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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, February 28, 2021

Believing The Donkey Over The Mullah

 Does The Malay Mind Need To Be Liberated?


Panel Discussion Via Zoom organized by LeadUS Malaysia, January 10, 2021, with co-panelist Professor Mohammad Tajuddin Rasdi. Moderated by Dr. Rozhan Othman.


Panel Discussion Via Zoom organized by LeadUS Malaysia, January 10, 2021, with co-panelist Professor Rushdi Tajuddin Rasdi. Moderated by Dr. Rozhan Othman.


Last of Four Parts


Dr. Rozhan Othman:  In your book Liberating the Malay Mind you quoted from Nahjul Balaghah an incident involving a mullah, his donkey, and his neighbor. For the benefit of the audience, can you describe the incident and explain the point you are trying to make. Does this incident illustrate the harm of dogmas in people’s mindset? Specifically, how do you relate that to the quest to liberate the Malay mind?


Bakri Musa:  That mullah was fed up with his neighbor forever borrowing things from him and not returning them. One day this neighbor came to borrow the mullah’s donkey. Anticipating the request, he had earlier stowed the animal away in the barn and out of sight. When the neighbor appeared with his expected request, the mullah was ready.


“I am sorry my brother has borrowed the donkey earlier.”


As the neighbor prepared to leave, disappointed, the donkey brayed in the barn.


“I thought you said your brother had borrowed your donkey?”


To which the mullah replied, “Do you believe the braying of a donkey over the words of a mullah?


If you have a critical mind you believe the truth even if it were to be revealed by a donkey over the falsehood of a mullah.


If you do not have a critical mind you could fall for the lies perpetrated by those in power. Soon you would believe the “big lie.” That is what is happening in America this week with Trump supporters storming Capitol Hill. America is lucky in that she has strong institutions and enough people who can think critically. Not so in Germany of the 1930s. Or Malaysia today; hence the 1MDB and other expensive and destructive debacles.


I have a more relevant and contemporary example for Malays taken from my same book on the need for critical thinking. Consider this scene. The Agung stepped out of his grandiose palace sporting his latest model Giorgio Armani sunglasses.


“It looks dark today!” he titah, as he looked up to the sky.


His ADC immediately instructed his aides. “Our Agung is smart! He can forecast the weather. Go grab some umbrellas.”


Not to be outdone, his second underling added, “Oh, our Agung is thinking of his subjects in Pahang, what with the recent devastating floods. We must warn the rakyat!”


At least that aide was thinking of the citizens.


Then the third added, “It’s actually very nice, your Majesty. Take off your sunglasses!”


Among the three aides, who was thinking critically? If you are a leader, who would you choose to work with?


You can tell much about leaders by those they keep around them. That is why I am impressed with Anwar Ibrahim; he attracts many bright young talents into his party.


In my Liberating The Malay Mind I addressed the challenge of critical thinking at the societal level, as with modernizing the school system away from rote memorization and mindless regurgitations at test times. My forthcoming book addresses how we could improve our critical thinking skills. Don’t count on our schools and universities to teach that!


Tentatively titled, Thinking Critically The Qur’an, Hadith, And Hikayat, I use examples familiar with and relevant to Malays. Once we can think critically, then we can decide whether to believe the mullah or the braying donkey.


The best antidote to the current corrupt Malay leadership is for Malays to exercise critical thinking. The American writer Suzy Kaseem put it best. “Nothing threatens a corrupt system more than a free mind.”


Our own Usman Awang was even sharper. Jika hidup berjiwa hamba, pasti tetap terjajah abadi. (A slave mentality ensures a life of servitude). A critical mind is the best defense against berjiwa hamba.


One example for critical thinking I use from the Qur’an is Ayat 7 of Al Fatihah, (approximately translated), “Guide us along the path of those you have blessed, not those who have incurred your wrath.” I challenge readers to cite contemporary individuals whom they consider to have earned Allah’s blessings and why.


Another is the familiar ahadith, first tie your camel securely, only then pray it does not escape. I use that to counter the current preoccupation of Muslims to just pray so their camels would not escape.


Another example I use is the stunning difference in responses of American versus Malaysian students to the folktale “Batu Belah Batu Melangkup.” To Malay children that story is a lesson on obedience to mothers as encapsulated in another ahadith, “The door to heaven lies at a mother’s feet.” To American children however, the mother’s behavior was the height of maternal irresponsibility. Same facts, radically different interpretations!


Those are some of the exercises I use in my forthcoming back Thinking Critically The Qur’an, Hadith, and Hikayats.



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