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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.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

On His Majesty's Service

Excerpt # 18:  On His Majesty’s Service
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

After about three months at GHKL, I was called for an interview with the Public Services Commission. Only a formality; it would not affect my work though definitely my pay. Up till that time I was paid at the level of a first-year doctor – an intern – even though I was a specialist with over six years post-MD experience. That should have entitled me for a “Superscale” posting that would doubled my current pay. I had been drawing on my savings, and that was with no car payments as I was using my father’s.

            That interview was the very first time I had to fill in any application form. Up till then I could have been an imposter and no one would have caught it, except for those initial clinical queries from Tan Sri Majid, the Director-General who first appointed me to GHKL.

            I was in the same group being interviewed with all the other new doctors, including a few of my interns. They were as surprised as I was. My turn was midmorning. I wished they had told me the specific time so I could have made my hospital rounds first and not have wasted a good part of the morning waiting.

            There was a panel of five, including the chairman, a short, thin, old Malay man with wiry white hair and black-rimmed thick glasses. He had a go at me first after scrutinizing my papers with the disdain of a fussy editor consigned to peruse an unsolicited manuscript. Perhaps my hippie-style hair did not sit well with him.

            Noting that I had my science degree before entering medical school, he asked why I did not return home then and give others a chance to go to medical school. I should have been satisfied with one degree. “Besides,” he added, “our country needs science teachers badly, you know, especially Malays!”

            I interjected that perhaps I could be a teacher of doctors seeing that I had both a science and a medical degree.

            “You have a point there!” He missed my sarcasm.

            Then treating him like a high school kid who had read something in the library, or using today’s equivalent, something on Google, I lectured him that in North America, unlike Malaysia or Britain, we were required to have a good broad-based liberal education before entering medical school. Thus, I had to take English Literature during my premed. I quoted my medical school dean who said that you could learn more about human nature from reading Shakespeare than from dissecting frogs. I received a grunt as a response to that one.

            Then noting that I also had my Masters’ degree in Experimental Surgery, he intoned, “We don’t want you experimenting on our people!”

            Unable to upstage me on the degree game, he asked how many prime ministers Malaysia has had. Let’s see, there was Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, and now Hussein Onn. I replied, “Three.”

            “Wrong!” he shouted with glee as he jabbed his index finger in my direction. I had missed the brief spell of Dr. Ismail who died in office as acting prime minister during Tun Razak’s visit to Canada. I knew that but thought he was only the acting head. “That’s the trouble with you people. You go abroad and forget about our country.”

             I could not disagree with him on that point.

            “He was formally sworn in by Agung, you know!” he smugly continued, more to his fellow panelists.

            I had no trouble with the rest of the panelists except for the last one, a young Indian man. Straightening his body, stiffening his neck, and leaning forward to appear profound, “Why do American surgeons perform unnecessary surgery?” he taunted me.

            Ignoring his bait, I corrected him by saying that I was trained in Canada, a separate country to the north, and that Canadians are not Americans. Elementary stuff! Then I went on to expound on the meaning of “unnecessary.” It happened that a few days earlier there were headlines of a well-known personality who had died in hospital following a road accident. I told the panel that doctors do not always know exactly what was going on inside a patient’s body. That individual probably died of a ruptured spleen but when he came in, the signs were not so obvious and his surgeon was afraid to operate because of fear of doing “unnecessary surgery.” He grasped my point right away and I did not belabor it. This was the days before CAT scans. Today with sophisticated scans and other diagnostic tests, we rarely have to do exploratory laparotomies.

            Later, back at the hospital I pondered what would have happened had I bombed that interview. Would they have denied my appointment when the country desperately needed surgeons?

            I had high hopes before the interview that we would be discussing something substantive, as how we could learn about hospitals and healthcare delivery in general from Canada. Instead, I faced a bunch of senior civil servants more interested in proving to me how smart they were, and how ignorant I was about Malaysia. That made my earlier chanced encounter with Dr. Majid Ismail that much more remarkable as well as exceptional.

            In truth, if I had anything to prove, I wouldn’t do it to these yahoos. Yet I kept thinking (dreaming would be more like it) that the next time it would be different and that I would meet someone with whom I could discuss something substantive. Every time I thought I had a chance, that proved to be a severe disappointment.

