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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, August 14, 2022

Let Us Undertake Our Own Hijrah!

 Let Us Undertake Our Own Hijrah!

M. Bakri Musa



I was touched by my Imam Ilyas Anwar’s Friday, August 5th 2022 Awal Muharram 1444 khutba (sermon). Awalmeans first in Arabic, and Muharram, the first of the twelve months of the Muslim year. 


Prophet Muhammad’s hijrah (migration) to Medinah from Mecca was such a pivotal event that the second Caliph (Omar) retrospectively made it (17 years later) to be the beginning of the Muslim calendar. To be precise, that hijrah did not take place 1444 years ago rather 1400 as the lunar-based Muslim year is shorter than the Gregorian one by 11 days. Further, hijrah was completed on the tenth day of the third Muslim month (Rabi al Awal), and not during Muharram.


Hijrah, my Imam Ilyas reminded us, means to migrate, to leave something and start anew. The Prophet, s.a.w, undertook it because he was being hounded by his fellow Meccan tribesmen intent on killing him and with that, his divine mission. Islam’s message of justice posed an existential threat to them.


Imam Ilyas reminded us that hijrah could be physical or spiritual. As for the physical, Muslims have no equivalent Abrahamic burden of being in a permanent state of exile (diaspora), dispersed in alien territories and to return to the promised land upon some messianic intervention. To Muslims, every new country is a promised land, an opportunity for a fresh beginning. 


When the Prophet, s.a.w., undertook his hijrah it was more to preserve and transmit the divine revelations he had received, less with his personal safety. Although the hijrah was the command of Allah, nonetheless the Prophet , s.a.w., took all necessary precautions. It was far from a spur-of-the moment decision typically associated with “escaping.” He did not depend only on Allah’s protection. For example, the Prophet, s.a.w., had arranged for a guide, mapped out his route carefully, and prepaid for the animals that would transport him and his companions. He enlisted the help from non-Muslim shepherds to cover his tracks in the sand. 


That last point should disabuse UMNO [Malay-based political party] and PAS (Islamic Party] chauvinists’ unfounded distaste of working with non-Muslims for Malaysia’s good. 


To the Prophet, careful planning did not conflict with and was indeed part of tawakkul (what Allah has bestowed upon us). This point, Imam Ilyas reminded us, is often missed by Muslims, now and then. To be pedestrian, predestination notwithstanding one should always look both ways before crossing a street. That is a necessary and much needed reminder as well as antidote to the entrenched fatalism (“Leave it to Allah!”) of Muslims, and not just among uneducated simple villagers.


In leaving Mecca the Prophet, s.a.w., went from a homogenous society of his Bedouin tribesmen to a then plural and diverse one in Medinah, with its established Christian, Jewish, pagan, and polytheistic communities. There he used Islam’s touchstone of justice to govern, not whims, revenge, hatred, or desire to dominate. He demonstrated as much as he preached this new faith, following the Qur’anic injunction (Surah Al-Kafirun 109:6):  “Unto you your religion, unto me, mine.” 


That simple, pragmatic, and peaceful creed is today missed by many, and not just the zealots.


In Medinah the Prophet, s.a.w., emphasized civic engagement and good communal relations. Among the first things he did was to set up marketplaces. Being a merchant he knew that trading was the best way to create and increase social bonds and interactions. It still is. As such I find the current Malay obsession with “Buy Muslim First” an aberration and counterproductive, from the business sense as well as faith-wise. As a vendor you would want the widest possible customer base; as a consumer, the best product and price. With the greater profit from the former, and the money saved with the latter, you would have that much more for zakat


The Prophet, s.a.w, lived the message of Surah Al-Ma’idah (5:8), approximately translated, “Bear witness to justice and not let hatred for a people lead you to be unjust. Be just, for that is nearer to reverence and to God.”  


That inspiration from hijrah was demonstrated to me by a student refugee from Ethiopia. She related her perilous journey escaping the land of her birth. What kept her going through the parched desert and stormy Mediterranean was remembering the Prophet’s own hijrah. While she was being hounded by those who were other than her own kind, and thus more understandable though no less painful, the Prophet, s.a.w., was being chased out by his own tribesmen. The pain must have been that much more wrenching. 


In Surah Al Nisaa (4:97) the Angels reprimanded those who had wronged themselves using the convenient excuse that they could not escape their plight. “Was not God’s earth vast enough that you might have migrated?” That should be the sharp rebuke to those who would use the ready rationale of “They always do it this way here!” to justify their evil conduct.


That was what that Ethiopian student did by migrating. As for those jingoistic Malay nationalists with their endless exhortations of hujan emas di negri orang, hujan batu di negri sendiri . . . (There may be showers of gold abroad but hailstorms in your native land but . . . ) in discouraging us from our own hijrah, heed Rumi’s wisdom:


“Muhammad says, ‘Love of one’s country is part of faith.’ But don’t take that literally! Your real ‘country’ is where you’re heading, not where you are. Don’t misread that hadith.”


Rumi too had done his share of hijrah. As for not going to where showers of gold, you are depriving yourself of Allah’s bounty. Worse, you are belittling it. In this regard, my Minangkabau tradition of merantau(wandering) is one to be celebrated, and emulated.


Imam Ilyas’s Awal Muharram khutba was refreshing for yet another reason. As I view similar sermons elsewhere, I was struck by two sad observations. While my Imam exhorted us to be inspired by hijrah, most Sunni Imams emphasized the ritual aspects of Muharram as with fasting on the tenth day. Meanwhile the Shi’ites were consumed with re-living the senseless tragedy of Karbala when the Prophet’s grandson was butchered and his body desecrated. Those ulama missed or skipped the essence and key lessons of hijrah


As we enter the Muslim New Year of 1444 let us again as per my Imam Ilyas, internalize the noble values and aspirations of that initial hijrah. Heed our beloved Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him!): 


المهاجر من هجر الخطايا و الذنوب المهاجر من هجر ما نهى الله عنه


We do not have to physically migrate, rather abandon all that Allah has forbidden.






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