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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Man, The Message, and The Miracle

[Personal note: Space and time permitting, I will post some of my earlier commentaries on this website. All my essays up to December 2003 had been published in my book, Seeing Malaysia My Way. Those essays will not be posted here. Instead the essays posted here are those published since January 2004. MBM]

The Man, The Message, and The Miracle

M. Bakri Musa

[Speech given at the South Valley Islamic Community, Morgan Hill, California, on the occasion of Mauludal Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Originally published in Malaysiakini.com’s Seeing It My Way, June 14, 2004.

As Muslims we are to love, honor, and emulate our Holy Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. As the journalist Abdul Salahi observes, we best demonstrate our love and veneration for our prophet by following his teachings, not by singing his praises.

Today we gather to honor our prophet on the occasion of his birthday, Mauludal Nabi. I am fully aware of the deep controversy in the Muslim world on the appropriateness of this occasion. There are those who feel that in so doing, we are aping the Christians with their Christmas. Many lament the degeneration of that holy day into unbridled consumerism, with the original religious theme all but forgotten.

We have to be careful in our choice of words for the meanings we give them are colored by our culture and experience. I am not “celebrating” the prophet’s birthday, rather, I am honoring this Rasul of Allah by recalling and reminding myself of his many sterling attributes, in the hope that I too can emulate, or at least attempt to, some of those exemplary qualities.

Biographical Accounts

I have read many biographies of the holy prophet, from the most embellished hagiographies by well meaning followers of our faith, to the most cynical accounts viewed through the jaundiced eye of the Orientalists. Regardless, with each reading I learn a little more about our prophet that further increases my already immense admiration and affection for this devoted Rasul of Allah.

Ironically, my greatest appreciation of our prophet comes from reading accounts where he is portrayed as an ordinary mortal. The prophet of course was no ordinary being; Allah in His Wisdom did not choose His Last Messenger randomly. Long before Muhammad s.a..w. received his first revelation, his virtues were already evident. By this I do not mean the numerous miracles attributed to him in some of the hallowed hagiographies. For example, it is said that as an infant, his mother had difficulty finding a wet nurse as his father had died before his birth. Would-be wet nurses rightly felt that they would not be compensated. When one woman, Halimah, finally picked Muhammad, it was because she had no other choice. But her reluctance was amply rewarded, for when she brought the baby to her bosom, her previously dry breasts suddenly became engorged, with enough nourishing milk not only for the infant Muhammad but also for her own baby.

Another miracle has it that when Muhammad was a child, Angel Gabriel seized him, ripped open his chest, took his heart out, and washed it with ice water in a golden basin, before putting it back into his chest. The angel also threw out a black clot.

Such accounts of divine interventions are of course heavy on symbolisms. I consider such accounts interesting if not mildly hilarious, but being miracles they defy rational analysis.

Al Amin

Even dispensing with such celebrated accounts, there are indeed many contemporary records of the prophet’s exemplary life long before Allah selected him to be His Last Messenger. As a young man, he was already referred to as Al Amin – honest and trustworthy.

On one occasion when the Arabs were rebuilding the Ka’aba after it was damaged from an earlier flood, there was much rivalry and jealousy among the various participants as to who would have the honor of putting the final touch. As usual, such trivial differences quickly escalated, and they were ready to come to blows. Finally, they agreed to ask Muhammad s.a.w. to arbitrate. Muhammad s.a.w. immediately sensed the gravity of the situation, being fully aware of the disastrous consequences should he make a mistake.

He quickly devised a brilliant and equitable scheme for sharing the honor. He asked them to spread out a carpet, and he then placed the black stone, the central object of veneration, in the center. He had a representative from each tribe to raise the edge of the carpet and carry the stone to its final resting spot. Everyone was satisfied, as they had all participated in the final rite, with no one tribe hogging the honor. They were most pleased that they had successfully converted a potentially lethal and explosive rivalry into an amicable and cooperative endeavor.

Muhammad s.a.w. intuitively knew the wisdom that honor is never diluted when shared; on the contrary, it is enhanced. Similarly, rivalry can, with ingenuity, be converted to meaningful teamwork, and destructive competition to fruitful cooperation..

Despite his esteemed reputation, the prophet still encountered obstacles – some monumental – in spreading the word of Allah. His divine message of belief in a Supreme Being, equality of man, and social justice threatened the existing order. He understood the vast implications of his mission and was fully aware of the intense opposition. His forcing of the message would only divide his people. He had no intention of destroying his community in order to save it, to borrow a Vietnam-era military maxim. Thus even though he was carrying Allah’s message, he preached initially in secret, and only to his family and close friends.

Lesser mortals receiving smaller mandates from much lower authorities would no doubt have trumpeted their self righteousness and charged right ahead, oblivious of the damages and consequences they would inflict.

The truth inevitably prevailed and the message spread. Still, there were battles to be fought and challenges overcome. The two most celebrated were the Battle of Badr, in which the Muslims won despite overwhelming odds, and the Battle of Uhud, in which the well prepared but over confident Muslims were nearly routed, and with the prophet himself being injured. These exploits attained legendary proportions to instill in Muslims the lesson that victory is not always assured simply because of the justness of the cause, and of the dangers of overconfidence.

Military Leadership

To me the genius of the prophet’s military leadership lies not in the heroic battles he won, rather in the conflicts he avoided. The peace treaty he signed with the pagan Meccans at Al-Hudaibiyah is instructive.

It was the sixth year of the Hijrah, and the prophet had declared his intention to lead his followers on their first pilgrimage to Mecca. He publicly demonstrated his peaceful intent by forbidding his followers from carrying arms except their sheathed swords, the traditional accoutrement of desert travelers. To the Meccans, the pilgrimage was a frontal challenge to their authority as custodians of Ka’aba.

The prophet sent numerous emissaries to assure the Meccans of his peaceful intent, but they were unimpressed, and in turn sent an intimidating force to dissuade the Muslims. Neither side backed down, and both were headed for a massive confrontation.

The Muslims encamped outside of Mecca in the plains of Al –Hudaibiyah. Legend has it that the prophet’s camel refused to budge. After yet another series of negotiations with and posturing by the Meccans, the prophet finally agreed to a peace treaty. The Meccans were relieved in not having to fight the determined Muslims, and the prophet in turn was comforted in that he avoided a civil war. He knew only too well his followers would be fighting their kin and kind, and that the wounds of this fratricide would take a long time to heal.

The Muslims were severely disappointed as the treaty was decidedly one sided. They avoided a war all right, but the price was stiff: they had to delay their pilgrimage to the following year and stop spreading the faith. Delaying their pilgrimage was a tough sell as the Muslims were already in a heightened state of religious fervor. To be disrupted in one’s pilgrimage is an event of singular significance to Muslims, then and now.

In the following year when the prophet gathered his followers for their deferred pilgrimage, the crowd was even larger. More significantly, the Meccans were so impressed with the Muslims’ peaceful mission and tolerant gesture the year earlier that many joined the new faith. Thus what had previously been perceived as a defeat for Muslims and victory for the Meccans, turned out a year later to be just the opposite!

It may be counterintuitive, but the power of peace can often overwhelm the might of the military. Mahatma Gandhi humbled the great British Empire not through the show of force – he had none – but through his peaceful gestures. Likewise, Martin Luther King prevailed by shaming America for failing to live up to its stated ideals. Today, far too many, within as well as outside our faith, fail to appreciate what our beloved prophet s.a.w. dramatically demonstrated over 14 centuries ago.

Personal Generosity

While we cannot emulate the qualities of our prophet’s military leadership – none of us have an army – nonetheless we can apply his principles of generosity in deescalating our disputes. We can begin by being more generous in admitting our own mistakes.