Next Excerpt # 19:  A Rookie In The Bureaucracy
From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Excerpt #18: Life In Bungsar

Excerpt #17:  Life in Bungsar

            When in Canada, Karen read about a Canadian married to a Malaysian and had settled in Malaysia. That was how Karen heard of Leslie Muri. She was a teacher at the International School and through her Karen became a substitute teacher there. I knew of her husband but had never met him; he was a few years ahead of me at Malay College.

            I compared what Karen did with her students at ISKL to what I had experienced at Malay College, supposedly an elite school. By that measure, Malaysia had a long way to go in terms of an enlightened curriculum and teaching philosophy. The gulf has only widened since, as judged by the experience of my first maid.

            Karen taught at the high school level at ISKL. During my time, we only read about rice planting, the rubber industry, and tin mines, Malaysia’s main commodities. She however, divided her class into groups and assigned each a specific sector. Theywent out and learned by themselves and did their own research in the library and from visiting those tin mines and rubber estates, which Karen helped arrange.

            “Did you know that when the British introduced mechanical dredges to replace hydraulic mining, thousands of those Chinese coolies were laid off?” she asked me one day. No, I did not know that. They left the mines and settled in urban areas and eventually displaced those Malays already there. No, I did not know that either. Karen learned those facts from her students. Those hydraulic mines changed forever the demographic dynamics of urban Malaysia, with the political repercussions still felt to this day.

            Ever wonder why graduates from schools like ISKL ended up at the Harvards and Princetons while those from leading Malaysian public schools like Malay College at Oklahoma State, at best? The irony did not escape me. Here was a school meant for foreigners subscribing to a pedagogical philosophy championed by our own 19thCentury writer Munshi Abdullah who likened a child’s brain to a parang(machete) – to be sharpened, not a paper bin to be filled with dogmas. To a sculptor, a sharp knife is an instrument for expressing his creativity; to a surgeon, a tool to save lives. All you could retrieve from a paper bin are old recycled papers. That was what Malaysia was getting from her young then . . . and now.

            One lazy Saturday, the rare ones when our maid Hapsah decided not to go out, she became very excited, running in and out of the house gesturing at Karen and me to look outside. We could see nothing unusual except for a stylish female couple with high-heel shoes walking gingerly on the still unfinished road. One of them had striking long, black shiny hair.

            “Noor Kumalasari!” she gushed to us in unrestrained excitement. Don’t Karen and I know her? Should we?

            The next day Hapsah brought home Wanita, and there on the cover was this gorgeous girl, the younger half-sister of Anita Sarawak. Yes, I have heard of Anita, and Noor lived only a few houses away from us! That was our only claim to fame living in Bungsar.

            One late Saturday evening, I saw a group of thuggish young Chinese men at my neighbor’s gate. I had seen them before but did not pay much attention. By now I had gotten to know my neighbor well enough to ask him who were they. He was a high government official, his wife a homemaker, and they had a young daughter. My memory of their daughter, Su Lin, was vivid only because of the raucous every morning on getting her to school. She would try to escape to our house!

            After the group was gone, I inquired from the neighbor. He gestured for me to be quiet until Karen went inside. Then he whispered that they were gangsters collecting their regular ‘protection’ money. Don’t worry, he assured me, they bothered only the Chinese. Then I thought of Hapsah and her Chinese look.

            My other neighbor was also a Chinese couple, she a veterinarian and he, a banker. But I never saw a similar crowd at their gate until I realized that their gate was slightly hidden from my front door. When I paid closer attention, they too had regular visitors though not the same group.

            During our stay at Bungsar, I never once saw the police making their rounds except when they came to my gate to deliver a message from the hospital.

            The empty land across the street was being readied for development, hence the rush to complete the road. Oh, what a painful sight to see those workers! No boots, gloves, hats, eye goggles or any protective gear as they hammered and chiseled those rocks. Imagine the potential injuries!

            Nonetheless over that unfinished bumpy street the latest model cars would drive by daily. At least that helped compact the ground. The hawkers too would ply their carts daily, loaded with fresh fish, vegetables and other produce, a mobile mini-grocery store. That was the very first time Karen bought fresh crabs. The hawker showed her how to clean and instructed her how to cook them!

