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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 31, 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


Last of Four Parts:   Readers’ Responses


I receive the longest and most passionate letters from readers – especially those who disagree with me – when I write on Islam. Often these letters would trigger debates among other readers. I am encouraged that more agree than disagree with me. Part of that is self-selection. Often, they write to express their appreciation that someone else shares their views. Because of the oppressive atmosphere on matters Islamic in Malaysia, Malays are loath to offer their opinions even when they think that the official views are ridiculous and offend their sensibilities, because of the fear of being labelled “un-Islamic” or worse, a murtad.

Murtad is a far more offensive term and carries a much greater stigma (and danger) than its simple translation of someone who has denounced his faith. If those fanatical Muslims have their way, murtads would deserve the death penalty. They are worse than kafirs – the real infidels!

It is gratifying to get responses from non-Muslims. They are relieved or at least pleasantly surprised to read an alternative view of Islam, one that is tolerant and less dogmatic from what they have been hearing from the radical bearded mullahs or from JAKIM, the state version. Some expressed concerns on the effect on race relations in Malaysia if a significant segment of the population (meaning, Malays) were to be held back economically and in other ways because of their obsession with matters religious and the Hereafter, together with the inferior education they receive from these religious institutions.

The main theme of those Muslim readers who disagree with me is that if only I had studied with such and such a scholar or had “really” studied Islam “properly” like they had, then I would not have been misled. I would then have the “correct” (meaning something they would agree with) interpretation of our faith.

Those readers are heavy in quoting the Holy Book and hadith but are woefully inadequate on applying those lessons in addressing the issues I had raised. Quoting is one thing, applying the principles another. Their strategy seems to be that if you cannot rationally discuss the issues, then the next best thing would be to overwhelm those who disagree with you with religious quotations.  They cannot comprehend that others could have different interpretations and that in the end, we must make up our own minds based on those teachings and our real-life experiences.

One reader sent me the name of his favorite alim, suggesting that I should consult him. He was befuddled when I replied that I am aware of his favorite alim’s views, and no, having read and listen to others, I have a different take from that of his favorite scholar. Another reader had a touching concern that I would not enter Heaven if I were to continue professing my views!  Touching!

Those who disagree with me were in fact saying this:  They and they alone know exactly what Allah had told the Holy Prophet, and that those who disagree with them are “misled.” They have little tolerance for divergent views. Their arguments could be reduced thus:  “My ulama (or Imam, scholar, etc.) are more correct (more pious, religious, etc.) than yours!”

One of the privileges of living in America is that with the freedom and diversity here, I am exposed to a wide variety of Islamic thoughts and viewpoints. There is no government-sanctioned religious council censoring books and ideas. We practice and live this openness and tolerance in our own little mosque here in California.  I believe that if we Muslims can get along with our fellow Muslims and tolerate the differences and variations in our peripheral beliefs and practices, then we are more likely to get along with non-Muslims. That would only bring goodwill.

A supportive reader wrote that my approach to Islam is much more difficult because it forces us to examine our core beliefs. He added, “Contrary to popular belief, the height of Islamic civilization corresponded to a period when Islam was open to ideas from outside, and variations in interpretations.”

Muslim leaders – intellectual, political, and religious – would do well to encourage their followers to believe that there is no one single “correct” interpretation of Islam that would serve us everywhere, and at all times. Human society continues to evolve; it is much too complex for us to have unanimity of views and opinions. While we all subscribe to the tenets of our faith, we should expect and indeed welcome diversity in viewpoints and interpretations. We can do without the certitude that often is nothing more than a camouflage for intolerance. Muslim unity does not mean Muslim unanimity. The ummah is not a flock of sheep to be led blindly by a shepherd.

The prevailing sentiment among Malays, shared by leaders and followers alike, is that if only we would return to the “true and original” form of Islam expressed as they see it in the Quran and hadith, then our ummah would be one happy and united family. And all our problems would then magically disappear!

Even those early pious Muslims close to and taught by the Prophet could not agree as to who would be his rightful successor. That early difference led to the irreversible split of the faith, the followers of each sect invoking the very words of the Prophet in justifying their actions.

This is the continuing tragedy. It is such inconsequential differences at the periphery upon which endless wars had been fought, with millions killed and maimed, with each side self-righteously defending their own “true” and “faithful” interpretation of the faith.





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