The prophet was no less generous with his family. When his dear uncle and protector Abu Talib died without ever becoming a Muslim, the prophet did not denounce him, did not tell him that he would burn in eternal hell. On the contrary, the prophet s.a.w. was there by his uncle’s side comforting the family. His uncle’s not being a Muslim did not in any way lessen the prophet’s love and compassion for him.

Today we have Muslim parents disowning their children for far lesser offences. In Malaysia, we have Muslim physicians who refuse to examine non-Muslims unless they (the doctors) wear gloves, for fear of being “contaminated” by the infidels. Where in the seerah or the Qur’an they find the justification for such a despicable attitude?

American Muslims and Early Muslims

Without being pretentious (May Allah forgive me if I appear so!), we American Muslims have much in common with those early Muslims. First, we are a minority within our community, and second, we too have undertaken our own Hijrah (migration). While the prophet’s Hijrah was the command of Allah, many like me come to America on our own free choice.

Others come here not by choice but because they are forced out of their homeland because of ethnic cleansing or to escape tyranny. These are truly brave Muslims.

It is the duty of Muslims to move away from evil even if that involves forsaking our homes and properties. In Surah An Nisaa, (4:97) (approximate translation), “When the angels take the souls of those who die in sin, they say, ‘In what plight were ye?’ They replied: ‘Weak and oppressed were we on earth.’ The angles responded, ‘Was not this earth of Allah spacious enough for you to migrate to some other place?’ These people will have Hell as their refuge. Allah spares only the truly helpless men, women, and children who have no means in their power nor any way to leave.”

One special group of immigrants is deserving of our praise – the Islamic scholars. These brilliant individuals often are persecuted and not allowed to develop their talent back in their native land. In America they are welcomed and given every opportunity to pursue their knowledge and spread their wisdom. As a result, America and Islam are blessed with the blossoming of their scholarships.

It has been said that the second renaissance in Islam will arise in America, and that it will be like a second Mecca. I fully agree. English is already the most important language in Islam, next to Arabic. Throughout history, Islam flourishes only where there is freedom; America amply provides that. The losers are the Muslim nations that do not value the gems within their midst.

American Muslims have a splendid opportunity and special obligation to present the pristine message of our faith through our deeds and words, just like our earlier brethrens did. In America we are free to practice our faith. We fast, pray, and pay zakat because we wanted to, and not because some authority out there is checking on us, as in many Muslim countries. America is the embodiment of that Qur’anic refrain that there shall be no compulsion in matters of faith.

America, with its representative government and Bill of Rights encapsulates the enlightened governance commanded by Allah in the Qu’ran. The Declaration of Independence incorporates the very ideals of our faith. In short, to quote Imam Feisal Rauf, America is “Sharia-complaint!”

When Muhammad s.a.w. was asked by his detractors to prove his prophethood by performing some miracles like other prophets before him, he answered, referring to the Qur’an, “This is my miracle!” The message is the miracle. It comes from the ultimate source, Allah. Its verity and wisdom is for all mankind and at all times.

Let us then commit ourselves to learn and benefit from this the greatest of all miracles. Let us live the message and emulate the Messenger. For the best message is the message of Allah as laid down in the Qur’an al Kareem, and the best messenger or teacher is our beloved Muhammad s.a.w.

May Allah bless the soul of our beloved prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and that of his family and his companions.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Tribute to Kassim Ahmad

A Tribute to Kassim Ahmad
M. Bakri Musa

First posted on www.Malaysia-Today.net August 23, 2005

Reading Kassim Ahmad’s recent interview with Zainon Ahmad (the Sun Weekend Edition, August 19, 2005) excited and invigorated me. It brought back the joy and exhilaration I had on reading for the first time Kassim’s The Characterizations of Hang Tuah while in high school in the 1950s. He was in his twenties when he wrote it, but his brilliance and courage shone through clearly despite his youth.

In the recent interview, despite his age I am thrilled that Kassim still displays his characteristic intellectual sparks, vigor and agility.

Kassim’s novel interpretation of our literary classic, Hikayat Hang Tuah, forced me (and others) to look differently at our culture and world. I felt a sense of grand wonderment after reading his work, as if a thick veil had been lifted off me. Kassim whetted my youthful rebellious spirit. It fortified me to challenge the certitudes forced upon me by my culture. In the process, I saw the beauty and elegance of the world and of my culture. At the same time, I also became painfully aware of the ugliness of that world and my culture.

Today, decades later and presumably much wiser as well as more accepting, I am still filled with wonderment on reading Kassim’s interview, but for different reasons.

Here I am in the mecca of capitalism and fully embracing as well as benefiting from free enterprise, full of admiration and respect for this man who is an ardent and committed socialist.

I believe firmly that free enterprise is the best avenue for achieving individual and as well as society’s fulfillment, while Kassim is fully committed to the egalitarian ideals of socialism. Our utopia is the same: a just, caring and prosperous society where citizens are free to pursue their personal ideals and dreams.

While I am geographically separated from Kassim by the vast Pacific, and philosophically even further away from him, yet I feel intellectually close to him. I greatly appreciate his works and welcome his views and ideas. I admire the man for his courage, talent and commitment. I respect him even more for such qualities are rare, and even rarer is the combination.

In Malaysia today, specifically in Malay culture, we remain deeply divided over trivial differences. We do not hesitate labeling each other as traitors for inconsequential political differences. With impunity, we denigrate each other as infidels for simply daring to express minor differences in interpretation of our faith. Our leaders disparage our young as being ungrateful for boldly asking uncomfortable questions.

It is as if we expect Malays to be clones of one another. In our culture, we are told to loathe and ostracize the black sheep. In doing this we implicitly compare ourselves to a flock of sheep, mindlessly following the shepherd. Indeed leaders especially those with a dictatorial bent would like their followers to be like sheep.

It is well to remember that while a benevolent shepherd would lead his flock to greener pastures, a blind one could just as easily lead them off the cliff, and a deaf one to the wolf’s den.

I have been exchanging views and letters with Kassim Ahmad for quite some time. The medium of the Internet brings us closer together as if we were in nearby villages. If a core capitalist like me and a staunch socialist like Kassim can be respectful of each other’s views and be welcoming of each other’s contributions, I fail to see why our larger community remains unnecessarily divided into liberal and fundamentalist Muslims, UMNO and PAS politicians, or monarchist and republican Malays. It pains me immensely, and I am certain Kassim too, to see our people thus polarized. Our diversity is our strength, not our weakness. It is our prized asset, not a cursed liability. We are humans, not sheep; we should expect and indeed welcome differences in taste, views and choices.

In the classic epic, the two heroes Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat could not resolve their differences. Their conflict consumed their friendship, and ultimately their honor and lives. It also divided and destroyed their community. There is no reason why modern day Hang Tuahs and Hang Jebats have to follow suit and allow that to happen to themselves and their community. If we must battle it out, let it be in the battlefield of ideas, and only there.

Anak Yang Soleh (The Prodigal Son)

When growing up, my father used to tell stories of Anak Yang Soleh (The Prodigal Son), the individual who would do society good. His reasons for relating such stories were obvious, as expressions of paternal duty as well as hope.

As his world extended only to what had been taught to him by his forefathers, my father’s model of prodigal sons were all religious figures except for Zaaba, the legendary scholar; Hamka, the alim and philosopher; and Munshi Abdullah, the teacher and chronicler.

Zaaba had a special place in my father’s heart, as well as mine. He was from a village nearby, indeed he was a member of our suku (tribe), hence our prideful sense of reflected glory. I remember listening in rapt awe on Radio Malaya the public oration delivered on his being awarded a Doctorate of Letters from the University of Malaya in Singapore on his retirement. My father had indeed set a very high standard for me!