            There was an open drain in front of our house, typical of modern, urban Malaysia. The grey waters from the kitchen and showers would flow into it. You could tell when someone ‘upstream’ had seafood as the stench from the drain would be unbearable. We had to flush the drain. Even that did not relieve the stink. Behind us was another row of similar linked houses with their backs facing us but at a higher elevation. A retaining wall of about fifteen feet separated us. I do not know whether it was reinforced. When it rained, green slimy material, and a stench to match, would extrude in between the cracks, telltale signs of leaking septic tanks. Despite being an upscale and high-density development, there were no central sewer connections in Bungsar.

            There were open spaces slated for parks and playgrounds on the area’s master plan. The operative word there is “slated.”

            As for traffic flow, Bungsar had only one narrow access road when we lived there. There was a huge culvert near the entrance. At the slightest rain the road would be flooded. Intrigued, one day I stationed myself nearby. As soon as the rain started, the boys from the nearby rumah kilat(illegal settlement) would dump discarded pellets into the culvert. They would then collect their ‘tolls’ for pushing the stranded flooded motorists.

            The city’s traffic and hydrologic engineers never factor in those human elements in their designs. Nor did they do the needed maintenance and inspections. As a consequence, KL and other major cities are plagued with flash floods. With the country having over 100 inches of rain annually, Malaysian engineers should be experts on hydrology and flood control. They are not because, at least those on government payroll, are desk-bound and poorly trained.

            A few weeks after we settled into our Bungsar home, our freight from Edmonton arrived. With Mindy getting her old toys and my wife and I our old clothes, we felt at last we were back in our old familiar groove.

From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon in His Native Malaysia(2018.

Next:  Excerpt # 18: On His Majesty’s Service

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Excerpt #16: Having A Maid

Excerpt #16:  Having A Maid
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

            Back to our new house in Bungsar, as soon as we moved in, Karen freaked out. She had opened one of the many built-in closets and was met by a blitzkrieg of cockroaches, reminiscent of her experience in our Honolulu hotel room months earlier on our trip home to Malaysia.

            Through our long-time friend from Edmonton days, Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad (Zai to us) who was teaching at UKM, we heard that the university was looking for English instructors. Zai put in a good word for Karen. She too felt good on her subsequent interview. Those good vibes notwithstanding, she never heard back.

            Those few words would not do justice for our friendship with Zai and his wife Rahmah. Zai was a Kirby-trained teacher. When his contract with the Malaysian government was over, he returned to Britain, and from there to Alberta. We met when he was on campus for continuing education. It was hard not to be friendly when meeting another Malay in snow-white Alberta!

            Zai had a beautiful booming voice and a perfect BBC English accent, but he could in an instant and with minimal prompting revert to the typical local Malay, complete with the obligatory “lah” and “mon!” Coming from him, it was hilarious! Zai was once an announcer with Radio Malaya. No surprise that he was a regular emcee for our Malaysian events on campus.

I convinced Zai on one of his visits to campus that he should go for his degree. At that time the university’s Faculty of Education, Canada’s largest, was embarking on the new field of teaching English as a second language. With Zai’s experience he would have a lot to offer on the practical side. Zai did that and went on to get his doctorate from Wisconsin. I used to tease him saying that he was the genuine Dr. Za’aba. The other Za’aba, the famous Malay grammarian, had only an honorary doctorate!

            Zai’s effort on Karen’s behalf whetted her appetite for work in Malaysia. What better way to integrate into a new culture than to work in it? However, with two little kids that meant a maid, Karen’s egalitarian Western ideals notwithstanding.

            Our first was a girl from Perak. Gee was literally just a little girl, a distant niece of one of my brothers-in-law. Karen spent more time teaching her personal hygiene than her helping us. She had difficulty relating to me, a hang-up from her religious instructions back in the village. Nonetheless from my limited conversations with her, I gathered that she did not finish her primary school. She said that she did not learn anything and was bullied often, by her classmates as well as her teachers because of her small size.

            Malaysia then (and now) often bragged about its schools being among the best in the region if not the world, but nothing like hearing directly from the children to know the reality on the (school) ground. Gee was one of those awful statistics personified.

            Soon she was homesick. We paid her way home for a holiday together with some extra cash and a return bus ticket, but she never came back. Our only hope was that whatever Karen and I had taught her about personal cleanliness and taking care of babies in the only-too-brief a time she was with us would help her when she would have her own family.

