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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, January 17, 2021


Muslims In The Era Of Globalization

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.blogspot.com)

Presented At The Muslim Students Association, Stanford University, February 14, 2003

[Slightly updated]

Second of Five Parts

Culture As A Major Determinant Of A Society’s Fate

There are three cultural values that are relevant here and which we should prize:  The ability or more importantly the willingness to learn from others; to tolerate if not celebrate and embrace the differences amongst us; and to appreciate that the most important asset of a society is its people.

My thesis is that there is much that the West generally and America specifically that is doing right and thus worthy of our emulation. These include representative government with a system of checks and balances; commitment to civil society, and with that, respect for personal dignity and liberty; tolerance for diversity; and commitment to capitalism and free enterprise.

We should not be surprised that that the ideals celebrated in the West are also what we cherish in Islam. Free enterprise, today embraced by the West, is very much an Islamic tradition, and had proven successful in bringing the greatest prosperity to the largest number of people. The fact that Communist China has broken that record recently does not detract from that achievement.

There is no virtue in poverty. Unlike in the Bible, the Qur’an does not have the equivalent refrain of the “the poor shall inherit the earth!” or other verses aggrandizing the poor and poverty. On the contrary, Islam encourages the acquisition of wealth. Zakat (tithe) is a central tenet of Islam. Before we can pay zakat, we must first have wealth. The acquisition of wealth is thus central to the Islamic faith so that we could fulfill this important obligation of zakat. If you are destitute you cannot give zakat; you would instead be the recipient. There is nothing meritorious in that.

Malays have a saying, kemiskinan mendakati kefukuran (Poverty invites impiety). We are more likely to rob, murder, and otherwise engage in sinful activities when we are poor and desperate. Anyone who doubts the truth of this ancient wisdom need only visit poverty-stricken Indonesia. To Islam, anyone who alleviates poverty is doing dakwah (missionary work) of the highest order. An entrepreneur is held in high esteem in Islam precisely because of the public good he does in providing goods and services to the community. An employer is held in similar high regards because she is providing an income for someone. Equally important, through the job he or she can make a meaningful contribution to society, quite apart from enhancing that individual’s sense of esteem and self-worth, far more than simply dispensing charity.

Islam, like globalization, transcends tribes, race, or geography. The concept of nation-state is alien in Islam. There were no visas, passports, export permits, and import quotas in Islam. Unlike in early Islam, today’s version of globalizations till restricts the free flow of people. Muslims therefore should have little difficulty adapting to and embracing globalization.

We must not only tolerate but also more importantly celebrate diversity. As stated in the Qur’an, this is part of Allah’s grand design. If Muslims can accept differences amongst us without resorting to excommunicating each other or labelling each other kafir, then we are more likely to get along with each other, and in turn with non-Muslims. Muslim unity does not mean Muslim unanimity. We must have a Jeffersonian generosity – every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.

There is much that we can learn from Islam’s own rich history and traditions. The Islamic civilization would not have reached its zenith if not for Islam’s sterling ideals and values. At the same time, we should study why such a grand and glorious empire unraveled. We should go back to our Qur’an and discover those enduring values so that we could adapt them for our present dilemmas.

The dilemma facing Muslims today can be encapsulated by comparing two leading personalities in Islam who are (or was with one of them) widely viewed as heroes and leaders. Both are fabulously wealthy, been exposed to the ways of the West, and inspired masses of dedicated followers. What they do or did with their wealth and talents reveals as much about themselves and their followers as well as the state of our faith. I refer to the Aga Khan and Osama Bin Ladin.


Next:  Third of Five Parts:  The Aga Khan Versus Osama Bin Ladin:  As Study of Contrasts


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