I came to know of Hamka and Munshi Abdullah through their writings. Living in an alien world away from my familiar culture, these three provide my anchoring stability that bonds me to my traditions and values.

In my view, Kassim Ahmad is one anak yang soleh. It pains me greatly that our society has chosen to ignore this man. Kassim however would prefer this state of affair. The last time the authorities paid heed to Kassim, he ended up in jail under the Internal Security Act! When members of the Islamic establishment read or claimed to have read Kassim’s works, they labeled him anti-hadith.

In time, those establishment ulama will disappear with their pension, but Kassim and his ideas will endure. Thanks to insight of Kassim, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will still be debating Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat, and learning useful lessons from the discourse.

I am always amused when readers compliment me for my “courage” in expressing my views so freely. I live in a society that prizes individual freedom; besides, I am beyond the reach of the ISA. In truth, it is individuals like Kassim Ahmad who are truly courageous. They have felt the wrath of the authorities and yet continue to speak out against injustices and tyranny.

Kassim Ahmad rejoined UMNO in 1986. He remains a severe and persistent critic of the Malaysian brand of “politics as usual,” in particular political shenanigans and blatant corruptions. Nonetheless, he can be generous in his praises. In this interview as well in his earlier essays, he spoke warmly and favorably of Tun Mahathir. This led many to the mistaken belief that the man had “gone soft” or worse, became an apologist for the status quo.

This latest interview should disabuse those who misjudge the core character of this great man.

[For those interested, Kassim’s website is: www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com]

Monday, August 22, 2005

Exchanges with Din Merican: Alternatives to UMNO?

Exchanges with Din Merican

What is the Alternative to UMNO?

Dear Bakri:

In terms of political representation, Malays lack any real choice. There are no viable alternatives to UMNO for us.

UMNO is corrupt to the core as you said, nonetheless it represents the Malays, or at least some three million of us, whether we like it or not. It is also very well funded and organized, and controls our country’s resources. Non-UMNO Malays do not matter, and UMNO can play on their insecurities and religiosity through the inculcation of “nilai-nilai Islam” (Islamic values).

Keadilan does not know where it is heading (sorry to say this) since its principal purpose was to free Anwar Ibrahim. Now that he is out of jail, what is there for this lethargic party? It cannot even manage a satisfactory merger with Parti Rakyat Malaysia.

The new PAS even under a more ‘liberal’ leadership is certainly not an option since it has yet to abandon publicly its quest for an Islamic state. This is the basis of its existence and support among conservative elements in our society. Further, PAS does not attract non-Muslims; they do not trust these mullahs in lounge suits.

We are left with a Hobson’s choice: UMNO and the Barisan Nasional versus the unappealing and ineffectual “others.” In short, we are stuck with UMNO. How then can we reform or invigorate it?

Self-examination is a good start, but it will be only a mirage since UMNO leaders will not change. Fighting for the “Malay cause” gives them the right to plunder the country for their families, friends and themselves. How else can we explain the failure of NEP after 35 years? “Perjuangan kita belum selesai,” (Our struggle is not over), they proclaim endlessly. That “perjuangan” is for the status quo.

Change can only come when UMNO Malays decide that enough is enough, and start changing the UMNO system of politics from within. Unfortunately, the ordinary members have no means of doing this as the grassroots politics is still controlled by divisional and branch leaders who in turn are subservient to the top leadership through extensive and lucrative patronage system.

Professor AB Shamsul of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia has written an outstanding book on this subject, From British to Bumiputra Rule.

I am not optimistic that true reform – quite apart from cosmetic changes – is possible. Our present man, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is a product of the system. He is loyal to the system that has enabled him to be Malaysia’s top honcho.

Abdullah is surely a very good politician and a smart operator. Consequently, I am afraid that we are not seeing him for what he really is: one of them. So let us not be taken up by his earnest and “sincere” pronouncements. He has tolerated if not encouraged such characters as Osu Sukam, Isa Samad, Mat Tyson, Musa Aman, Khir Toyo, and Rafidah Aziz. They and others like them are still in UMNO, and thriving.

In order to survive and prosper in the party, one must be corrupt or be part of the corrupt culture. It is the same thing really. We know how difficult it is to effect change of culture. If the whole UMNO culture is tainted, then its leadership too is tainted.

Until an alternative emerges, the Malays must continue to rely on UMNO. This then is our destiny.

Din Merican

[Also published in Malaysiakini.com on August 19, 2005]

MBM's reply:

Dear Din:

You sound very pessimistic. Unfortunately, I agree with you. I too see little movement towards changing, let alone reforming, UMNO.

Uttering slogans like, “Work with me, not for me!” or “Cermelang, Gemilang, Terbilang” (Excellence, Glory, Distinction) will not do it. They are all …temberang! (bulls***).

Frankly, major changes like reforms and revolutions frighten me. Look at the reformasi movement both at home and in nearby Indonesia. It created more mess. Anwar’s reformasi threw back the cause of political discourse a hundred years back. Now the world thinks that the only way Malaysians are capable of protesting or registering our disagreements through ugly street demonstrations. Even ordinary citizens are now allergic to and fed up of street rallies and demonstrations after seeing the damages following the rampages of the reformasi folks. Not to mention the humongous traffic jams! As for revolution, look at Indonesia under Sukarno; it underwent endless revolusi before finally spinning out of control.

I would be happy were UMNO folks (leaders and followers alike) to begin with small incremental changes. I wrote about this elsewhere, so I will merely summarize my ideas here. Encourage competition for leadership positions for one, beginning at the highest levels with the top two positions contested. As for dismantling the huge and entrenched patronage system, I would begin by decoupling party from governmental positions. Meaning, just because you are a top UMNO leader does not mean you will get a senior government job. The skills, duties and talent needed for the two are very different and often contradictory. To be a successful politician, you have to be a backslapping and gregarious type. To be a successful executive, you have to focus and be willing to step on toes in order to get things done.

I am skeptical of idealistic reformers. Anwar Ibrahim claimed that he wanted to reform UMNO from within. “Reform from the inside!” must surely be the rallying cry of opportunists from time immemorial!

UMNO will change. The question is when and how. If it is too slow in coming, then we Malays will risk suffering irretrievably during the wait. Too rapid and tumultuous a change would disrupt UMNO, the Malays, and Malaysia.

I believe firmly that what we as well as many others are doing will effect changes. It is this conviction that motivates me to continue with my writing. Thirty years ago when I started voicing my views, people said that I was a voice in the wilderness or worse, a crackpot. My colleagues said that I was “flash in a pan” will all my ideas. Give time, they predicted, and I would surely adapt to the Malaysian realities! I did not!

I returned willingly to Malaysia in the 1970s to start my career. I had no obligation to do so, no scholarship or other bonds, except strong family ties that beckoned me back.
When I could not break the wall by banging my head against it, I quit and moved away where there are no walls barring my way ahead. I also discovered that I had fewer headaches and enjoyed life more by doing that!

To my critics who carp that I should return home and get my hands wet, my ready retort is simply, “Been there, done that!”

Now I find a better way at hammering at the wall, by firing salvos from a distance. My literary missiles seem to be working. Many of the ideas I suggested in the past are being adopted, like the wider use of English. Of course, it would be presumptuous of me to claim credit. Rather conditions are so bad now that these UMNO folks finally see the light. Reality has a way of knocking sense into people, even the dumbest.

Even if I were not effective with my writings, the fact that I am no longer bagging my head against the wall has saved me from further headache. That is reward enough!

