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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, October 30, 2022

Cast From The Herd Exceprt # 52: Attempted Wedding

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 52:  Attempted Wedding

Then there was my older sister Hamidah. When she was not promoted following her Lower Certificate of Education (Year 9) examination, even though she passed it, that ended her schooling. She remembered only too well her cousin’s Azizzah’s fate, and was determined to avoid it. My sister too had her moments of moodiness, nonetheless she tried hard to overcome them. She went to town often to meet her former classmates who were in the same predicament. On returning she would be her bubbly self again. My parents encouraged her with her outings. 

With a young maiden available, wedding proposals soon came. That horrified my father as he thought his daughter was still a young girl. The first was from a police officer, an assistant superintendent no less, and from a prominent family. Any potential parent-in-law would drool at such a prospect. My parents broached the matter to my sister but she would have none of it. She was adamant that she was not ready for marriage. Her refusal to even consider the proposal strengthened my father’s resolve. He too was not keen. To him all police officers were corrupt. He did not want his future grandchildren to be fathered by other than an honest, God-fearing man. So much to the horror of the tribal elders, my father decided against the offer, but not before going through the rituals with the emissary of the prospective groom. My father had a plausible excuse:  my sister was contemplating “further studies” and as such the family could not entertain any marriage proposal. 

With that disposed, there soon came another, from an army captain. Not any army but The Malay Regiment, the pride and glory of the race. Even in civilian clothing he had an officer’s bearing. The only problem was that he was neither single nor young; he was already married with children and now contemplating a “junior” wife. That officer was also from a prominent family. 

Now it was my parents’ turn to be dyspeptic. Declining without a good reason would be taken as an insult; you would not want to do that; there would be a price to pay. Think of my grandfather with Raja Nordin earlier! 

That officer, or rather his family, was persistent. He was used to his commands being executed right away. He wanted an answer, yesterday! My father could not use the excuse that the officer was already married. The taking of multiple wives is allowed in our faith, the only provision being only four at any one time. 

Then there was the pride that your daughter would be the “new, junior” wife, bini muda, to reign supreme over the older faithful one. My sister was considered a catch because she could speak English. An officer had to attend those socials at the officers’ mess; it would not reflect well if your wife could not carry on a conversation with the other English-speaking wives. 

It was fortunate that meanwhile my sister had been accepted into teachers’ college. My parents kept that a secret in part because they were superstitious and did not want it jinxed even though Raja Nordin had long retired. 

Only when my sister was off to college at Kota Baru did my father go through the rituals of entertaining the proposal. Now he had a ready excuse. On acceptance to teachers’ college my sister had to sign a bond that stated among other things, she could not get married during training. She would risk expulsion and be made to reimburse the government. My parents could not afford that. That still did not give my father complete confidence. What if this officer’s family were to offer paying off the bonds and consider that as the dowry? 

My parents’ worry was misplaced. That officer was in no mood to wait; he was off hunting elsewhere, much to our family’s relief. 

My sister met her future husband Ariffin Hamzah at college and they were married a few years later. My parents held true to their values and the wedding was a modest affair, dispensing with separate engagement, akad nikah (exchange of vows), and the dual formal wedding ceremonies (bersanding), one at the bride’s home and the other, the groom’s. They morphed all that into one event and held it in the evening, inviting only close family members and neighbors. Being in the evening, the lack of a crowd was not obvious. It was an intimate gathering and we got to know Ariffin’s family well. My father stayed true to Za’aba’s admonishment against lavish weddings. 

The next morning as my brother and I were busy taking down the tents and cleaning up, new guests came trickling in to what they presumed to be the day’s bersanding ceremony, as was the tradition. They were puzzled to see us dismantling instead of setting up those tents. When we told them that the wedding was over the evening before, they left disappointed.

I often wondered as to the divergent fates of my sister and cousin Azizzah. Personality was a factor, as always. More pivotal was my sister’s English education; it opened up greater opportunities for her. 

Only over half a century later would my mimosa cousin Azizzah open up again as she proudly introduced to me her granddaughter, Helena Varkkey, fresh with her University of Sydney PhD. I saw in this bright, charming and vivacious girl a young Azizzah, before her world was turned upside down by that rejection letter from the nursing school. 

Next:  Excerpt #53:  A Traditional Wedding

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Get Rid of Corrupt and Untrustworthy Leaders

 Get  Rid  Of  Corrupt  And  Untrustworthy  Leaders  

M. Bakri Musa


Two images circulating on social media recently saddened me. One showed Prime Minister Ismail Sabri grinning from ear to ear and with a blank stare handing out cash to Hindu worshippers celebrating their Deepavali. The second, a video clip showing a Malay Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign worker sticking “Undi BN” (Vote BN) bumper stickers to motorcyclists stopped at a traffic light. In return for their permission, those riders were each given a RM100 note.


