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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.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia # 110

Chapter 16: Critique of Current Strategies

Islam Hadhari (“Civilizational” Islam)


Local commentators generously refer to Abdullah Badawi as an Islamic ‘scholar,’ despite the fact that he graduated with only a first degree and had not contributed an iota of scholarship. It is the ethos of the Malay culture to be generous, and to have low expectations especially of its leaders. Incidentally Islamic Studies was not Badawi’s first choice. He could not handle the mathematics to pursue his first choice, economics. Then, as now, Islamic Studies was the fallback for those not academically inclined.

Abdullah takes the ‘scholar’ label seriously, and therein lies the problem. He feels compelled to demonstrate his Islamic manhood and to better those ulamas in PAS. In 2004 Abdullah introduced his Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam) with great fanfare. Few would disagree with its ten lofty and lengthy principles. Cynically one could view them as nothing more than a pretentious attempt at besting the Ten Commandments, minus the brevity, clarity, and gravity, of course.

When citizens started asking whether “money politics” and corruption, afflictions of UMNO, are compatible with Islam Hadhari, the Prime Minister became decidedly testy. Of course both challenge the core of Islam Hadhari: moral integrity. When further questioned on whether the Internal Security Act, which calls for detention without trial, is in the spirit of the third principle of Islam Hadhari (free and independent people), and its second (just and trustworthy government), Abdullah threatened anyone who challenges Islam Hadahri with … the ISA! It is a sad reflection of Islam Hadhari that books written by John Esposito and Karen Armstrong, both sympathetic and influential commentators on Islam, are banned by the Abdullah administration.

Today, Islam Hadhari is one of Abdullah’s many forgotten slogans. The 9MP makes occasional respectful references to it.

The premise of Islam Hadhari is that this great faith is compatible with modern development and democracy. No one challenges that. The problem is not in enumerating the many great qualities of Islam (a grade school pupil could do that), but in living up to them. Nor is there any point in recalling the glory days of Islam and of the renaissance of Andulasia, those too are well documented. More important is to learn what made those Muslims great and what contributed to their subsequent decline. That would require diligent studies, not coining springy slogans.

Again, my solution is simple: Dump Islam Hadhari. It is dying anyway. It is obscene to see UMNO leaders endlessly quoting the Quran—with its pristine message of universal justice and respect for individual dignity and liberty—while at the same time defending such intrusive and inhumane laws as the ISA. That they fail to appreciate the jarring irony of their position is a stunning reflection of their collective moral blindness.

Today’s Muslims confuse between being “Islamic” and being good. Do good, and you will be following the moral imperatives of the Quran and the teachings of the prophet (pbuh). Evil deeds, no matter what their presumed justifications, can never be Islamic. Killing is evil not because the Quran says it is, rather killing is evil; that is why the Quran prohibits it. The difference is not at all subtle.

If Abdullah were intent on being the Grand Imam a la the Rightly Guided Caliphs, then he should emulate the legendary second Caliph, Omar. He was best known not for his erudite recitation of the Quran or for leading congregational prayers but for his effective and progressive leadership. Omar would stroll incognito through the evening bazaars to find out exactly how the citizens were faring, instead of relying on the glowing reports from his subordinates. Today’s Muslim leaders, out to prove their piety, would rather spend their evenings in mosques.

Imam Abdullah is taking his religious role too seriously. He forgets that he has a nation to lead, and the intractable problems of Malaysia cannot be solved through sermonizing and endless dispensing of homilies. Nor would prayers alone do it. A hadith says it well; first tie your camel, only then pray it does not escape. First be an honest and effective leader, then pray to God and seek His Guidance and Mercy.

Reduce poverty, eliminate corruption, and respect the dignity of the citizens—those are meritorious deeds in the Holy Book of any religion. Abdullah would be better off concentrating on crafting effective policies to address these pressing problems instead of being distracted by the empty rhetoric of Islam Hadhari. The citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims, elected him to be their chief executive, not their imam.


Next: Multimedia Super Corridor and Bio Valley

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