Even more gratifying is that many, including those in senior positions in government and UMNO, are now declaring that they share my views. They may not do so openly but at least that is what they say to me in private. The fact that they are acknowledging me is in itself progress!

They are not the only ones as I also hear from my readers. On the day that Malaysiakini publishes your letter, it also carried one from a “Bumi Entrepreneur.” He wrote eloquently of the breach of trust by our leaders of the noble ideals of the NEP. I do not post on my website other people’s materials that had been posted or published elsewhere, but his letter is so compelling that I am making an exception. Below is his letter, his plaintive cry so painful.


Letter in Malaysiakini August 19, 2005

Elite Malays Have Betrayed NEP’s Aims
"Bumi Entrepreneur"

The voices appealing to continue the New Economic Policy (NEP) are getting louder, with all kinds of people trying to justify why it should be so. In the forefront are our Malay political leaders who are working overtime to churn out all kinds of statistics and “facts.” Being a Malay, I grieve for my brethren who until today are still waiting for the delivery of that solemn NEP promise.

I was but a child at the time when our well-meaning leaders formulated the NEP, but along the way, I saw with disgust and sorrow how my own people betrayed the trust placed on them.

The Approve Permit [for importing cars] scandal is just a wee demonstration of how the NEP has failed, with well-connected individuals raking in millions by doing nothing. Even government assets are not spared as they were sold cheaply to friends and relatives, with decisions made by the stroke of a pen.

What used to be state land is now in private hands, and turned into golf courses, equestrian resorts, huge skyscrapers, and shopping complexes. Assets belonging to government agencies too were plundered, and if that those were not enough, even agencies to help the Malays, such as UDA, were also sold!

Now the government says that agriculture must be modernized and expanded. Actually, this was mooted a long time ago with the formation of such statutory bodies such as FIMA to spearhead this modernization. Those too are now in private hands.

Then there was this noble intention to finance sports by way of raising money through lotteries, as is done in many other countries. So the government formed the Sports Toto. That money-spinner too is now sold. Our old airport at Subang was also quickly “sold.” The buyers at their first opportunity demolished every building on site for fear that the government would change its mind.

When these privatized projects failed to take off, they were simply handed back to the government without any compensation. Even shares bought from the government could be sold back when the market was down, not at market prices but at the purchase price, thus sparing the buyer of the losses.

All these were done in full view of us, the supposed recipients and beneficiaries of the NEP. All that we could do was watch in dismay as the plundering and destruction went on in our name.

Huge projects, such as the Independent Power Producers contracts were given on a silver platter to close friends, to be used as cash cows to finance other projects while the smaller, uneconomical ones were given to people like us.

We are then admonished for the slightest mistake that we make, and many times, publicly humiliated and compared with other more successful ‘entrepreneurs.’ But before these projects came to people like us, it was creamed off by the very people who are supposed to represent us and look after our interests, leaving us almost nothing in the end.

It would not hurt so much if they had succeeded in becoming successful entrepreneurs themselves. Then we too could be proud of them. But no! Many failed and now they want more, shouting themselves hoarse on why they need to be given more, and more and more.

I hope and pray that things will finally change for the better, because if it were done in the same manner as it was done over the last 22 years, then the NEP will have to be there for the next 100 years.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Islamic Discourse: Readers' Responses

Through personal e-mails:

Dear Bakri,

That is an interesting article by Dr. Musa Nordin! Islam is a religion that can be adapted through all times until the end of this earth, that is, KIAMAT. However, those who want to discuss the true teaching of Islam must first be well versed with the true UNDERSTANDING of the religion. Simply using our AKAL (intellect) or logical thinking to adapt the teachings of Islam might lead people to be more liberal in implementing them. This in turn might destroy their akidah (belief). Like the doctor said, to educate people about medicine would be advantageous to both doctors and patients. The drawback is that if the patient feels that he is well versed with medicine, he might just self prescribe his remedies. This might in turn harm himself. In Islam, the ulama or gurus are needed to guide those who lack the understanding of Islam so that they will understand the religion better and will not deviate from the true teachings.

Sometimes the guidance provided by the ulama might seem outdated and cannot be implemented in our modern times, but we must understand why this is so. Understanding religion is a very complicated matter. It is made even worse if the true Islamic teachings are confused with modern understanding or LOGIC.Just to share my view on this matter.

Syed Zahiruddin

Dear Dr Bakri,

I am glad that you wrote about this. I have been harboring myself with some of your ideas. I do not think Islam should be put on such a high pedestal that only a few could truly understand it. In many instances, ideas from the so-called laity (are we not all?), have been shot down just because we do not have an Islamic scholarly background. Islam has been made too complicated to my mind.

What is your opinion on why Muslims now are so backward in secular studies? Islam was once at the frontiers of knowledge.


I would rather take it this way. Let the professional embark on religious studies before they pursue their chosen field, or pursue both concurrently. I believe that Muslim professionals today are better in their understanding of Islam as compared to those of the 1960s and 70s. Your view may look outdated since there are many professionals who are comparable to the ulama and ulama cum professionals. In Mesir, it is normal for an engineer or doctor who is also a hafiz. Be careful with the term “ulama.”

We need more statistics before we are justified in saying that those ulama know nothing about science and contemporary knowledge. As for controlling of our mind as you mentioned, I do not think that in this era they are so influential. People make up their own mind these days.
The following are excerpted from Malaysia-today.net

Admiral Tojo said:

Saya amat setuju dengan cadangan ini. Kepercayaan bukan ekslusivity satu satu golongan. Olih kerana ramai yang telah dan sedang mengambil langkah untuk mengetahui apa kah sabenar nya ajaran Islam yang terkandung di dalam Al Quran itu sendiri, banyak lah timbul isu isu, yang pada pandangan saya bernas, yang perlu di perdebatkan dan di kemukakan. Banyak juga isu yang berbangkit sekarang, berkenaan cara penyelaksanaan secara paksa, undang undang yang belainan dengan asas ajaran Al Quran, yang di panggil 'Islamic'. Syabas Dr. Bakri. Di Malaysia, jikalau dibangkitkan perkara ini, selalu nya yang membangkit kan perkara ini akan di heret ke Mahkamah Syariah. Ini saolah menunjukkan ada ajenda yang ingin di rahsiakan supaya orang ramai tidak akan mengetahui nya.

Ibn Abd Halim:

Apakah ini yang dikatakan kejumudan? Apa maksud alim? Ulamak seharusnya melengkapkan diri dengan ilmu-ilmu ukhrawi dan duniawi demi kemajuan ummah.
Syabas Dr.Bakri!

Pro-rights said:

The ummah looks to the ulama/scholars for spiritual guidance and inspiration, but some of them wear several hats. They have political ambitions and sometimes go beyond their normal scope of pastoral duties. Some do not lead by good example.
The other issue is that the same Arabic word in the koran would give rise to several different meanings when translated.

Loganpal said:

Thanks Dr BM! Fine and thought provoking blog; Islam and being Malay. Dr B’s ideas of what an Ulama should be seem such an idealistic and interesting view, in the Malaysians context.
Many US citizens view Islam from an Arabic, not Malay, perspective. I find myself explaining this all the time. Oil and 911 is changing how US views the world. Muslims and Malaysians have a burden explaining this. We have never hated, just envied you. Look at our Malaysian flag.
F*** Osama for f***ing it up and making the US to embrace its right wing nuts. Hope in Hilary.
It not easy to ask an Ulama to learn Mathematics when he wants to be a clergy. I think it is more important to teach a Malaysian version of the Koran. Jihad means personal sacrifice or resisting materialistic gains. Of course Dr BM also hopes that ulamas also understand economics, social science, and the arts and craft.