            Ponder that pathetic first image, Prime Minister ‘Mael (as he is known) handing out cash in a House of Worship begging those devotees to vote for his party. Outright vote buying and in plain sight; corruption plain and simple. Those pious Hindus were busy praying and celebrating their Festival of Light. That Light refers to power, virtue, and knowledge. There is minimal power in those ringgit notes as that currency is fast depreciating. As for virtue, those worshippers were deep in spiritual thoughts. We need no reminder that no religion considers bribing a virtuous act. As such what ‘Mael did was a blasphemy. However, that was not what saddened me about that picture, rather the indelible image it projected to the world–Malay leaders as represented by Ismail Sabri, and thus Malay culture as represented by UMNO, being corrupt. In Islam, breaches of fidelity by leaders are among the greatest sins.


            As for knowledge, ‘Mael revealed not only his lack of that but also moral sensitivity, quite aside from elementary decorum. He was uncouth. His was an act of utter desperation; vile corruptness personified, your typical slimy third-rate Third World politician. It was gross, with no subtlety or any attempt at hiding his hideous act. Judging from his facial expression, he was proud to be involved in that blatant activity. And this character is a lawyer and a Muslim leader!


            The difference between Ismail Sabri and Najib Razak, recently convicted for looting 1MDB, is quantitative not qualitative, a matter of degree not kind. Najib looted billions, Ismail, well, for Najib that would be his pocket change. Regardless, both are pecah amanah.


            Najib at least showed some deference to Hindu culture by dressing himself in proper attire at a similar pre-election campaign in the past. Not this character ‘Mael. At the minimum he should have donned a dhoti(long bright colored overcoat) or one of his gaudy colored open-neck, long over-the-pants shirt that he is so fond of wearing. That temple episode would be comparable to a kafir politician handing out cash in a mosque during Friday prayers and not deferring to our religious sensitivity as in not donning a head cover or keeping his shoes on. What ‘Mail did was sacrilegious, if not obscene beyond imagination.


            As for that campaign worker, one could be charitable and assume that he was being paid an honest wage for his day’s work. As such his earnings would be as halal as that of the roadside goreng pisang (fried banana) seller. Or is it?


            Imagine the behind-the-scene activities associated with that campaign worker. Assume that he was given 100 stickers for the day and at RM100 each, he would receive 100 pieces of that note, totaling RM 10,000 (100 x RM100), for distribution. Do you think that he would paste the whole one hundred stickers, or would he emulate his superiors Ismail Sabri, Zahid Hamidi, and Najib Razak? That is, after pasting the first twenty or so he would throw the rest into the dumpster and pocket the remaining cash. Who would check on him? Besides, he is only emulating them; monkey see, monkey do! 


            That worker would return to his local BN campaign headquarters at the end of the day and pose as a hero to party apparatchiks by refusing to be paid for his work as he was doing it for the “love” of the party!


            Likewise, imagine the behind-the-scene activities of ‘Mael distributing cash in that temple. First, that grinning ‘Mael would have his underlings bring in those pellets of cash to his office or home. He would not trust those mountains of ringgit notes to their custody. Remember Najib? He kept his lodes of cash in his condo, discovered only after the police raid following his coalition’s loss in the 2018 General Elections. He too claimed that those monies were for campaign purposes.


            There was only one problem, and nobody as yet posed that question. The mountain of seized boxes contained currencies in Euros, pound sterling, and US dollar, all in large denominations. Yes, those would come in handy to those poor villagers in Kemaman as they try to buy ikan bilis at the local store with their US$100 or Euro 100 bill!


            That police raid of Najib’s Pavilion condo was broadcasted live worldwide. That was shameful enough, except of course to Najib and his fellow UMNO leaders. However, there was more! A few days following the raid, more than a few members of the police raiding party (all Malays, I am saddened to state) were soon sporting luxury motorcycles, paid for in cash! At one level it is like that earlier campaign worker, another case of monkey see, monkey do. More sinister is that it reflected the entrenched and endemic culture of corruption. This is what Malaysia, specifically Malay culture, has degenerated into. This is the culture that not so long ago undertook a mega event attended by our luminaries extolling its supreme values. Remember that Kongress Maruah Melayu attended by then Prime Minister Mahathir? What a mockery!


            Again, imagine the scene at Ismail’s (and other BN leaders’) residence or office during this election time where those caches of cash are being kept. The risk of pilfering, not by outsiders as they would have no access, but by his household members would also be high. They would not hesitate swiping a few bundles before going shopping. Who is there to check or count? Besides, they would not consider that as stealing or swiping but honest wage or commission earned!


            What Malaysians should do during this campaign is to take the cash offered and later at election time, boot out those corrupt and untrustworthy bastards. Remember, the money those UMNO crooked politicians are dishing out belong to the rakyat in the first place.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Singkirkan Pemimpin Munafik Dan Tanpa Amanah

 Singkirkan Pemimpin Munafik Dan Tanpa Amanah


M. Bakri Musa



Dua gambar yang viral menyedehkan saya sebagai seorang Melayu. Gambar pertama menunjokkan Perdana Menteri Ismail Sabri di dalam kuil bersenggeh sengeh dan berguling mata sambil menyerahkan wang kertas kepada kaum India yang sedang menjalankan ibadat Deepavali mereka. Kedua, petikan video dimana seorang suruhan Barisan Nasional (BN) yang berupa Melayu (rambut hitam, kulit coklat, dan hidung lepet serta bersuara Melayu) memberi penunggang motosikal yang berhenti di simpang jalan RM100 untuk membenarkan menampal bampar “Undi BN” di keenderaan mereka.


