with great ulamas, from the Rightly Guided Caliphs and the Prophet’s companions (May Allah be pleased with them!) to many others following them. They have enlightened and guided us further. Ultimately however, we are answerable for own deeds.

This is the beauty of Islam. There is no great savior for me except Almighty Allah, and I am answerable ultimately to Him.

Ancient Muslims implicitly recognized the importance of this second Quran. Thus, they eagerly learned from the Greeks and Romans, and then went on to make their own seminal contributions. Muslim luminaries of the era were unencumbered by the fact that they were learning from infidels or that the Greeks worshipped multiple deities. Those Muslims implicitly recognized that all knowledge ultimately come from Allah.

Why Allah chose to reveal the mystery of the concept of zero to a Hindu, the insight on gravity to an Englishman, and the secrets of the atom to a Jew is not for us to question. That is Allah’s prerogative. Suffice for us to recognize that such knowledge and insight are for the benefit of all.

Those early Muslims did not distinguish between worldly and religious knowledge. This artificial division of knowledge between secular and sacred is just that – artificial. All knowledge is sacred, and must be respected as such. My knowledge of human biology could be used to save lives or perversely, to end or maim them. Allah has endowed me with akal to differentiate between the two.


The Prodigal Son

To me, Anak yang soleh (The prodigal son) is a broad concept. The engineer who builds dams that provide irrigation and better livelihood to thousands by ending the cycles of flooding is very much anak yang soleh. He studies the second Quran in the form of the physical world around him, and uses that knowledge to benefit his community.

The late Tun Razak used his knowledge to bring development to his people, and gave dignity and meaning to their lives. He too was a prodigal son. P. Ramlee, whose voice and melodies uplift the spirits of millions, was another. The gifted Sudirman brought smiles and happiness to many by honing his God-given talent in music and then generously sharing it with us. He too was a prodigal son personified.

It is Allah’s prerogative upon whom He would bestow such gifts and wisdom of the second Quran. It is also His sole prerogative as to whom He would admit to Heaven. To me, however, it would not be heaven without the likes of Tun Razak, P. Ramlee and Sudirman.

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