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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, November 25, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #129

Chapter 19: Islam: The Solution, Not The Problem


Lessons on Leading the Muslim World


There are two ready examples for Malaysia to emulate in aspiring for leadership of the Muslim world. One is the earlier successful example of Iberian Islam, and two, the West’s lead position in today’s world.

There are many commonalities between Iberian Islam and today’s West. Iberian Islam was the beacon to the world in its time, just as the West is today. America leads the world intellectually, militarily, economically, and in other spheres, just as Iberian Islam was the center of intellectual and cultural refinements in its time.

What made both successful was their openness to the outside world. While the rest of Europe was mired in entrenched anti-Semitism, the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule was the model of enlightenment and tolerance. There, Jewish and “heretic” Christian scholars were welcomed and could pursue their intellectual curiosities freely. They were also free to practice their faith. Today’s Muslims would do well to emulate our ancient brethrens, in particular, their tolerance of minorities and other cultures, reverence for knowledge, and openness to new ideas regardless of where they originate.

Today the West is the shining light for the rest of the world. One measure reflective of this is the flow of humans. It is from the rest (including Muslim World) to the West, rarely the other way around. This is true for the masses as well as the intellectuals and the gifted.

Many Muslim countries today are consciously aligning themselves with the West. The Gulf States are learning quickly and profiting greatly from the knowledge that there is great wealth beyond oil and gas. They are turning their tiny little kingdoms into tourists’ and shopping havens, and becoming educational hubs. The world’s grandest hotels are located there, and United Emirate Airlines is fast overtaking the likes of Singapore Airlines. Emirate Airlines is also much more profitable, better run, and has a vastly greater fleet than the long established airlines owned by Egypt and Iran.

If Malaysia were to aspire leadership for the Muslim world, it must begin by being more tolerant of fellow believers, especially those who subscribe to other Islamic schools of thought like the Ismailis, Ahamdiyyas, and Shiites. Malaysia is a Sunni state and follows the Shafie School of jurisprudence; it is intolerant of other versions of Islam.

In early 1990 when the International Islamic University was setting up its medical school, I applied for an academic position. I was attracted because its language of instruction would be English. I did not get beyond the application process; I was so offended by the intrusive questions. The university was not interested in my publications or academic experiences (only a few lines devoted to that), but pages were devoted to inquiring about my intimate beliefs and practices as a Muslim. Presumably, if you did not subscribe to the government’s version of Islam, you would not be appointed.

IIU should be encouraging the study of all Muslim thoughts and ideologies. It should be exploring with a view to greater understanding of the various sects of Islam. The Shiites and Sunnis may be slaughtering each other in the Middle East, but Malaysia could show that Muslims can get along not only with non-Muslims but also with fellow believers who have different interpretations of the faith.

Malaysia would be the ideal place to study and separate the essence of our faith from its underlying Arabism, and thus prove the faith’s universality. For Malaysia to achieve this goal, it must empower its intellectuals and ulama and grant them freedom to explore the vast intellectual and philosophical spectrum of our faith. It is probably too late to start with the present crop of ulama and scholars brought up under the old rigid and intolerant system. Start with the young, the future ulama and scholars. They should be exposed to all schools of thought in Islam during their formative years. Additionally, they must be well grounded in modern subjects like the sciences and mathematics so they can meaningfully relate their faith to the modern world, much like earlier Iberian Muslims.

Muslim schools and colleges in Malaysia and elsewhere in the Muslim world are less educational institutions and more seminaries, less places for getting an education and more for indoctrination. Were Islamic schools to be reformed, they would attract non-Muslims, much as Christian schools and colleges in America attract non-Christians. Malaysia would then truly begin the rebirth of Islam, one that would serve as a powerful and effective antidote to the virulent version propagated by the likes of Osama bin Ladin. The world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, would definitely be better for that.

Islam and the West share many common values. The Judea-Christian belief that is the foundation of the West shares much in common with Islam. Malaysia must take full advantage of this to the benefit of itself, Islam, and the world.


Next: Chapter 20: East, West, Islam, and Malaysia

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