            Renungkan gambar pertama. Ismail Sabri didalam kuil menyondulkan wang kertas serta meminta undi mereka. Terang terang rasuah. Bayangkan jika taukeh (tidak kira Islam atau bukan Islam) masuk ke masjid semasa sembahyang Raya menyampaikan wang kertas kepada ahli jemaah supaya mereka mengundi si taukeh. Itu bukan sedekah atau “duit raya” saperti yang kita beri kepada kanak kanak tetapi duit haram. Itu makan suap supaya kita mengundi parti dan calun mereka. Rasuah yang dijalankan tanpa segan di dalam rumah Allah!


            Itulah rendahnya akhlak Perdana Menteri Melayu kita ‘Mael. Inilah gambaran yang dilebarkan keseluruh dunia. Betapa merosotnya maruah dan nilai bangsa dan budaya kita!


            Perayaan Deepavalli meraiikan nur atau cahaya. Yang di maksudkan dengan istilah itu ialah kuasa, kemuliaan, dan ilmu. Apa nak dikuasakan dengan wang ringgit yang mutunya terus merosot? Apa yang hendak dimuliakan dengan perangai rasuah membeli undi? Muliakah budaya itu apabila pemimpin dengan rela mempecah amanah yang diberikan oleh rakyat kepada mereka? Berapa rendah nya budaya kita apabila perangai yang dilakukan oleh Perdana Menteri ‘Mael itu di agungkan? Dari segi cahaya keilmuan pula, ‘Mael tidak merasaii segan atau malu langsung bila membuat peragai hina itu.


            Balik ke gambar kedua, saya tidak menyalahkan pekerja BN itu. Dia di upahkan membuat demikian dan dengan itu gaji nya halal, sama juga dengan wang yang diterima oleh penjual goreng pisang ditepi jalan. Yang haramnya ialah begini. Betul dia diberi upah, dan itu halal tetapi lebarkan sedikit renungan anda. Pekerja itu diberi 100 lamparan kertas “Undi BN,” dan dengan itu sepuloh ribu ringgit (RM100 untuk menampal se keeping).


            Berapa agaknya bamper “Undi BN” itu yang bakal di tampalkannya, dan berapa yang hanya di buangkan sahaja kedalam tong sampah? Siapa hendak menggira dan siapa yang mungkin tahu melainkan Tuhan. Duit yang diseludupkan dalam bajunya mestilah haram. Itu kita semua setuju. Bahkan pekerja itu akan balek kepejabat partinya dan dengan bangga mengistiharkan supaya dia tidak payahlah di bayar gaji sebab tugasnya ialah sukerela atas kecintaan nya kepada parti!


            Berbalik kepada Perdana Menteri Mael kita tadi. Dia menyuruh kutunya pergi kepejabat BN mengambil kotak penuh dengan wang kertas. Berapa yang lesap sambil kotak itu disampaikan kepada ‘Mael? Takkan dia akan mengira berapa keeping duit yang dia terima. Selanjutnya, mungkinkah semua wang itu akan di beri kepada pengundi? Orang rumah ‘Mael bila nak keluar memberi bala takkan engan mengabil sakotak dua!!


            Ingatkan semasa polis merampas isi kondo mewah Najib Razak selepas Pilihan Raya 14 dulu. Berapa banyak bungkusan wang kertas berbagai jenis mata wang asing serta bag tangan mahal yang di rampas. Tak sampai beberapa minggu sahaja pun selepas itu, ahli polis yang menyertai rampasan itu membeli dengan wang cash motosikal mewah!


            Perbezaan antara peragai ‘Mael dan pengkhianat negara si Najib itu hanya di sisi tahap dan bukan jenis. Najib mencuri berbillion, tetapi apa yang disebat oleh ‘Mael hanya duit belanja sahaja bila dibandingkan dengan si Najib. 


            Inilah merosotnya maruah Melayu. Inilah rupa nya maruah yang dibangakan beberapa tahun dahulu dengan majlis besar Kongres Maruah Melayu yang dibuka oleh Perdana Menteri semasa, Mahathir.


            Pengundi mesti sedar bahawa wang yang diberikan oleh pemimpin UMNO yang tanpa bermaruah dan berakhlak itu berasal daripada rakyat. Ambil sahaja lah apa yang di undurkan oleh mereka tetapi bila masa mengundi nanti, tempelingkan mereka dengan jari kita. Jangan undi mereka.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Cast From the Herd: Excerpt #51: Menyerah And Other Weddings

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #51:  Menyerah (Surrender) And Other Weddings

My cousin Azizzah’s sudden personality transformation after her unexpected and late rejection to nursing school was a prelude to even greater changes in her life. She knew what her fate would be when they withdrew her admission, and she did her part to prepare for that harsh reality. Life would be no end of miseries if she were not to accept the cruel fate that had been handed to her. When her world was shaken and turned upside down, she, like a mimosa leaf, wilted, not as a prelude to death but as a protective mechanism. 

The natural sequence would now be to have her married. 