            Our second maid, Hapsah, was from Sarawak. She had been adopted by one family after another before landing into my uncle’s home. She looked Chinese. The Chinese have been known to disfavor daughters and were wont to give them up for adoption. Malays on the other hand valued girls, so that was a good fit.

            My uncle brought her to our house for a preview. Karen and I had the distinct impression that she was not keen to leave my uncle. He assured us that we were misreading her. When he left her with us, it was not a pretty sight. We swallowed our embarrassment and did our best to make her feel at home. She turned out to be good with the kids. She was also very clean, an excellent cook, and keen to learn English.

            We told her that she would be free from Saturday noon after lunch to late Sunday after dinner. Meaning, she was spared from having to cook us two dinners, a breakfast, and one lunch. For the first few weeks she just stayed with us acting like she did not deserve the break. For our part, we wanted her to leave so we could have some privacy. However, it did not take her long to enjoy her breaks.

            Like the maid before, Hapsah ate with us. We felt better that way. In the beginning she was reluctant and felt uncomfortable. The only way we could convince both maids to eat with us was that we had a rule to finish everything on the table. No leftovers so every meal would be fresh. If she did not eat with us she would have to cook again for herself.

            We did not feel right that Hapsah should be destined to be our maid for the rest of her life. That would be too heavy a responsibility and burden for us. Seeing Karen doing her knitting, Hapsah was keen to learn. She wanted to be a seamstress. Soon with us buying her the materials, she had quite a wardrobe for herself and a collection for our children.

            With time she became comfortable with us; at times too comfortable, availing herself often to our only telephone. Telephones were a scarce commodity in Malaysia then. It took us months to get one, despite the high priority with my being a doctor. Before we had one installed, the hospital used to send the police to get hold of me. That would elicit quite a bit of stares from the neighbors until they found out the reason. The police were just an expensive messenger system, nothing nefarious, we assured our neighbors.

            One night long after we had our phone installed, the police again came to our gate. It was the hospital trying to get hold of me for an emergency but could not break through the busy signals. Hapsah had been tying up the phone all night after we went to bed! I had warned her many times but we still caught her once in a while. Being that I did not want to see the police at my doorsteps again, I put a lock on the rotary dial without our permission so she could not dial out though people could still phone in.

            My uncle was right. We had misread Hapsah. She became attached to us, and we to her. With her in our confidence, Karen began again looking for a job.

From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon in His Native Malaysia(2018.

Next:  Excerpt #17
Life In Bungsar

Thursday, May 09, 2019

A Wonderful Depiction of a Mother-Daughter Bonding

A Wonderful Depiction Of A Mother-Daughter Bonding
M. Bakri Musa

Book Review: Rosana Sullivan’s Mommy Sayang, Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase Series
Disney Press, New York & Los Angeles, April 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-368-01590-5 / LCCN: 2018033419
Hardcover; 48 pages; $11.72
Age level 4-7 (Preschool and Kindergarten)

Mommy Sayang: Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase

Storytelling fills our basic need for intergenerational, in particular, mother-child bonding. It has been practiced since ancient times. However few of us, mothers included, are born raconteurs; hence the enduring fairy tales and booming sales of children’s books.

In 2014 Walt Disney Animation Studio and Pixar Animation Studios teamed up with Disney Worldwide Publishing to launch a series of children’s books by their artists and storytellers. Thus was born the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase series.

            That was also a way to recognize and provide an avenue to showcase the talents of their artists. Otherwise the only public recognition they received would be the ever-too-brief mention in the lines of credit rolling fast up the screen at the end of a movie.

            Most children’s books, being produced in the West, are heavy on themes and scenes familiar only to their Western urban readers. Even when those books venture to the countryside as with the Peter Rabbit series, the farm scenes would be heavily sanitized.

            Rosana Sullivan’sMommy Sayang (Mommy, Dear!) is a refreshing exception. Hers is autobiographical, set in a Malay kampung. Her story arc is simple and readily comprehensible but nonetheless profound:  a child’s secure, comfortable world suddenly turned topsy-turvy with her dear mother becoming unwell. This sudden reversal of fortune is a universal theme; likewise a mother’s love for her child, and vice versa.

