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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.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Kassim Ahmad: Readers' Responses

Kassim Ahmad: Readers’ Responses:

I am pleased at the number of comments on my essays about Kassim Ahmad (“A Tribute to Kassim Ahmad” and “The Thesis that Shook Malay Minds”). In a culture that prizes conformity and does not tolerate dissent, Kassim shows remarkable courage in defying the existing order. I admire and salute Kassim for his courage in expressing his conviction.

It is easy for me living in the comfort of my California home and away from the social and peer pressures of fellow Malaysians (and beyond the reach of the Internal Security Act!) to be a contrarian, and to be critical. It is quite another for someone like Kassim who has to see his family, friends, and neighbors every day. Unlike me, Kassim has to be wary of the folks from the Special Branch and the Religious Department who could come bouncing into his living room at any time of the day or night!

My highlighting Kassim’s ideas and careers is for two reasons. One is to show that we Malays are not a race of sheep; when one baas, all the rest join in. God has been fair and granted us our share of the independent and brave minded. If we do not smoother them, we may encourage others to manifest themselves.

My other reason is to show that two people with completely opposing worldview can engage each other in a decorous dialogue. There is no need to resort to name calling or challenging each other’s patriotism and piety. More than that, we actually admire each other’s works and ideas.

Today public discourses in Malaysia are becoming increasingly course. We question each other’s patriotism simply because we do not belong to same political party. We insult each other as kafirs (infidels) again for daring to have a different interpretation of the Quran and Hadith.

I am also pleased that this exercise has produced one unexpected and highly gratifying consequence. I succeed in introducing Kassim to many young readers and others who have never heard of him. The establishment media and publishing houses in Malaysia are intent on silencing and marginalizing him. Talent, like water, always rises to its level. Kassim’s Hadith: A Re-Evaluation may be banned in Malaysia, but that does not stop a respectable publishing outfit in America from translating and distributing it. With the Internet, Kassim has another far more effective and formidable outlet for his ideas.

The sampling of letters below (apart from the comments posted on this website) gives a flavor of the strong responses Kassim evokes. I have edited them for brevity and clarity. Also included is Kassim’s reply to one of the readers. Have a pleasant reading!

[From www.Malaysia-Today (re-posted with permission]

alrawa said:
Kassim was at his best while leading the PSRM [Socialist Party of Malaysia] and fighting for the causes of the downtrodden. Somehow, he changed midstream. I wonder why.

Pro-rights said:
Kassim Ahmad is perceived to be anti-West. He also clashes with certain ulama and their ideology. As an intellect, he is expounding truths based on logics, whereas the ulama expound based on faith. He allegedly blames the ulama for preventing Muslims from engaging in constructive dialogue based on reasons and logics. If you read what he writes, he actually has a strong case to back his contentions, but of course there are scholars who argue that historic reports pertaining to the prophet’s life could not be disputed or be subjected to open discussions. As there is no central authority in Islam, no one has the jurisdiction to stop the various interpretations.

awang kera said:
Both Kassim Ahmad and Bakri Musa often evoke very negative responses from some of your website’s [Malaysia-Today] respondents. I have a simple explanation: they know no other intelligent way to counter or refute the views and opinions of these two individuals. Thus they resort to name calling, stereotyping, and labeling. That seems to be the standard response in Malaysia today. I assume, for example, that the person who labeled Kassim the Salman Rushdie of Malaysia has read The Satanic Verses. Kids stuff! Grow up, debate and discuss the issues more intelligently. Learn to accept the fact that others are entitled to their own views.
Since I am a kera/monyet, please explain to me in very simple terms. If you cannot, then please stop your nonsense.
As a Malay/Malaysian-born surgeon, Dr. Bakri is doing a very good job. The system works for him and others like him in America. He should be congratulated. He is a boy from Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan who has made good in a foreign country.
I see some merit in Kassim Ahmad’s views and arguments. He is entitled to his opinion, Bakri’s his, and you, yours. There is no reason to be rude or crude. Being rude is a sign of bad upbringing. I am sure you have an opinion on that too. Maybe it is a sign of protest!