Malay marriages are elaborate expensive affairs, with the entire extended family, if not the whole village, involved in multiple ceremonies. After the war our extended family just could not afford such luxuries. Our Adat Perpatih however, provided a graceful way out. 

After the two families had agreed informally for such a union, it was arranged for the young man to stray after dusk into the compound of my cousin Azizzah’s house. Meanwhile her family had prepared what had been billed earlier as a family kenduri (feast). Then my uncle Tahir shouted out a warning of a prowler in the dark. Knowing that in the house resided a young marriageable maiden, the able-bodied men scrambled out to confront the presumptuous intruder. This choreographed affair dragged on for a good part of the evening. 

Sure enough, soon they apprehended the young man. He professed his innocence, insisting that he was just lost. The verbal jostling between the young man’s claim of innocence and the family’s worse suspicion dragged on. Soon an “independent” counsel of a village elder was sought. After hearing both sides, he intoned that the matter should be pursued. So the young man was detained while a delegation was sent to his family to ascertain the truth of his version. It just so happened that they were waiting a few hundred yards away. They were brought into the house and a big conference ensued. Both sides professed their willingness to look at the bright side of things and to interpret events in the best possible light. Negotiation at its best! 

This ritualized, highly-scripted banter dragged on, with frequent references to the fragrance of a blossoming flower attracting bees, ready to be pollinated, or the aroma of a ripening jackfruit beckoning many a young man to pluck it. The question was who should have that privilege. This formalistic stylized exchange, liberally sprinkled with proverbs and aphorisms, was expressed in pantuns (poetic quatrains). There were also frequent oblique references to suggestive imageries. To the uninitiated, it was more a poetry reading contest, with everyone serious or appeared to be so. 

In the end it was agreed to view the evening’s “incident” in the most charitable light. The young man admitted that indeed he had his eyes on the young maiden and thus “surrendered” himself to the mercy of her family. With that the evening’s gathering morphed into an impromptu wedding ceremony, menyerah (surrender) wedding, solemnized by the imam who just happened to be among the guests. Thus was my cousin Azizzah married to a corporal in the British army! Ujud became a fine, hardworking mechanic on his retirement from the force. 

A few years earlier when times were even tougher, my father’s older brother Pak Naim followed in my father’s footsteps in marrying into Adat Perpatih. A widower, Pak Naim simply moved into the house of a widow. This was agreed upon beforehand by her family. Word soon spread through the village that there was an unmarried couple in the house, and a “moral” raiding party organized. After ascertaining that the couple was indeed unmarried, the imam was dispatched to marry them, and a kahwin terkurung (lit. trapped wedding) ensued. The bride-to-be had also earlier cooked a larger-than-usual dinner for the many “unexpected” guests. 

That was the first and only time I met my Pak Naim. I recognized the resemblance to my father right away, even though Pak Naim was much bigger and more solid in build. He did not smile or in any way acknowledge us when my father introduced my brother Sharif and me to him; a nervous groom, perhaps. 

Noticing that, my father later advised my brother and me that when we grow up we cannot just claim to be an uncle to our nieces and nephews. We have to demonstrate that fact, as with remembering their names and birthdays as well as handing out gifts during Eid celebrations. Today I try to follow my father’s wise advice, but I too have many lapses. 

Years later with the country independent and economy brighter, it was the turn of my brother’s friend and colleague, Tajul, to get married. Tajul met his fiancé́ at teachers’ college. Their families could have afforded a formal wedding but the families could not agree on anything especially the mas kahwin (lit. wedding gold; fig. dowry) from the groom. It was, as Tajul later related to justify his action, as if they were negotiating the price of a heifer. In the end, frustrated, the couple eloped; a kahwin lari (lit. runaway marriage). No expensive weeding; no exorbitant dowry!

Excerpt # 52:  Attempted Weddings

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Anwar Ibrahim's SCRIPT For A New Malaysia

 Anwar Ibrahim’s SCRIPT For A New Malaysia


M. Bakri Musa


In terms of output, by word or page count, Mahathir far exceeds any other Malaysian leader. By content or intellectual weightage however, Anwar Ibrahim is in a class of his own. His latest, SCRIPT For A Better MalaysiaAn Empowering Vision And Policy Framework For Action, published by Institut Darul Ehsan, Selangor, lives up to this billing, the catchy acronym included (Sustainability, Care & Compassion, Respect, Innovation, Prosperity, and Trust).


            Buzz words like sustainability, innovation, and prosperity, together with the latest, climate change, are de rigueurin today’s manifesto, political and otherwise. Less emphasized or never mentioned is trust. At the book’s launching on October 2, 2022, Anwar emphasized this, the “T” in SCRIPT. I agree with him that trust is a poor translation of the much broader and deeper meaning of the Malay word amanah with its associated profound religious connotations. Fidelity, of being true to one’s self, mission, and responsibility, would be better.

            Breaches of fidelity (pecah amanah) are rampant in Malaysia today, from the highest officials to the lowly traffic constables. It is the root cause of the Malaysian malaise, the genetic core of this virulent destructive social virus now plaguing the nation. By “highest official” I do not mean only former Prime Minister Najib Razak. His recent conviction is but the tip of a huge iceberg. Consider Johor Baru’s Forest City, approved sans environmental studies, or the clear cutting of virgin jungles in Pahang resulting in ravaging floods. No marks for guessing their royal backers. Both instances are gross breaches of fidelity, not only by the rulers but also those entrusted to enforce the rules.