Awang Kera said:

Dear Brothers, Sisters, and Friends:
I am happy that we Muslims in Malaysia, at least those of us who are open to fresh ideas and new perspectives, are beginning to speak up. We have been too quiet for far too long. In so doing, we are signalling to the ulama, the politicians, and those who parrot them that they do not have a monopoly on the “truths” in Islam.
The same goes to the people in IKIM, JAKIM, JAIS and the other state religious departments. They all should instead be role models--as enlightened thinkers, not doctrinaires or stooges,issuing politically motivated fatwas and interfering in our private lives.
They are in league with the politicians to control and dominate us by imposing their Islam on us. These ulama in particular and their associates are actually scared that they will lose their role in our society if you and I can argue intelligently with them on the basis of our own ability to think and reflect on the Message of the Holy Quran.
To me,when they threaten us with legal action in the Syariah Court, tha is a clear sign of desperation, their basic insecurity and weaknesses. They are losing the battle of ideas with us.
You will note that I put “truth” in quotation marks. What is truth? That question had plagued the Greek and Islamic philosophers and other thinkers for thousands of years. This quest for truth will continue because it is a Divine challenge to man.
Man needs to reflect in wonderment and praise the Majesty of Allah, The Most Merciful and Most Compassionate. Look around us in our physical world, and we will realise that we cannot understand everything that ALLAH created. Because of our ignorance,we take everything including our envirvonment for granted. We even abuse our power because we believe we can be God.
I may be an economist and understand economic development. Ask me about trees, plants animals, ants and other things, and I will plead ignorance and ask for help from those who are knowledgeable. Even in my field, I have to ask for help. For example, I am not an econometrician, or a monetary economist. I have also to regularly review and update my knowledge in my own field.
Our world is a complex ecological system that is constantly changing, sometimes in violent spurts or bangs, but imperceptibly most of the time. But our earth is only one unit in the galaxy of the Sun, Moon,Mars, the other planets and the distant stars, each with its won defined roles, yet existing in harmony.
What we think we know is therefore minute compared to what we need to know, and yet do not know. Whoever this Doctor who is mentioned in Dr. Bakri’s article may be, he has stopped learning and has closed his mind. I for one would not go to this doctor for my medical advice. He would probably make me more sick. I certainly will not deal with someone who seeks to play God with my life.
Fortunately for Muslims, the Holy Quran is the Guide and the Source of Faith. Read, reflect, and try to understand The Holy Quran., but we can never attain perfect understanding of Allah’s message. As a result, the real Islamic man, in his humility, will be constantly challenged to seek the Divine message. He is a seeker of Knowledge, hopefully leading to the Truth.
For those who are interested in reading the intellectual journey of one Muslim man, I suggest Dr. Zaiuddin Sardar’s Desperately Seeking Paradise.
Finally, I wish to state that we must not be scared to be different, to disagree and to express our views. I believe we as individuals can make a difference to our country. The least that we can do is to prevent Malaysia from receding into the Age of Ignorance.
We live in a plural society. As such we must be open, enlightened and tolerant of our fellow citizens and try to earn their respect.
Our ulama must understand that our world is changing and like us, they too must respect the dignity of difference. Like us, they too must look at the world with fresh eyes. If they are true scholars of Islam, they should attempt to eliminate their biases, hangups and big egos. That will take humility, which is in short supply today.
Once again, syabas Dr. Bakri.

Friday, August 12, 2005

UMNO, the Enabler

Umno Must Take On Itself First
M. Bakri Musa
[Reprinted from the Sundaily August 12, 2005]

UMNO is the "enabler" for Malays becoming socially and economically dependent. Its policies and practices are directly responsible for the Malay addiction to quotas, special privileges, Ali Babaism and other rent-seeking behaviours, and yes, even corruption.

"Enabler" is the term used in the battered wife syndrome to describe the spouse whose behavior actually encourages her husband to be abusive. Far from discouraging it, she actually reinforces his violence, her protestations and sufferings notwithstanding.

We Malays have been battered for too long. The colonialists told us we were lazy and indolent, and patronisingly called us "nature's gentlemen.” Today, Umno leaders batter us.

Umno leaders boasted of a brave new world of "Glokal" Malays capable of competing locally and globally, and where meritocracy reigns and social crutches an embarrassment. These aspirations will remain a fantasy unless these leaders critically examine their and the party's role in encouraging these negative traits among Malays.

A good place to begin instilling competition is the party. Yet top party positions are not contested! The rules for challengers are so burdensome that few try. Competitions are viewed as potentially divisive; a culture rooted in the Mahathir/Tengku Razaleigh rivalry of 1987.

Consequently, there is no mechanism to grade leaders. Challengers provide much- needed reality checks to the delusion of leaders who think they are doing a swell job. Sadly, this "no contest" mentality now permeates the party at all levels.

Even token challengers can subtly remind leaders who wear sarong pelakat (cotton sarong) that they are not donning samping sutera (silk cummerbund). This is important in a culture fearful of telling the sultan that he has no clothes on when his sarong has slipped.

Even when there are contests, the rules are so opaque that there is no meaningful way to judge the candidates. Campaigns are not allowed, reminiscent of Soviet Politburo elections.

Umno's motto should be: Today, the party; tomorrow, the world! Yet at the assembly there was little discussion on encouraging competition. Hiding behind the mantra of party unity is self serving.

Leaders must realize that the road ahead is uncharted. To be successful they must blaze their own trail. Once leaders learn this vital lesson, it will percolate down to the members.

Related to competitiveness is meritocracy. The Johor delegates voiced their skepticism of it.
Even the distinguished Royal Professor Ungku Aziz weighed in, to my great surprise. Being against meritocracy is like being against virtue. The wise professor surely does not mean to imply that Malays cannot compete, for he is the most illustrious example of that fallacy.

Yet that was exactly what the Johor delegates said; we Malays are "wheelchair bound" and thus cannot compete with the able bodied. Let us keep our crutches!

A more enlightened approach would be to embrace meritocracy. We may legitimately debate what constitutes merit. The Malaysian obsession with examination results is certainly misplaced. Such valuable attributes as creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurialism cannot be readily tested.

The Chinese dynasty collapsed because of its fixation on test scores. The best and brightest were consumed not with solving society's problems but on acing their civil service tests. That was how they could get close to the emperor. The test scores of the top Mandarins were even chiseled on their tombstones!

America's top universities could easily fill their freshman classes with perfect test scorers, but they do not. These institutions recognize other dimensions of merit not easily uncovered by test scores.

God has not destined Malays for mediocrity. The challenge is to nurture every talent, and we cannot do that if our schools are dilapidated and teachers poorly trained. Nor can we encourage innovation if we punish those who dare stray from the paved path.

Isa Samad's money politics, Rafidah Aziz's Approved Permit controversy, and Osu Sukam's gambling debts are but variations of the same theme.

If the Umno-controlled government were to auction off the APs, have open competitive tenders for its projects, and make those politicians actually work for their money, they would then be less likely to squander their resultant wealth. There would then be less money politics, less influence peddling, and even less corruption.

Only then would Umno be a worthy example for Malays. Before taking on the world, Umno must first take on itself.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Islamic Discourse Should be Open to All

Discourse in Islam Should be Open to All
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from Malaysia-Today.net August 4, 2005]

Contemporary ulama and Islamic scholars would like us to believe that discourses in Islam are their exclusive preserve. The rest of the ummah (community) need not partake; suffice that we meekly follow whatever they dispense. This is a flawed and shortsighted assumption.