bat8 said:
Al Rawa writes, “…Kassim was at his best when he headed PRSM.” His long “internship” in Kemunting under ISA however, really broke the man. The interrogations he underwent during that detention really stripped him of the Kassim Ahmad we knew.
Read his book Universiti Kedua [Second University] where he detailed what he when through during the whole ordeal. Syed Husin Ali also went through similar experiences, but upon his release, Syed Husin’s conviction remains intact. He continued fighting his cause. I cannot say the same about Kassim Ahmad. Syed Husin was released without any condition imposed on him because he refused to accept release with conditions as that would imply guilt to the trumped-up charges leveled against him. Kassim was released because he was willing to accept the conditions imposed by the authorities!
I have read several books by other ISA detainees who wrote of their Kemunting experience during the time they were incarcerated with Kassim and Syed Husin. Kassim, according to them, banyak bersedih dengan apa yang menimpanya (had an abundance of self pity for his fate].
That may explain mengapa dia terus membisu selepas dibebaskandan terus menyepi dari perjuangannya. Kesengsaraan yang dialaminya semasa di tahan dibawah ISA benar-benar mencabut semangat perjuangan dan keyakinan politiknya ke akar umbi. Kemasukan Kasim kedalm UMNO juga memeranjatkan sekiranya kita mengetahuiperjuangannya daam PSRM. Lebih mengherankan beliau sering tampil untuk membela UMNO dan Mahathir [why he remained quiet after his release and separated himself from his ideological struggles. The ordeal he went through while under detention truly exhausted his spirits. His subsequent admission into UMNO too was surprising especially considering his political ideals as he articulated while leading PSRM. Even more astounding, he has become an apologist for UMNO and Mahathir].

LChuah said:
bat8 said… “…long ‘internship’ in Kemunting under ISA really broke the man down to pieces. The interrogations he underwent during his ISA detention really stripped him of the Kassim Ahmad we knew.” That was how I felt too, bat8. Those who want to judge Kassim should first have a taste of what he experienced. My heart goes out to him, and my respect for him remains as strong as the time when I read his articles in his party newspaper (late sixties?).

Mr. Smith said:
I was an admirer of Kassim Ahmad when he was Chairman of PSRM and during his incarceration under the ISA. However, on his release, the lion turned into a mouse. Nevertheless, he retained his intellect and wisdom. Whoever he is, Bakri Musa has the God-given right to shower his adulations upon Kassim. It is not for anyone of us to judge Bakri. If anyone wishes to criticize Bakri Musa or Kassim, may I appeal to that person to be civil and cultured. Resorting to crude language and name calling only devalues and demeans that person.

johnleemk said:
Tsk…tsk. I do think this article is not exactly Bakri’s strongest ever … but I do not think that that is a license to insult the man. I do not see how you can insult him if you really have not read practically everything he has written. His The Malay Dilemma Revisited is one of the most precise and succinct expressions of the repressed opinions of many non-Malays.

olifante said:
Golongan Anti Hadis adalah mereka yang menolak atau meragui Hadis atau Sunnah Nabi Muhamad s.a.w. sebagai sumber kedua syariat Islam selepas al-Quran. Pandangan kita Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah Hadis atau Sunnah Nabi Muhamad s.a.w. merupakan sumber kedua syariat Islam selepas al-Quran. Sumber pengambilan hukum yang terlah disepakati oleh para ulamak ada empat,iaitu: Al-Quran; Al-Sunnah atau Hadis; Ijmak; Qiyas.
Golongan Anti Hadis Di Malaysia telah dipelopori oleh Kasim Ahmad melalui bukunya “Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula” (1986). Golongan ini meragui kedudukan Hadis sebagai sumber kedua syariat Islam. Mereka menyeru agar umat Islam kembali kepada al-Quran sahaja. Kemudian beliau cuba menubuhkan Jamaah al-Quran Malaysia (JAM) tetapi gagal kerana tidak mendapat kebenaran dari kerajaan Malaysia. Walaupun begitu, tidak bermakna beliau tidak dapat bergerak langsung, malahan beliau masih aktif menulis di akhbar-akhbar utama mencurahkan idea-idea anti Hadisnya.
Antaranya ialah sebuah rencana yang ditulis di dalam sebuah akhbar tempatan mengenai masalah perpecahan umat Islam. Beliau menyeru agar umat Islam kembali kepada al-Quran sahaja.
Kassim Ahmad mengaku dalam buku sesatnya bahawa beliau dipengaruhi oleh fahaman Rashad Khalifa yang terang-terangan menolak hadis.