            Pecah amanah is the defining issue in the upcoming election. Anwar should be unrelenting and unsparing in pounding this. Targets abound, as with secular leaders in their Armani suits jetting to London to visit their country estates while the country faces devastating floods, or religious ones in their overflowing robes endlessly quoting the Holy Book while oblivious of their own sins of accepting bribes and makan gaji buta (undeserved income). They must be exposed for what they are–dangerous and destructive. They are but parasites sucking on the rakyat. Unlike their counterparts in nature, these political blood suckers do not even bother camouflaging themselves or their activities. They are blatant. That is the Malaysian tragedy.

            Reformasi is right to focus on building trust among leaders as well as followers and in institutions as well as with personnel. With trust comes respect, and from there, compassion. Trust also encourages innovation which is key to prosperity.


            Related to amanah but not its exact antonym is munafik, commonly but inadequately translated as hypocrisy. Being of Qur’anic origin, munafik too has deep religious connotations. If pecah amanah implies your knowing that what you are doing is wrong, munafik is your spinning it as otherwise, neigh even beneficial and praiseworthy! To wit, Tun Razak exhorting Malays to enroll their children in Malay schools; meanwhile sending his to England. More sinister, ulama extolling the robbers of 1MDB and labelling the crumbs of the loot these ulama received to fund their Hajj as borkat (gift from Allah).


            Anwar’s reach, intellectual and political, extends far despite his being out of power. His prescient The Asian Renaissance released just before the devastating 1997 Asian Contagion caught the attention of global leaders hitherto smitten with the yet to be exposed, flash-in-the-pan Asian Miracle facade. Anwar paid a severe price for his subsequent falling out with Mahathir, as did his then young family and the reformasi movement. If Anwar’s coalition were to win the upcoming 15th General Elections, then all those pains and setbacks would have been worthwhile, more so for Malaysia.


            Anwar’s current critics are trapped by their inability or unwillingness to escape his image as a young ambitious and impatient ABIM leader decades ago, ignoring his subsequent and far more consequential experiences and development. Most transformative must surely be his incarcerations, including solitary confinement, not once but twice. Few have been tested as much, and fewer still have emerged stronger and wiser. Nelson Mandela comes to mind when I think of Anwar today. Like Mandela, Anwar has even forgiven his tormentor. That’s magnanimity!


            Pardoned following the 14th General Election, Anwar immediately resumed his mission. His reformasi initiatives following that electoral victory were sabotaged by Mahathir. While Anwar did not physically suffer this time, Malaysia did and still does, cursed with Muhyiddin Yasin and later, Ismail Sabri. Egregious corruption and blatant cronyism, not to mention gross incompetence, are once again the Malaysian norm.


            Malaysians need SCRIPT. It is an effective message and must be messaged effectively. For that, learn from Ronald Reagan. Not gifted intellectually, he knew his limitations and thus corralled accomplished individuals to be on his team. Anwar already attracts many outstanding young talents like Rafizi Ramli, Sim Tze Tzin, and Nurul Izzah. Anwar’s greatest challenge is not to take in the likes of that semburit renegade Azmin Ali. He skipped on his bills and cannot even get along with his family. Anwar should pay attention to such details. Anwar and reformasi paid a terrible price for that lapse. I am gratified that for this coming election Anwar had spurned gestures from Mahathir to join forces. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!


            The future of Malaysia is with the young, not the has-beens, no matter how great they think they had been. Look forward, not backward in picking your team.


            Visuals are integral to messaging effectively. Reagan was ever so conscious of his backdrops and the people he invited to be beside him during “photo-ops.” At the recent launching of SCRIPT, there were many foreign diplomats and journalists in the audience, reflecting Anwar’s aura. Alas the program, Anwar’s superb performance excepted, was subpar. The long introductions and salutations to extraneous personnel were unneeded and distracting. People came to hear Anwar, not his publisher or emcee. Anwar’s interviewer read from her script. Well, she looked scripted. Her fumbling with her microphone was a distraction. Anwar had to help her! The questions from the floor too were more commentaries. 


            Anwar should do multiple book discussions with academics and opinion shapers, from the establishment as well as social media, from peninsular as well as West Malaysia, both in Malay and English, but please no rojak jumbling presentations that are now the Malaysian norm.


            Malay voters are pivotal in this election. As such I was surprised that the participants, being all Malays, did not use Bahasa at least in the introduction, and then switch to English for the main program out of respect to the many foreigners in the audience. Again, the visuals, as per Reagan.


            Pecah amanah is Malaysia’s root problem. That consciousness has to be continually hammered among voters so they can vote out the current corrupt bunch. To that end, have a free pdf or e-edition of this book as well as a Malay version, complete with its own cute acronym. Anwar did not write SCRIPT anticipating the royalty payments. The rewards for all Malaysians, now and future generations, would be promising if they were to give Anwar and his team the opportunity to execute SCRIPT.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Cast From The Herd. Excerpt #50: The Malay Regiment

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #50:  The Malay Regiment

Kampung boys who completed their Malay schooling fared a tad better in getting employed, but not by much. Apart from the very constricted slots in teaching, they could be “office boys.” If they proved themselves they could become kerani (clerks). The peak achievement there would be sisi (“cc,” chief clerk). You had to know some English for that. 