These ulama and scholars contend that Islam, like any other body of knowledge, is highly specialized and has voluminous scholarship. Thus, only experts – themselves – can responsibly discuss the issues. They compare Islam to medicine, where laypersons presumably should not discuss with their physicians details of their malady and treatment. Likewise, the laity should not engage the ulama on matters Islamic.

This particular viewpoint was reiterated recently by the President of the Malaysian Muslim Medical Association, Dr. Musa Nordin. He cited the example of a sick newborn, where only a super specialist like a neonatologist is needed. No ordinary physician, much less a layperson, should have an input.

Learning the Wrong Lesson from Medicine

I humbly admit that my knowledge of Islam is meager, but I do know a bit more about medicine. The ulama’s perception of today’s medicine is clearly erroneous. True, there was a time when the prevailing culture was encapsulated in the saying, “Trust me, I am a doctor!” Thankfully, those days are long gone. Such an attitude is still prevalent in many Third World societies as exemplified by Dr. Musa Nordin’s statement.

Today, patients engage their physicians on details of their therapy. I welcome and indeed encourage such discussions with my patients. A well-informed patient is an important resource. With so much medical information readily available, patients are remarkably well informed.

When patients consult me, I go over all the treatment options, including non-surgical ones, discussing the benefits as well as possible side effects of each. I consider each patient encounter an opportunity to educate my patients and to learn from them. In the end, it is the patient’s decision as to what modality to choose. This is part of the informed consent.

There is no one “best” treatment, only the best treatment for a particular patient under a specific circumstance. Consequently, physicians must respect the patients’ needs and wishes. I have modified therapies based on the patient’s personal wishes, as with a young woman concerned with cosmetic appearance, or Jehovah Witness patients whose religious belief precludes their receiving blood products.

In the intensive care unit of my modern hospital, physicians gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions of others in the care of our patients, from the social workers and priests to the nurses and respiratory therapists. We physicians do not have a monopoly on the clinical wisdom.

Medicine as a discipline also has been receptive to and benefits from ideas in other disciplines. Research in military aviation resulted in the G-suit for pilots, which gave rise to the “mast suit” used to stabilize patients in shock. A further spin off is the compression stockings used in preventing blood clots in the extremities. From space research, we get the elemental diet used in treating intestinal disorders. Advances in instrumentations come from the seemingly unrelated field of engineering.

If physicians were to adopt the insularity of the ulama and refuse to engage experts in other fields, medicine would not have made such spectacular advances.

Advances also come from the lay public. The American Cancer Society, a lay organization, educates the public and is responsible for the increasingly early detection of cancer. Locally, Marina Mahathir and her AIDS Foundation have done more than the medical profession in raising public and official awareness of AIDS.

If I can engage my patients in complicated medical concepts without being condescending, then surely the ulama could do likewise with their flock. If I can understand quantum physics, then surely I can comprehend the intricacies of Islamic theology.

The voluminous literature and legend of scholars in Islam are a blessing, not a curse. I have learned from the great scholars regardless of their sectarian allegiance or whether they are non-Muslims. I certainly do not need a Muslim Pope wannabe to filter what I can and cannot read. God gives me akal (intellect), and entrusts me to use it wisely and responsibly.

Liberal Education for Future Ulama

I am flattered that our ulama are learning from medicine. Unfortunately, they are emulating a profession of a century ago, not today’s modern medicine. Consequently, they are learning all the wrong lessons.

The ulama could adopt one item from my profession, at least as practiced in America. The education of future ulama, like that of physicians, should be broad based. They should study the humanities as well as the social and natural sciences before embarking on religious studies. That would rid them of their intellectual insularity quite apart from enhancing their understanding of the Holy Book.

If we expose our future ulama to modern economics before they pursue their Islamic Studies, they would then appreciate modern financial instruments like taxes, and be able to discuss their differences and similarities with the Muslim tithe. If they were exposed to the behavioral sciences like psychology, they would be better able to manage the problems of their ummah. Currently, the responses of our ulama to the many problems of modern living have been to recite simplistically the holy texts.

I am a better physician for having had a liberal education before studying medicine. In the same vein, our ulama would be much better informed, more intellectually curious, and most importantly, have greater humility if they were exposed to subjects and disciplines outside of the narrow and traditional confines of Islamic Studies. They would also be better ulama if not human beings if in they were exposed to the wider society during their formative years of intellectual and social development.

In their intellectual and social isolation, these ulama never hesitate to make pronouncements and issue fatwas on subjects they absolutely have no clue. Nor do they have the humility to seek advice from others more knowledgeable.

Polio is back in many Muslim countries simply because some ignorant ulama decreed that the vaccine is made from porcine material, or that it is invented by Western specifically Jewish bent on maiming Muslims. Such idiocies put our children in great jeopardy. These ulama are curiously silent on the serious problems such as AIDS, drug addiction, and corruption facing our society.

Our ulama and scholars would have far greater influence on the ummah by the power and strength of their reasoning and scholarship, not on how tightly they can control our thoughts and thinking.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Kassim Ahmad's Hang Jebat: Readers' Responses

Nurture our Hang Jebats: Readers' responses

Dear Dr. Bakri Musa, Assalamu alaikum
It is a pity that most thinking Malaysian Muslims who write, reside abroad! I enjoy reading your essays. I see that you are using the Internet to spread your word.
When I read your Hang Jebat piece, it looked like a necrology and I became anxious lest Pak Kassim had passed away. Only when I read the last paragraph, in which you state that Kassim is still writing, was I relieved! It took some time for me to gather enough courage to phone him. I would rather visit him in Penang, but I am unable to leave Klang Valley for the time being. Over the phone, his daughter Soraya assured me that he is still kicking, although not quite in shape.
You do not give your year of birth, but I gather that you may be a product of the Co-prosperity Sphere and the Second World War and that you eventually chose to settle down in the Love/Hate country of USA.
It was only in 1994 that I came in contact with Pak Kassim. That was when he founded the Jemaah al-Quran Malaysia, which the authorities denied registration as a society. That was also the year when Othman Ali published his Bacaan (Readings), which the Muslim Mafia succeeded in banning. Some years later, Pak Kassim managed to register his Forum Iqra’ as a company. I like Pak Kassim very much, because he talks clearly and articulates well, contrary to most other Malays. His logic is something like this: A stone cannot fly; Granny cannot fly; ergo Granny is a stone!
His main point is for Muslims to go back to the Quran or Balik ke pangkal jalan (Return to the sourcce). I have always opposed to the latter. How can you go back to a place where you have never been? To the former I say, fine, but in practice, it means that you go back to some interpretations that may not be correct. I ended up provoking him: There is no need to go back instead we should go ahead towards Allah! That by definition is not scientific, as science is based on the non-existence of God.
Nonetheless, we got on very well. It is a pity that we both are close to leave this world for the hereafter.
Let us hope that Pak Kassim will continue to write.
Dear Bakri:
Are those who are already successful sincere enough to mentor, nurture and empower the emerging talent? We need an institution for the gifted, talented and exceptional students, a braintrust comprising of experts, researchers, scientists, engineers and surgeons (?) from all over the world. They need not necessarily have to relocate to Malaysia. Those who want to live in sunny California may continue to do so, but they can still serve Malaysia. We must create our own high quality diaspora that can propel and sustain us.
Warm regards,
Rizal Ishak

Dr. Bakri Musa,

Your article must have stirred the hornet's nest! Bees and wasps are likely to be buzzing and stinging those who support one or the other. Your reasoning means that those who idolize Hang Tuah may have to reverse gear and turn to Hang Jebat as the real hero.
Those who curry favor to the powers-that-be and those who wield power will win goodies in the short-term, while those who dare raise their voices in the name of justice and fairplay may be consigned to the dungeons. History shows that truth will always prevail in the end. It requires sustained power to endure the jeers and boos of the present generation of sycophants, just as the gladiators who were thrown to the lions had to fend for themselves, while the kings, queens and nobles of yore treated the spectacle as sports for their entertainment. Samson had to suffer humiliations after being betrayed by Delilah. Truth will always prevail!
In this regard, we must take off our hats to the present Prime Minister for revealing the names of the Approve Permit holders. If there is nothing to hide, then reveal the list completely. There should not be any fear if the revelation causes some to blush.
Best regards,
S. H. Huang
Dear Bakri:
Thank you very much for your update on Kassim Ahmad. I am a fan of his writings and have menggeledah (prowled) many bookshops to find his books but there are none available. Thanks for his blog address. I will now get a chance to read his writings once again. Has he any publications in English?
It is vey true that Malay intellectuals do not get the acknowledgement and rewards due to them.

