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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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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 02, 2021

The Special Blessings Of Lailatul Qadar

 The Special Blessings of Lailatul Qadar

M. Bakri Musa


On Sunday evening May 2nd 2021, Muslims entered our last ten days of fasting for the month of Ramadan. It is said that the first ten are for seeking Allah’s Mercy; the second, His Forgiveness; and the third, refuge from His Hellfire.


            Muslims also believe that one of those odd nights of the last ten days to be especially blessed. Dubbed lailatul qadar (the Night of Power), one’s worship on that blessed night would be amplified by an All-Generous Allah as if we had been performing it “for a thousand months!” Hence the frenzied spiritual activities during those last ten days.


            Legend has it that a particular clan was successful because its patriarch once saw a patch of ice upon returning from his taraweeh (special Ramadan prayer) at the mosque. That ice patch symbolized Allah’s borkat(bounty) as well as miracles. Imagine ice in the desert, or tropical Malaysia!


It was during one of those nights over 14 centuries ago that Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him!) received his divine revelation high in the cave of Mount Hira. From that came the Qur’an, a “guide for all mankind at all times and till the end of time.”


In his sermon last Friday, April 30, 2021, our Imam Ilyas asked us to reflect on the state of the Bedouins at the time of the prophet. Blighted by a multitude of ills, the list was long, from gruesome female infanticide to rampant vicious tribalism, and from indentured servitude to outright slavery. The obscene inequities between the poor and the privileged would offend anyone, except that they did not. The Prophet’s solitude in that cave was to seek answers for this social aberration – his people’s unconcerned acceptance if not willing embrace of this jahiliyyah (ignorance).


The Qur’an transformed the Arabs. Today it guides a quarter of the global population.


Prophet Muhammad was Allah’s Last Messenger, the last mortal God talked to. In our post-prophetic era we can no longer climb mountains or go into prolonged seclusions to seek guidance from God. We seek it in the Qur’an, using the unique faculty Allah has endowed upon each of us – our akal (intellect).


Ancient Muslims used their akal to unravel many of nature’s mysteries, from the movements of celestial bodies to the inner workings of ours. They were pious ulama as well as observant scientists. They did not have the arrogance to classify knowledge into secular versus religious, or Islamic versus non-Islamic. That particular bida’ah (adulteration of our faith) came later. Those ulama of yore accepted that all knowledge is from God, to be shared with and to benefit humanity.


Contrary to the fulminations of many, I see no contradiction between faith and reason. Each complements the other. An unexamined belief in not worth having, and blind faith is no faith. When scientists explore the world within and beyond, it is their belief that there is something worthy to be discovered, whether that search is for life in outer space or the inner secrets of Covid-19 virus.


Malaysia today differs only in degree from the Prophet’s Age of Jahiliyyah, with corruption endemic, its loots viewed as rezki (blessings), and the corrupt honored. Gross inequities are deemed to be the natural order. Meanwhile Covid-19 ravages on.


During this lailatul qadar I implore Malay leaders to reflect on the sorry state of the nation and be inspired by our Holy Prophet to do the right thing. Go beyond the rituals of Ramadan. That would indeed be a blessing for all Malaysians.


Some view Allah’s special bounty during lailatul qadar as the supremacy of predestination over freewill. Indeed qadar means just that – fate. As with akal (reason) and iman (faith), fate and freewill complement, not contradict each other. We live in a world of probabilities. Even electrons circling the nucleus of our atoms are expressed in probabilities.


One’s freewill or conscious decision not to text or drink while driving would ensure a high probability of a safe journey. If a drunk driver were to come into one’s lane or a boulder crashed down the hillslope, that’s fate!


Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer best reconciles fate and freewill. “God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”


During this lailatul qadar let us reflect, as our Prophet did on the state of his community nearly 1500 years ago, on the challenges facing ours. If that is too daunting, then limit it to the social unit we lead, as with our family. If that is still overwhelming, then focus on our individual challenges so we could become a better person. Make “The Night of Power” be the stimulus for serious introspection, one worthy of the effort of “a thousand months.”


Early in my career I was called to the Emergency Room (ER) deep in the night during one Ramadan. Having your sleep interrupted, especially after a day of fasting, has a way of putting you in a foul mood, more so if you expect the case to be what we politely refer to as “uncompensated care.”


I must have made quite a ruckus in preparing to leave for the hospital, enough to wake up my wife. Upon finding out the cause of my frustration, she got up to hug me.


“Bakri, this is Ramadan!” she soothed me. “A blessed month,” she continued, “a time to be generous, of ourselves and of our time as well as talent.”


Those words calmed me. I learned to take my ER calls in stride, treating them as my commitment and contribution to my community that had been so generous to me and my family. Yes, I missed more than a few significant events in my family’s life, as with being late or absent at my children’s birthdays and school plays.


Nonetheless that revelation from my dear wife many Ramadans ago helped me achieve my personal ikigai, the Japanese philosophy on the meaning of life. I love what I do and I am competent at it, while society needs my service and I am well compensated for doing it. Alham dulillah! (Praise be to Allah!)


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