My Pak Donchang, the husband of my mother’s second sister, began as an office boy with the Malayan Railway and later became kerani. He did not achieve his dream to be sisi even though he tried very hard to learn English. He went beyond, to imitating his British superiors by wearing shorts, bow ties, and long stockings. He also took to pipe smoking, and with his fedora and raincoat he was a tropical Sherlock Holmes. He could carry on an extended conversation in English. One day he asked me what I was studying. When I showed him my textbooks, I realized then that he could not read English. 

Besides kerani, there was the army or police constabulary (mata-mata–lit. eyes). Mata-mata had the connotation of being a snitch–for the colonials. The army on the other hand fared better, in particular The Malay Regiment. When it was established in 1933 it had over a thousand applicants for its first 25 recruits, a selectivity that would make Harvard drool with envy. 

The only time the Regiment had difficulty recruiting was at the height of the rubber boom during the Korean War. With the high price of rubber, Malay boys would rather tap rubber. My two uncles who were teachers used to come home during weekends and holidays to tap rubber because that augmented their teacher’s salary to a considerable degree. I too would join them though I did not do the actual tapping but simply removed the dried overnight sap so the barks could be ready to be tapped for the fresh sap to flow. The rubber I collected may be scrap but not the money; it was worth the mosquito and leech bites!

The mosquitoes were pesky; my only defense was wearing long sleeves and smoking. However, smoking gave me uncontrolled coughing spasms, so I had to forgo that. The lighted butt however came in handy with the leeches which despite my wearing boots and long pants managed to crawl to my legs and even higher. One slight touch of the lighted butt to the free end of the critter and it would let go of you in an instant. Then I would squish it with my boots. The ensuing splattering of blood from its bloated belly gave me great satisfaction even though knowing that the blood was my own. 

Tapping rubber was the lowest of the unskilled manual labor, thus shunned by locals, except during the brief postwar period of the rubber boom. In response the British earlier had to bring in hordes of immigrants from India, an action that would later alter to a very profound degree the race dynamics of the country that persists to this day. However as was apparent, when the rewards were sufficient, the natives readily partook in the exercise. Economic imperatives are difficult to defy and also color blind. 

When the British first mooted the idea of The Malay Regiment, there was considerable skepticism as to how Malays would react to the strict discipline. One village youth who was among the privileged few to be in English school abandoned it to join the regiment. When he returned from boot camp, he wore his army fatigues for days. What made the village maidens swoon was his formal regimental Malay attire of baju and samping, in striking green (color of Islam), yellow (royal), and red (imperial). He looked smashing. On his wedding day, his platoon put on an impressive honor guard. I was certain that the smart uniform and a chance to leave the kampung were the reasons to enlist, with patriotism a distant third. It also helped that the Regiment’s base was at Port Dickson, a resort beach town. 

The British Army also did some recruiting. Despite rising nationalism, many enlisted. Those recruits benefited in many ways, the obvious being superior pay. For another, as they served in support units rather than the infantry, they acquired valuable technical skills that proved useful when they later returned to civilian life. 

Another benefit was less obvious but far more consequential, at least for those who exercised it. Anticipating independence, the British withdrew their units to Britain. There was one local soldier who was just married when his unit was withdrawn. There was considerable consternation in the girl’s family at the sudden unexpected twist of fate. The contention was whether the husband had the right to take his new bride along to Britain. Being a matriarchal society, the bride’s family had the final say. Then there was the acrimonious issue whether he should have disclosed that material fact of his unit’s impending withdrawal before asking for her hand. The crisis threatened to break the young couple apart. At the kenduri when the clan was to decide their fate, my father spoke up for them. 

“Look at it this way,” he suggested. “It’s an opportunity for your daughter to go to England.” 

The bride’s family was unimpressed. Sensing this, my father continued, “God works in mysterious ways. You’ll never forgive yourself if you were to find out later that you had come in His way and blocked your daughter’s path forward.” There was a murmur of approval. Soon that grew louder. After much discussion, the family relented.

The couple left with their families’ blessings. When he retired from the army, they settled there, their new pasture being much more promising than the one they had left despite England being much colder. 

Next:  Excerpt 51:  Menyerah (Surrender) And Other Weddings

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Chee Hoi Lan's Maulidur Rasul Award And Islamic Adoption

 Chee Hoi Lan’s Maulidur Rasul Award And Islamic Adoption

M. Bakri Musa


What an uplifting news item, the Agong honoring retired 83-year-old kindergarten teacher Chee Hoi Lan with the 2022 National Maulidur Rasul Award Malaysia–Ibu Sejati-Keluarga (True Family Mother)! Kudos to the selection committee and those who nominated her.


            Chee is the mother of Rohana Abdullah whom she had adopted when Rohana was two months old. No, there is no error with that sentence. Chee is Rohana’s mother. Rohana was given up by her birth mother, an Indonesian maid who had worked for Chee and was later forced to return to Indonesia as per Malaysia’s strict immigration laws.