Hj.Mohamed Iqbal
Rizal Ishak writes:

One cannot help but to adore Noam Chomsky. The New Straits Times and the other local papers should summarise his writings for their readers. This would be a great way to educate the average reader about world affairs. He gives incisive, insightful and compelling arguments. No doubt Kassim Ahmad is isolated while Chomsky actually gets grants from the US government including the Departmetn of Defence ce. The US is far more mature at handling such dissent, and this is good.
We just have to stomach this crude and primitive knee jerk behaviour every so often as illustrated by the recent Approved Permit scandal. Will the average Negri boy get a piece of this? Does it help being the “son of the soil?”
Warm regards,
Rizal Ishak
From Malaysia-Today.net
Jacque A. H. writes:
l have not heard about Kassim Ahmad but l have of the 1960’s “Pop Yeh Yeh” singer Kassim Selamat. Was it not him who sang that song “La Obe” and “Ngalompak,” and “A Go Go?” My brothers and sisters would go banana when they heard these songs.
I will read with interest about Kassim Ahmad. I also think that Hang Jebat should be the hero, not Hang Tuah. So in that respect, both Kassim and I have something in common.

Gerakilat writes:
For those who do not know who Kassim Ahmad is, here are some details:
He was a former lecturer in Malay Studies at the University of Malaya, Chairman of Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia, and also a one-time ISA detainee at Kamunting (together with Abdullah Ahmad (Dollah Kok Lans)Syed Husin and others) in the late 70s. Kassim contested several times under PSRM ticket in the general elections but lost to UMNO candidates. He came very close to defeating UMNO’s Shamsuri in Balik Pulau in 1978 (?) general election.
Kassim a hardcore socialist, once wrote a controversial book on the Hadith. He joined UMNO in the 1980s after Mahathir became Prime Minister. The reason he gave was that despite being a socialist, he admired Mahathir’s the “Bersih, Cekap, Amanah” (Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy) commitment. Kassim however was not fully accepted in UMNO because of his socialist leanings. He has kept a low profile since then.

Baju writes:
Kassim Ahmad is not the intellect this author makes him to be. In fact Kassim’s grasp of hadith as espoused in his book “Hadis: Satu Penilian Semula” is minimal, rustic and rudimentary. (Oh yes, I have read it in Malay before it was supposed to have been banned! Was it actually banned? I wonder!
His arguments are not original. They were the views of the orientalists. Since most Malays are not well read, he thought that by bringing forth those arguments they may confound the readers. The issues he raised have all been addressed by other Muslim writers in the past. I am surpised that M Bakri Musa is so taken with Kassim’s arguments on the hadith. This shows how shallow Bakris’ understanding of the subject.
This is not the place to go throught what Kasiim wrote. I have previously argued publicly (during a wedding reception) with Kassim. He was not even able to answer my questions! Kassim is an ex-communist (socialist, what is the difference?) and I wonder if he had ever discarded this.
It is suprising that Kassim Ahmad actually believe in the existence of Tuah and Jebat (I believe that Hikayat Hang Tuah is nothing more than dongeneg kisah kisah lama [old fiction]).
I have also read Bakri’s book, The Malay Dilemma Revisited. I find it very interesting except where he writes about Islam. This is where I believe the author “Tersungkur Di Pintu Syurga” (stuck at Heaven’s Gate). In his book, Bakri speaks well of Kassim Ahmad, Sisters in Islam. Bakri aslo commented that most ulama currently lack modern knowledge and thus should not be taken seriously. This is also the typical view of Marina Mahathir and her cohorts’ arguments.
If only these people were to learn Arabic( it takes full 1-2 years to get to know it ) and start reading the books of Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Qayyim , Ibn Kathir, Al Quthubi, Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Sheih Albani, Sheikn Ibn Uthaimin etc….would they realize that there is such a vast knowledge there untapped and these people would have then be completely refreshed with the pristine knowledge of Islam.
Alas these would rather take knowledge from people who are hostile to Islam. The scholars I have mentioned above are so good in their wrting that one would have easily answered any major controversies raised by these orientalist by reading their books. BTW many of their books are yet to betranslated in English although the Indonesians have started to translate many of Ibn Qayiim’s books in Indonesia.
Kassim Ahmad may be a Malay dongeng lama specialist but he certainly is no intellect when it comes to islam and his writing of it is not worth the “daki” (dirt) that is stuck in between the toes of the those writers that I have mentioned above.
Kassim should have just remained a “panglipulara kontemporar” (contemporary strotyteller) by indulging in Hang Tuah, Jebat, Puteri Gunug Ledang etc. rather than wasting other people’s time to analyse of his worthless writing about Islam which certainly is dangkal and bucolic.
Bakri should have been more careful in his assessing of people such as Kassim Ahmad.
Jacque A.H. said:

Honestly, not many people know anything about Kassim Ahmad. As l said, personally l have never heard of him.
It is quite interesting to find out about his thinking but it does not mean that we all have to follow his ideology. We have to follow the norm.
Communism and socialism (correct me if l am wrong; there is a difference between the two – Communism is a hardcore socialism). Many people say the Labour Party (in UK and elsewhere ) is a right wing socialist party and most Brits now support it. It fights for social justice and equality. Communism in some part of the world would not even allow freedom of religion. One example is in Azerbadjan. Many citizens there who were once Muslims now have no faith. They may have Muslim names but they are not practicing Islam at all. How sad!
Communism is more of a control freak if you know what l mean.
As for Islam, there is only one Islam, the one taught by our Nabi Muhammad s.a.w. We are his followers and we should follow his teachings together with the Al-Quran, hadeeths and sunnah.
In the Holly Book Al Quran, Allah states, “This day l have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Al-Maa’idah : versus 5:3)
Peter said:
Bakri Musa:
Thanks for introducing the work of Kassim Ahmad to us. I did not know him then but I know him now.

Baju writes:
Great to know that we have someone like you who have a complete opposite point of view, someone who disagrees with Kassim. I respect your constructive writing, as a rebuttal Bakri’s endorsement of Kassim. There is one thing about your writing that shows your shallowness when you said that there is no difference between socialism and communism. To explain to you here will take too long, instead I will demonstarte to you the difference, then the rest you can read up yourself since you are quite a reader.
Many people think that Ernesto Che Guevara was a Communist. The truth is, he was never a communist,instead he was always a socialist.
To Bakri, can you please tell us how do we get hold on Kassim's Perwatakan Hikayat Hang Tuah on the internet? Or where we can buy one? I would like to read it.
Even when I was kid watching P Ramlee potraying Hang Tuah and all the sejarah books I read, I always thought that Jebat was a hero, not Tuah. I did not know why I thought then that Jebat was a hero, but now I know and will know better maybe after I read Kassim’s Pewatakan.
And Baju, Hikayat Tuah and Jebat were not DONGENG (fiction). These people existed in the past. It was dongeng because people made it to be.

