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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, June 12, 2022

Malay Ummah's Phantom Enemeis

 Malay Ummah’s Phantom Enemies

M. Bakri Musa


Viewing the plethora of Malay religious sermons on social media, as well as from reading current mainstream headlines, I am reminded of the observation of a character in Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy. “At times a person may create an imaginary problem to escape an actual problem he finds difficult to resolve.”


            At least Mahfouz’s character is aware of her limitations. Malay leaders on the other hand are consumed with fighting one phantom enemy after another, and declaring repeated victories.


There is no shortage of critical challenges facing the ummah, from child brides and atrocious divorce rates to rampant drug abuse and entrenched corruption. Yet Malay leaders and ulama are fixated on manufactured enemies like the Japanese Bon Odori Festival. Earlier they hyperventilated on the presumed threat from Oktoberfest.


Yet they and their followers remain silent when that “pengkhianat negara” (national traitor) aka Najib Razak, convicted of massive corruption, was invited to an official palace dinner. Malay rulers with crude tastes are the norm; we have long lived with that. The current Agung’s immediate predecessor had to resign after his cavorting with a Russian beauty queen was exposed. The current Agung’s late father was no figure of moral rectitude. He left a trail of wives from East to West. His son, the present Agung, his Sandhurst  education notwithstanding, is no different.


It is not surprising that this degenerate trait would spread beyond the political and royal classes. Consider that Sidek Hassan, former Chief Secretary to the Government, admitted in court that he was paid RM30K per month, a figure that exceeded his official salary, to be on the board of the infamous 1MDB for “doing nothing.” There is more. He was honored with a Tan Sri and made Chairman of the Enforcement Agency for the Integrity Commission. Truly Orwellian!

The prosecutor or defense lawyer should have pummeled him in court. That would have wiped the silly grin off his face.


Sidek’s successor, Ali Hamsa, was no sparkle either. He died recently so I am restrained in my comments except to say that he, after ‘meticulous’ examination, declared that 1MDB’s affairs were “clear and above board.” Yes, Ali Hamsa was also a Tan Sri.


Royal rulers are by statute exclusively Malays, while the political and administrative classes are increasingly becoming so through practice. The other exclusively Malay leaders are the ulama and religious scholars. 


Throughout history, as Noah Feldman noted in his The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, ulama and scholars were the ummah’s formidable bulwark against tyrannous rulers. Read the biographies of these ancient luminaries; many suffered the wrath of their evil rulers. For most however, then and now, the ahadith “Heaven is full of rulers who befriended scholars while Hell, of scholars close to rulers” describes better the reality.


Malaysia has gone far beyond; the state now fully coopts the ulama. This blight began with Mahathir Mohammad. Early in his tenure as Prime Minister he tried to ingratiate himself to them so as to be seen as the “champion” of the faith. He succeeded only in emboldening them. They ridiculed him for his illiteracy in Arabic (the language of Islam) and lack of formal religious credentials. Imagine an English-illiterate expounding on Shakespeare’s subtleties, they sniffed! Mahathir tried to ride the Islamic tiger to fame and glory only to end up with the beast nearly devouring him. Crudely put, they crapped on him.


Malay ulama, far from being a bulwark against tyranny, are very much part of the problem. Listening to their sermons and observing their actions, I am struck by two disturbing thoughts. One, their total irrelevance to and ignorance of contemporary challenges facing the ummah. Two, their obsession with death and destructive theology of belittling Allah’s greatest gift – our precious life. This more than anything else prevents Malays from making our rightful contributions; hence our current sorry state. This preoccupation with chasing Paradise causes the ummah to suffer hell in this world. We should instead heed the wisdom of the 13thCentury Sufi scholar Ata Allah Al Iskandariah:  If you want to know your standing with Him in the Hereafter, look at the state He has put you in now (His Hikmah’s Aphorism No: 73).


Malay ulama have failed to give full meaning to the Qur’anic injunction:  Command good and prohibit evil. True piety, the Qur’an goes on, does not consist of turning your face towards east or west . . . rather your spending on the needy and freeing humans from bondage. The greatest bondage trapping individual Malays today is our poverty of skills and intellect, thus our lack of competitiveness. Endless zikir (pleadings to The Almighty) would not solve that; improving our schools and universities would. 


Our collective cultural bondage is our acceptance of the loot of corruption as borkat (bounty from Allah). We were easily bought when 1MDB crumbs were used to finance Hajj and suraus. As for Sidek Hassan’s monthly RM30K borkat, that was but spilled gravy compared to what kafirs Tim Leissner, Jho Low, Roger Ng and others had. 


A cautionary note. It is worth reminding that “assassin” is an Arabic word and “amok” a uniquely Malay cultural trait. The recent interest in Mat Kilau, the lone warrior who rebelled against the British, and one Private Adam who went amok against a sultan, are early warning signs. Even the most compliant society has its limits.


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