[MBM’s approximate translation: The group that styles itself as anti-Hadith denies that the sayings and conducts of the prophet are the valid second source of Islamic wisdom. The group exhorts Muslims to revert to the only authentic and primary source, the Quran. Muslim jurists however had long established the fact that there are four sources of wisdom in Islam: The Quran, hadith, consensus, and analogy.
The anti-Hadith group is led by Kassim Ahmad through his book Hadith: A Critical Re-Evaluation. Kassim tried unsuccessfully to start an organization to propagate his views, but it was denied registration by the authorities. Nonetheless, he continues to do so through his many articles and publications. On of his essays traces the fission among Muslims and he exhorts Muslims to revert to the Quran to solve ourproblems.]
The Submitters are followers of the late Rashad Khalifa, a man who claimed to be a Messenger of Allah. This claim in itself is sufficient to remove the Submitters from Islam as the Qur’an states (translation): “O people! Muhammad has no sons among ye men, but verily, he is the Messenger of Allah and the last in the line of Prophets. And Allah is aware of everything.” (33:40)
Much of Rashad Khalifa’s misguidance can be traced to his obsession with numerology and his contention that the Qur’an contains a mathematical code which revolved around the number 19.

Through personal e-mails to me:


WOW Thanks! This is what we should ALL be reading! Salute to the true Malay intellectual!


Your writing is quite beneficial for some, but please be careful when you touch on political issues such as the reform phenomenon in Malaysia. Kassim may seem great to you but not to others who really liberate their mind with Islamic teachings through strong ‘ilm on Islamic syari’ah and thoughts.
Do not compare Kassim’s reform agenda with the one that faced our country during the 1998 ‘reformasi’ phenomenon. That was a totally a different issue. A real people’s fighter is one who has an excellent track record in serving the people. This is way different from just a mere academic writer. I also read Kassim’s ideas. I agree on the principle of only those who serve the interest of justice and protecting the rakyat should be given loyalty and those who becomes the culprit of the rakyat as for most of the ministers nowadays are, should not be given that loyalty. Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah. [Loyal to a just ruler, resist a tyrant one]
Kassim’s thought on Hadith is way off the limit. His anti-hadith thoughts cannot be permitted to influence the people’s mind in safeguarding the true ‘aqidah Islamiyyah!
If you want to question the validity of hadith, one must be well learned in several required disciplines, such as mastery of Arabic language, ‘ilm al-bayan, balaghah, ulum al-hadith, ‘ilm ta’wil, ‘ilm tafsir, fiqh, usul al-fiqh, mantiq and few others, just to name a few. There are many more to master before one is qualified to evaluate hadith!
You cannot simply argue the validity of hadith if you just have the conventional knowledge and use the faculty of reason without the required knowledge. I have attended a session a long time ago where Kassim Ahmad has been called to discus his anti-hadith views. It is dangerous to the very aqidah Islamyyah.
I am learned in both religous ‘ilm and scientific knowledge but I still humbly say I feel that there is more to learn. Please, do not simply argue on something that we are not qualified to do so or else we might be propagating misleading information and the worse case become the factor of destroying the very sacred Aqidah Islamiyyah. Be careful brother.
May Allah protect us from those who are transgressors from the right path.

Kassim Ahmad’s response:

Dear MFK:

Allow me to disabuse you of some of the misguided views you have of me. I do not claim greatness. Nor am I an expert in Arabic or Hadith. I am simply claiming my right to speak and to be fairly heard.
I have not the slightest desire to mislead you in the purity of your belief. I gain nothing from doing that. Surely the first book of guidance for all believers is the Quran. Do you oppose me because I call Muslims back to the Quran?
I know you will counter by arguing that the Hadith interpretes the Quran. Nowhere in the Quran is such a statement found. It is also not logical. Since Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. could not know the future, how could he explain it? What is clearly stated is that God teaches through the Quran.
You must also know the difference between truth and falsehood. You must distinguish between on one hand a report of what happened and what actually happened. A report about what our prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did and said might be false. How are you going to verify? Not just on the insistence of Bukhari and his string of reporters. You must verify with the Quran, for the Quran verifies all other sources.
I wish you all the best in your quest to protect the purity of your belief. We must remember that only God who can guide us, and nobody else.
Yours sincerely,
Kassim Ahmad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess it is a matter of choosing lesser of two evils ..either extolling the spirit or just keep silence....with benefit to the whole ummah in mind

3:51 PM  

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