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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, April 24, 2022

Quran, Hadith, and Hikayat: Exercises In Critical Thinking

Qur’an, Hadith, and Hikayat:  Exercises in Critical Thinking

M. Bakri Musa





ISBN-13: ‏ :  979-8463116093

pp 342; October 2021

Paperback US$14.95; e-book US$2.99

Available on Amazon.com (as well as Amazon elsewhere and other major on-line outlets)



Qur’an, Hadith, and Hikayat:  Exercises in Critical Thinking uses examples familiar to Muslims, Malays in particular, as exercises in critical thinking. From the Holy Qur’an, the writer examines its central injunction “Command good and forbid evil” to explore the meaning of “good” versus “evil” as well as “commanding” versus “forbidding.”


He discusses whether “good” and “evil” are polar opposites, and as such mutually exclusive (an either-or proposition), or on a continuum. If the latter, whether circumstances matter as to where on that spectrum a particular deed would fall. Consider Aristotle’s virtues, where excess in any one is to be avoided, in consonant with our prophet’s admonition:  In everything, moderation.


Could “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice no virtue” be justified? Can we remain passive or neutral in the face of appalling poverty, tyrannous oppression, gross injustice, or egregious corruption?


In an exercise with Malay undergraduates in America, they were asked to pick the one Qur’anic ayatthat is most meaningful or inspiring to them, and why. It reflected the richness of the Qur’an that no two students chose the same verse. The exercise made them think, a marked contrast to the usual mindless recitations or endless quoting of ancient luminaries typical in much of contemporary Islamic discourses.


From hadith, the writer explores three oft-quoted ones:  Tie one’s camel securely and only then pray to Allah that it does not escape; going to China to seek knowledge; and the prediction that the ummah(community) would be split into 73 sects, with all but one being “misled.” The discussions depart from the traditional discourse where the obsession is on an ahadith’s presumed authenticity (or lack thereof) and its chain of narrators. Instead, it focuses on extracting the underlying message and wisdom. That after all is the purpose of studying or recalling hadith.


Take the ahadith on the predicted split of the ummah. Most Muslims arrogantly assume that their sect to be the only “right” one, with the others hopelessly “misguided” and thus hell-bound. The consequence to that mindset is the messianic mission to “correct” the others. With that comes the associated intolerance and rigidity. The reality is that any one sect has only 1 in 73 probability of being correct while a 72 in 73 (over 98.6 percent) of being in error. The latter is a certainty in modern statistics. That is humbling! If we were to adopt this more realistic assessment, we become humble and eager to learn from the others in the belief that one of them would be the correct one. Our mindset changes for the better.


Muslims’ uncritical equating of ribaa with lending interest has resulted in much of the Muslim world being bypassed by modern economic development. It also makes Islamic financial products more expensive. More consequential, it discourages Muslims from partaking in modern finance and commercial enterprises. This mistaken ribaa equivalence also prevents Muslims from leveraging zakat (tithe) funds. It also traps inheritance assets and inhibits Muslims from developing and enhancing such potentially powerful estate-planning instruments as waqaf (trusts, including family trusts) and takaful (insurance).


The writer takes a critical look at the “Islamization of Knowledge” fad, a particular obsession of today’s Muslim intellectuals. Their mistaken conviction that there is a uniquely Islamic version of the truth and knowledge is a significant obstacle to Muslims addressing the major challenges facing the ummah as it prevents Muslims from learning important lessons from contemporary successful societies.


From classical Malay literature, the writer chose Hikayat Malim Deman (The Legend of Malim Deman) to discern the difference between a leader’s lofty aspiration versus delirious fantasy, the current blight of Malay leaders. They are consumed in the pursuit of power and position. Having achieved that, it would be the end, akin to the eponymous character Malim Deman. After securing his dream bride, he lost interest in her. She was but a trophy to be acquired; likewise with Malay leaders and their political positions. The assumption of power should be the beginning, not the end of their endeavor.


Likewise, if rulers were to kill the bright stars among their subjects as the sultan did in Hikayat Singapura di Langgar Todak (Singapore Invaded By Swordfish), you would end up with a society of dumbbells. Likewise, if the corrupt and hoodlums were to be honored, do not be surprised with the consequences.


From Shahnon Ahmad’s celebrated novel, Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan (Obstacles All The Way) Bakri Musa revisits the perennial challenge of rural Malay poverty. It is still very much a tragic reality today, three quarters of a century after merdeka and despite the massive infusion of funds as well as the ever generous special privileges. That work of fiction rivals in insight and wisdom with the most well-researched socioeconomic treatises. From there the author explores the thoughts and commentaries of Malay luminaries:  Za’aba, Ungku Aziz, Munshi Abdullah, and Ahmad Farouk Musa. Their critical analyses give us a refreshing contrapuntal reading (to quote Edward Said) to the current accepted wisdom and assumptions.


The book concludes with examining the two major issues facing today’s Malaysia. One internal, the preferential policies of Malay Special Privileges enshrined in the constitution which have now degenerated into a cesspool of unbridled corruption and influence peddling benefitting only the powerful, principally the sultans and ruling politicians. The other, external, is the fast escalating conflict in the South China Sea pitting the two great super powers – China and America – with Malaysia trapped in the middle. Malays consumed with protecting our parochial special privileges are distracted from recognizing and thus addressing this second far more existential threat.



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