Mommy Sayangfollows the endless curiosities of a child, Aleeya, and her mother’s ever-patient and attentive responses to her endless whys. This maternal-love theme is reinforced throughout the book. After the panoramic kampung scene on the first page, complete with the adjacent rice field, cars parked on the front yards, houses on stilts with the women casually conversing on the steps, the obligatory mosque, and yes, even a water buffalo with a little boy holding the tether, is the sketch of two mother hens with their broods happily pecking on the spacious grounds. On the next page a mother cat nursing her kittens. Mother hens and cat look contended, like all mothers.

            Then there are the scenes of her mother cooking, serving dinner, and praying. There is the touching picture of her mother’s storytelling and kissing her at bed-time that sent Aleeya into extravagant dreams of flowers, all in vivid, vibrant colors. The illustrations reveal much about Malay culture, right down to the foods we eat. There was the ubiquitous durian on the table served next to a Caucasian-looking guest, and without him grimacing!

            Aleeya’s world was suddenly turned upside down when her mother became unwell. The whole household routine was disrupted. Unable to comprehend the sudden change, Aleeya acted out as her aunts and others tried to console her.

She found solace in those beautiful flowers in her yard as well as in her dreams. She picked one colorful hibiscus in full bloom and gave it to her mother. As with all Disney stories, with that simple gesture her mother felt better – the healing power of nature’s beauty and a child’s love. And Aleeya’s world was restored!

Rosana, American-born and of Malaysian descent, now resides in Oakland, California. Among the many films she has worked on are The Good DinosaurCoco, and Incredibles 2. She recently released her first short animation, Kitbull, written and directed by her, to critical reviews.

            Mommy Sayangis her first children’s book, suitable for 3-7 years old. It is delightfully written and even more beautifully illustrated. As you would expect from an outfit like Disney, the technical quality of this hardcover was flawless. This book would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift for a young mother. I am getting a few for my many grandnieces who are now mothers or soon-to-be. The book would also be an excellent and enjoyable way to introduce your child to a very different culture – that of the rural Malay.

            The focal points of the illustrations are clear and well depicted. Thus we could see the serene reflections on the subject’s face, as with the cat and her kittens. The background is uncluttered but nonetheless conveys the essence of a Malay kitchen and kampung.

This book is a universe beyond, in content and presentation, to the A Man, A PanEnglish reading text I had in primary school back during the colonial days of the early 1950s. If the Ministry of Education is looking for supplemental reading books in its effort to increase the English fluency of rural pupils, this is the one to get.

The only anachronism in the illustrations for me growing up in a kampung in the 1950s would be the gas stove and electric fans. We had neither in those days.

In Arabic, Aleeyah means exalted or sublime. Despite Malaysia’s obsession with matters Arabic, modern Malays tend to dispense with the “h” ending, as with “Maria” instead of “Mariah.” The Western influence is still pervasive.

            With Rosana’s gift for drawing and storytelling, Aleeya will soon be a well-known children’s character, adorable to kids and adults. Elsa, meet your competition!

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Let's Eradicate Ramadan's Religious Brownie-Point Mentality

Let’s Eradicate Ramadan’s Religious Brownie-Point Mentality
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

Legend has it that the Eighth Century mystic Rabia al-Adiwayya was so upset with her fellow believers’ obsession with the Hereafter that one day she ranthrough the streets of Basra with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other yelling, “I want to burn down Heaven and douse the flames of Hell!”

To her, this preoccupation with heaven and hell blocks our path to Allah. We should worship Him not out of fear of His punishment or for the promise of Paradise, but for His love. We earn that through serving mankind and respecting all His creations.

            This fixation on the afterlife also trivializes our great faith, reducing us to boy scouts chasing religious “brownie points” to be cashed in at the Gates of Heaven.

            This mentality makes us belittle this world and its achievements. “Real” success awaits us in the Hereafter. Ever wonder why Muslims are mired in abject poverty? We forget this wisdom of our forefathers – kemiskinan mendekati kefukuran(poverty invites impiety).

            Then there are the promised 72 virgins in Heaven to seduce those young jihadists. As Imam Tawhidi observed with contemptuous cynicism, if that were true, don’t you think that those doing the advising would be the first to blow themselves up? Then there are those who think that they could plunder the nation and then cleanse their sins away by going to Mecca, or “photo-op” sessions of charity feeding for orphans.