            That was in 1980 when Indonesia was a chaotic repressive country under that goon Suharto. Rohana’s birth mother decided that her daughter would be better off remaining in Malaysia. It revealed volumes of her relationship with her employer that she had entrusted her daughter to Chee even though she was not a Muslim. Recognizing the baby’s mother’s Muslim heritage, Chee took extra effort to ensure that the baby was brought up in the Islamic tradition.


            Chee’s award, apart from recognizing her extraordinary generosity and unconditional love for Rohana, highlights current understanding on the concept and dynamics of motherhood (and also parenthood). It is as much biological as sociological. Depending on circumstances, one may take precedence over the other.


            Muslim thinking and practices on adoption have remained rigid and not kept up with modern understanding as well as realities and complexities. The primacy of biological parenthood remains in Islam, as well as in many other traditions. This needs to be reexamined, what with adoptions, orphanages, and foster parenthoods becoming widespread. Then we have surrogate motherhood and in-vitro fertilization with other than the husband’s sperm. If Muslim thinking were to remain unchanged, that would be as if despite satellites and people flying around the world, we still think the earth is flat.


            Islam recognizes only biological parenthood. Nonetheless the Qur’an as well as prophetic traditions exhort us to be kind to orphans, with the concomitant severe punishments otherwise. This Islamic kindness however, is limited only to things material, such as properties and living provisions. It does not extend to that most elemental need of any child, the emotional sense of belonging to and of being an integral part of a loving family. Even the material things are circumscribed. An adopted child is denied lawful inheritance (faraid); adopted parents could only bequeath gifts (hibah), and then to no more than a third of their assets. There are other subtle as well as not-so-subtle, overt as well as covert, and consequential as well as trivial matters to remind the adopted child that he or she remains different and separate from “real” or biological children.


            At marriage, the kadhi still insists that an adopted daughter get her biological father’s consent even though he may never have appeared in her life or memory while growing up. As for the trivial, an adopted daughter still has to don a hijab in front of her non-biological brothers and male relatives. These and other rituals, as with the practice of naming “illegitimate” children as bin or binti Abdullah, are there to remind them that they are “different,” meaning, not a “real” child of the family. That “binte Abdullah” appellation effectively brands the kid for life and beyond.


            Western societies place a premium on the traditional family. That takes precedence over the child’s presumed faith at birth. This can be heartbreaking for mothers who by court order have to give their child to a family who does not share their faith.


            Malay society is blighted by easy divorces and the taking of multiple wives. I have not come across any local sociological studies but anecdotally the dynamics of those children (more so the sons) are similar to Black children in America with absent father figures. I wonder whether such dysfunctional phenomena as Mat Rempits and school dropouts are but manifestations of this “absent father” syndrome.


            I was touched by a recent documentary of a Chinese girl who went (accompanied by her adopted American parents) on a visit to her old village in China in search of her biological parents, a common yearning among adoptees. She found them, and was taken aback at the highly emotional demonstrations of guilt trip that they had laid upon her in order to regain her affection as well as to excuse their giving her up at birth. That confused the teenager but her secure adopted parents reassured her.


            “Yes, you came from her tummy,” referring to the biological mother, “but you came from our heart!” The daughter returned home to America with her parents.


            “Open adoption,” where birth parents are allowed varying degrees of access to the child, is common in the West. Muslim adoption practices have elements of that. However, it too is not without its own complications as recounted by one mother of an adopted child in her memoir, Rock Needs River. One positive with open adoption is that the child has access to her family’s medical history. With today’s genetic testing, that is becoming less of an issue.


            We still read with horrifying frequency of abandoned babies in Malaysia. California has Safe Haven Law where parents and others may safely surrender infants within 72 hours of birth with no charges filed and no questions asked. Outside Emergency Rooms, fire stations, and churches is a warm attractive cot placed just for that purpose. I have yet to see one at mosques.


            I hope our ulama are not satisfied with just awarding Chee with this singular honor. It should inspire them and us to work with social workers, child psychologists, and lawmakers to make all babies wanted and loved. Issues such as faith and bureaucratic identity (as with race) are trivial if not irrelevant.


Sunday, October 09, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #49: Dreams Crushed

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #49:  Dreams Crushed

With my parents and two of my uncles being teachers (the third also wanted to but was denied), it would seem that the profession was held in high esteem in my culture and family. It was. The greater truth however, was that there were not many other options for Malay school graduates; they could be keranis (clerks), army recruits, or police constables. The choice was even slimmer for girls; if they failed to be teachers, the only other choice would be nurse’s aides. 

My cousin Azizzah aspired for that. She was smart and diligent, always with a book in her hand. She came to my house often to read the newspapers and magazines. She even read newspaper wrappings! She was bright-eyed and curious. One day I came home from school with my new geometry set. She saw it and wondered what it was. 

“For my math class!” was my haughty response. 

She was surprised. As she attended Malay school she had only simple arithmetic. 

“After geometry we will start algebra,” I bragged. Her eyes bulged as she continued playing with my set. Those were alien instruments to her; she must have wondered what wonderful universe I was exploring that she was missing in her local Malay school. 

