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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, January 15, 2023

Cast From The Herd: Excerrpt #62: Rite of Passage


Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 62:  Rite Of Passage 

Khatam (the formal completion of reading the Qur’an) is one of the two rites-of-passage for a Muslim boy, the other being circumcision. My parents had planned for my older brother Sharif and cousin Alias to have theirs done one December holiday. At the last minute and at my insistence, I was included even though I was only eight years old, a bit young. I had also not yet achieved khatam

So that December morning all three of us were up early and given areca nuts wrapped in herbal sireh (betel) leaf lined with lime to chew. Off we trotted to sit in the cold stream for about 30 minutes. Then wrapped in our sarongs we were back at the house where on the verandah the mubin was ready. The first up was Sharif; he went through without a whimper. Then it was Alias’s; he let out only a brief “Ouch!” When it came to my turn, seeing that the two did not cry, I strutted across cracking silly jokes along the way about not cutting too much! That areca nut herb I was given earlier had much to do with my swagger. 

After I sat on the stool with my thighs apart, the mubin asked me to recite the opening verse of the Qur’an, which I did with no difficulty. Then he said what all surgeons, ancient and modern, would utter in such circumstances, “This won’t hurt!” 

The moment the mubin applied the wooden clamp across my apparatus, I let out a loud shriek. It was horrible! My mother rushed out and gestured to me to remain quiet but I continued screaming. They had to restrain me while continually reassuring me that it was “nearly over.” After an agonizing eternity it finally was really over. I looked down and there was this huge bandage and I was still in unbearable pain. 

The other two recovered within days and could wear their pants while I was still stuck with my loose sarong, waddling with that huge thing in between my thighs. The size referred to the dressing; everything else had shriveled up, I was certain, from the pain. A week later my father took me to the dispensary at Sri Menanti. My wound had become infected. It was hellish during dressing changes. 

Now as a surgeon I know why mine was so painful. I had phimosis–the foreskin stuck to the underlying glans and not readily retractable. Much of the pain was with the peeling, not the cutting. Phimosis is the only clinical indication for circumcision (for hygienic reasons). I always advise general anesthesia in such cases. 

Years later when I was a surgeon in Malaysia, my cousin Alias brought his son to me for circumcision. Unfortunately he had a serious bleeding disorder, one of the many contraindications to the procedure. Contrary to widespread belief, circumcision is not mandatory in Islam. 

I am fortunate to reside in America. Had I stayed in Malaysia I am certain that I would have strayed far from my faith, at least the version propagated there. Through the freedom afforded me here in America, I am able to explore without fear the vast richness of Islam. Here I can read Shiite kitab and Ahmaddiyah literature without the risk of being interrogated by the religious functionaries, or be sent to a religious “re-education” camp.

In America I am not forced to fast; I do it because I want to and for the sake of Allah, and only for His sake. On trying days when I could not, I do not have to worry about being apprehended by the moral squad and be paraded around town in a hearse. Here in my adopted land, the poor and the aged are well taken care of; they receive generous government support and are not humiliated before getting it, just as the Qur’an says they should. 

Although my parents did not let on at the time, they were very disappointed when I had to leave that religious school after the squabble with the princesses. They were sure that I had lost my faith in Islam, and that my performing the rituals was merely perfunctory, to please them. 

They could not have been more wrong. Like a child who had burned his finger, instead of having a phobia for fire I became far more respectful of it. I appreciated that the same mighty force that hurt me could, harnessed properly, also keep me warm in winter or grill my juicy steaks. 

Imam Feisal Rauf writes in his What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America. A New Vision for Muslims and the West that America is the most Sharia-compliant state. Living in America strengthened my faith; in Malaysia I had to fend my belief against relentless assault from the state. Living in America made me a Muslim in my father’s mold, that is, more conviction, less ritual. Most of all in America I learn the broader and deeper meaning of the Qur’anic imperative:  Al-amr bi ‘l-ma’ruf, wa’n-nahy ‘ani ‘l-munkar! (Command good, and forbid evil!) 

Next:  Excerpt #63:  An Epileptic Friend


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