            Ramadan begins today and with that, heightened religious fervor. Mosques would be filled to overflowing and sermons loaded with endless reminders of the extra generosity of Allah during this blessed month. The portal to heaven remains wide open, we are told. Praying and other virtuous deeds done on the “Night of Power” (Lailatul qadar) would be magnified a thousand fold.

The consequence to this mindset is that if you travel during Ramadan in the Muslim world, be prepared for unexpected inconveniences and outright hassles. Eating establishments would be closed during the day. They assume that their customers are all Muslims, and fasting. There is little consideration for serving their non-Muslim and non-fasting clientele.

Not just restaurants. Try transacting business with government agencies! It’s like France in August. At least the French have the excuse of being in holiday mood. Come September they would return with renewed vigor. In Malaysia, the sluggishness remains.

Productivity suffers. With that, so too safety. A school bus plunged into a ravine when I was a kid. The driver was asleep at the wheel. He was fasting; at least that was his excuse. His personal salvation came ahead of his passengers’ safety.

            As a surgeon in Malaysia, I once reprimanded a doctor during Ramadan for abandoning his patients while he was off for his Friday prayers. His salvation too came ahead of his patients. The fact that helping his patients would pave his own salvation escaped him.

            Serve mankind and you serve Allah. That is the mantra of the Ahmaddiya and Ismaili Muslims; they understand and practice this essence of our faith. The Ahmaddiyas built hospitals in Africa and Latin America. They recently commissioned one in Guatemala. There are not many Muslims there. The Ismailis use their tithes to build schools and universities especially for girls. The Aga Khan University in Karachi, established only a few decades ago, has the country’s finest teaching hospital and medical school, eclipsing others much older.

The Islamicity Index, using criteria extracted from the Koran, measures how well nations serve their citizens. No Muslim nation is among the top twenty.

In his book Misquoting Muhammad, Jonathan Brown quotes the advice one Mufti of Al Azhar gave his country’s rulers. Bring peace, justice and prosperity to your people, and he (the Mufti) would find the hadith or Koranic verse to justify those policies. By definition those would be Syariah-compliant. Malaysian ulama have it backwards. They would be consumed first with whether those measures were “Islamic” even before they have been proven effective. To those ulama too, lies and stealing are Syariah-compliant if they would get a piece of the action, or their victims were non-Muslims.

We should have an equivalent personal Islamicity Index, based not on such things as how often we have undertaken the Hajj or how erudite we are in reciting hadith, rather on how well we serve our friends, families, and community.

Yet in Malaysia the screaming headlines are of corpses being snatched from grieving families (on the presumption that the deceased had converted to Islam on their deathbed), the surreptitious conversion of minors without both parents consenting (so the subsequent custody hearings could be in a Syariah rather than civil court), and most obscene of all, the contempt for personal privacy with officers of the religious department raiding hotels looking for khalwat(“close proximity”).

On a juvenile level, those caught not fasting would be paraded around town in a hearse. Meanwhile, drug abusers, abandoned babies, HIV sufferers, and other victims of our social dysfunction cry for attention. Ameliorate those problems and you effectively defend and protect the ummah, as well as the faith. Mass demonstrations yelling “Defend Islam!” or “God is Great!” would achieve nothing except snarl up traffic.

Allah’s greatest gift is our precious life. We have a one-in-five-billion (number of sperms in an ejaculate) chance of being here, essentially zero. Yet here we are. We should celebrate this miracle by making the most of it. I cringe when our ulama belittle our lives in this world in their obsession with the afterlife.

It would be more fruitful to regard the Day of Judgement as a concept, with heaven and hell, metaphors. Study hard in high school and your day of judgement would come soon enough, as at the end of the year when your test results come out and you could be rewarded with an overseas scholarship – a youth’s heaven!

Plunder the nation and your day of judgement too would come soon, as former Prime Minister Najib now finds out. Today he is going through hell, dragging along his family.

Heed the wisdom of Rabia al Adiwayya. Eradicate this distracting religious brownie-point mentality. Instead, enhance our Islamicity Index, the personal as well as the nation’s. At least you would have a legacy then. As to whether you would end up in Paradise, Allah hu Alam(only Allah knows), as my village elders of yore used to say.

The serialization of my memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, will resume next week.