Geekpuk2 said:
Even as a primary school kid I realized that Hang Tuah is a douchebag and a simpleton. Jebat is my hero. He gets to kick the Sultan’s arse off his own palace and fuck around with the Sultan’s numerous gundiks.
His actions sure had the Malay world upside down. This from a time when Sultans were considered keramat or had daulat powers or white-blooded because they are so pure.
Hidup Jebat!!

Dissent said:
To nurture the Hang Jebat types is real easy Mr. Musa Al Bakri, we need
the “Bill of Rights” ala United States. The question is how to get it.
Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Mahathir and other Asian leaders opposed. To them, it is community first. Does community oppose the right to speak freely, freedom of speech, and due process? Is ISA is a proper tool? How about an independant judiciary?
These rights are citizens rights. Freedom to speech, thinking and expression is like breathing fresh air, a neccessity. It is to protect citizens from the government. Being a dissenter does not mean that a person is a traitor or bad person rather as someone offering an alternative view.
By having those rights we will create rennaissance. Dissent is an important part of being a man.
One of these days before I die, I wish to see Malaysia Bastille Day. Get rid of these self serving bigshot bastards (too many of them) in the government. Hang em High. Some justify their snobbish and ridiculous statements in the name of protecting and promoting the Malay agenda. I feel like they are joining the devil when they are in a position of power which they use to make money.
Helping people is the last thingon their agenda. Rule number 1: Give people crumbs, not piece of meat. Else they gonna demand more. If they need more, join the aristocracy class, meaning BN or the royals.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

UMNO in Fantasyland

M. Bakri Musa (
Malaysiakini.com August 2, 2005

UMNO in Fantasyland

Editorial lead: Until there I serious self-examination by UMNO leaders, speeches about towering or Glokal Malays will go no further than that.

I am appalled at the lack of outrage with former Sabah Chief Minister Osu Sukam’s massive gambling debts. I am not surprised at the depravity and venality that an individual is capable of, but I am astounded that someone like him could rise to such heights in UMNO. That is an indictment of the system.

The best that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi could muster was to declare that Osu had “failed as a leader.” That must surely rank as the greatest understatement. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir, the man who appointed Osu, was curiously quiet. UMNO Youth leaders, those self-appointed guardians of Malay honor and Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), also did not see fit to comment. As for UMNO Disciplinary Board, it has already closed shop!
Presumably to all these people, Osu is not an aberration; his egregious behavior no longer shocking, rather the norm for UMNO.

UMNO ulama, usually quick to condemn Malays for not wearing the tudung, are also strangely silent. If as a Muslim Osu openly flouts God’s laws, imagine the respect he has for such man-made ones as our anti-corruption laws. The police too are waiting for someone to lodge a report, all in the best tradition of our civil service, Saya menuggu arahan! (I await orders!) To the authorities, Ayah Pin’s Sky Kingdom commune poses a greater threat than Osu Sukam.
That gambling debt was uncovered not by some inquisitive journalists or aggressive investigators from the Anti Corruption Agency, but in sworn court documents.

Isa and Osu Show

Osu Sukam’s gambling mania, Federal Affairs Minster Isa Samad’s “money politics,” and Rafidah Aziz’s Approved Permit controversy are all part of the same sordid political landscape. The characters that emerge would depend on what part of the scene we care to look at carefully.

A few years ago, the Australian authorities caught Muhammad Taib, then Chief Minister of Selangor, with literally millions of dollars in his pocket. His counsel succeeded on a technicality: Muhammad Taib did not understand the customs declaration written in English! The facts of the case were never disputed. Nonetheless that did not prevent him from being reelected UMNO Vice President. Now he is busy lecturing UMNO members on – you guessed it! – the evils of corruption.

This Osu Sukam had no significant assets, inherited or acquired, before entering politics. His chief minister’s salary would not even make a dent on the interest payments of his debts! If the government could not convict him of corruption, then surely it could at a minimum nail him for income tax evasion.

At its recent general assembly, UMNO’s Deputy President Najib Razak talked loftily of “Glokal” Malays capable of competing locally as well as globally. Meanwhile UMNO Youth leaders, the future of the party, were clamoring for extending quotas, special privileges and other elements of the New Economic Policy. That is, more “crutches.” The obvious irony was lost on everyone.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of the “Towering Malay Personality.” That was last month’s flavor! Nor was there any chest thumping over Selangor’s impending celebration of its “developed” status. Give UMNO members credit; even they are not buying that baloney!

Only a few weeks ago UMNO was consumed with money politics, yet not a word was uttered about it at the assembly. Instead, the controversy was on doling out Approved Permits (AP) for importing cars. I wonder what the flavor-of-the-month will be in September!

It is as if the organization and its members were afflicted with a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. The distinguished Royal Professor Ungku Aziz aptly called this the belalang (grasshopper) syndrome. The critter hops from one field to the next, leaving only its droppings and barren leaves as its legacy. A farm could tolerate a few grasshoppers, but not a swarm. That could lay bare a lush field within hours. This plague now threatens Malays, as well as Malaysia.

The professor chose an appropriately agrarian metaphor in contrast to my clinical one in the hope that UMNO members would get it. They did not.

The AP controversy degenerated into an unseemly public spat between Tun Mahathir and his erstwhile ardent supporter Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, with Prime Minster Abdullah reduced to being an irrelevant bystander. In the end, nothing was changed; it was business as usual until next year’s assembly.

During the spat, it was the Iron Lady, not Mahathir, who cried. Unlike the real Iron Lady of Britain, this kampong variety is for turning (against Mahathir), as long as she keeps her cabinet post!

Chanting Shaman

These UMNO shenanigans are all manifestations of the same underlying systemic pathology: corruption. Yet the dreaded “C” word was never uttered. There was an air of unreality or fantasy in all the official pronouncements. They, leaders and followers alike, were obsessed with battling the signs and symptoms of the disease but blissfully ignored the underlying cancer.

UMNO repeatedly asserts that it represents Malays. Indeed it does. Sadly, the picture it presents of our race to the world generally and to non-Malays in Malaysia specifically is less than flattering. As a Malay, this is what I find so highly offensive.

I believe that Allah in His wisdom has granted Malays our fair share of the wise, honest and talented. It has been my privilege to meet many of them in Malaysia as well as abroad.
What baffles me is why they are not found in UMNO. That fact that UMNO attracts the likes of Isa Samad and Osu Sukam, and worse, the likes of them thrive in UMNO, reflects less on Malays but more on UMNO. At least that is my hope.

What incenses me most is when non-Malays presume (not unreasonably in view of the pronouncements of UMNO leaders) that these UMNO characters represent the typical if not the best Malays. It infuriates me even more when these UMNO Malays exhibit the ugly stereotype of our race.

UMNO’s failing is systemic, not of individuals. Stated more directly, UMNO is corrupt to the core. Suspending few selected individuals is not enough. That would be like killing the rooster to scare the monkeys, as the Chinese would say. It would attract their attention with the commotion, but only briefly. Then they would be back to their, well, monkey business.

The cancer in UMNO has metastasized. The patient needs both radical surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Unfortunately, its healer is incapable of anything more than reciting supplications and dispensing sermons. Malaysia needs a cancer surgeon, not a chanting shaman.

Lamentably there is yet no serious self-examination on the part of UMNO’s leadership. Until this is undertaken, talks of a towering Malay personality, “Glokal” Malay, and Ketuanan Melayu will remain just that. Or to use the colorful local lingo, it is all cock talk!