Azizzah had an independent streak; she disavowed any interest in being a teacher. She wanted to work in a hospital as a nurse’s assistant. She could not be a nurse as that would require an English education. She also had a good reason in not wanting to be a teacher. She saw what had happened to her three uncles while Raja Nordin was still there. As I said, she was smart. 

She had no difficulty in getting selected. She had her uniforms all tailored, at government expense. She paraded herself in it one day and like magic, transformed herself from a giggly village girl to a clinical-looking healthcare provider. We were all so proud of her. 

A few weeks later, a sudden change; she was no longer the bright-eyed girl pestering me on what I had learned at school. She was now like the other village girls, not interested in her surroundings and satisfied with being, well, plain dumb. 

Village secrets do not last long. Soon I learned that her offer to nursing school had been rescinded at the last minute, her already-tailored uniform notwithstanding. She must have been devastated. That letter bearing the terrible news could have floated in a light breeze, but to her it was a heavy metal chain that clamped her feet down, preventing escape from her current meager meadow. Her only rational recourse was to behave like others in the herd, in particular the heifers. 

I was having dinner at my grandparents’ house one evening and the conversation soon drifted towards Azizzah. My grandfather let go on how much he regretted in not bringing tributes to Raja Nordin earlier. He was convinced that was the reason her earlier acceptance being reversed at the last moment. It did not help that my grandmother was merciless in berating him for that unacceptable lapse of cultural ritual. 

“I should have gone ahead and cooked the yellow pulut,” she declared, referring to the ceremonial rich, sweet, gluttonous rice cooked in tamarind used for such ceremonial offerings, “and offered it myself.” That was more an expression of frustration. “She looked so beautiful in that uniform,” my grandmother continued, refusing to let my grandfather off on his plebian negligence. 

So that was the reason for my cousin’s sudden personality change. Her dreams had been snatched away. For my part, I missed her inquisitive queries about algebra or her pestering me on the latest development in the Suez Canal crisis. She was now just like any other village girl wondering what ferns or mushrooms to pick in the jungle to cook for her family that evening. 

Next:  Excerpt # 50:  The Malay Regiment

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt # 48: Unexpected Deaths In The Family

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #48: Unexpected Deaths In The Family

In contrast to Adzman, my youngest sister Jaharah was born at home. It must have been the weekend as I was not at school. One morning the midwife came to the house and my mother asked me to go outside and play. An hour or so later I heard a baby cry. Soon the midwife emerged with the afterbirth.

Tradition has it that whoever buries the placenta, the baby would take after that person. As such there was much thought on the matter. My mother chose my cousin Azizzah for that honor. As Jaharah grew up, I saw minimal similarities between her and Azizzah. Later when Azizzah had her first child, Julia, she asked me to do the honor. Sure enough, Julia bonded with me! Whenever Azizzah could not stop her from crying, she would bring Julia to me, and as soon as I picked her up, she would stop crying and begin cooing. 

My parent’s two youngest babies, both boys, died in infancy. The older, Adnan, also born at home, was healthy at birth with a hearty cry and sucking well. A few months later he was struck with a high fever and sore throat. He succumbed a few days later. He died in my mother’s arms after a last desperate gasp. She remained calm, saying a quiet prayer in between her soft sobs.

I remember the funeral; it was on the same day of the neighbor’s son’s wedding. The host came by many times to apologize and convey his condolences. He turned off the music of his public address system during the funeral procession. That morning my Uncle Nasir gave me some coins to console me. I went to the store and bought one of those candies pinned on a cardboard where if you were lucky you would get a bonus toy. It was my luck that day to win a rubber ducky. God was soothing my loss.

A year later came Azmi. He too died in infancy with similar symptoms. I remember the public health inspector coming to our house the next day and how ashamed my parents were when he scolded them for the poor hygiene around the house. The next day we were trotted to the public health clinic in Kuala Pilah for our shots. My father treated us to a nice lunch after that.

A few days after the second funeral, a distant aunt visited my mother. She told her that she should not have chosen such closely-sounding names like Adzman, Adnan, and Azmi as that would confuse God. After being shamed by the public health inspector, my mother was now being blamed for the wrong choice of names.

Today with my medical knowledge I know why my two baby brothers died; they were struck with diphtheria, an infectious disease preventable with immunization and good hygiene.

The second death was hard on my mother though there were little overt expressions. She took me to the grave often to leave overnight a bottle of water. The next day she would bring it home to wet her hair and rinse herself. With that she washed away her melancholy. The power of rituals based on faith is amazing.

After that second death my father renovated the house. We had a new kitchen installed that eased my mother’s chores and enhanced the cleanliness. He put drains around the house so there were no longer puddles collecting.

Both my parents were later promoted to be headmasters at different schools in the area. Both lasted only a few years in that position, my mother a wee bit longer. They requested to be “de-promoted.” Those bureaucrats must have been stunned by that unusual request. My parents decided that the extra pay and whatever prestige did not compensate for the added responsibilities and headaches. Most of all they missed the classroom.

Next:  Excerpt # 49:  Dreams Crushed