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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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Hari Raya's "Maaf, Zahir, dan Batin"

 Hari Raya’s “Ma’af, Zahir, dan Batin”

M. Bakri Musa


April 26, 2023


An iconic picture during this recent (AH 1444) Hari Raya Puasa celebration was of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim exchanging a double handshake in a mosque with Former Chief Justice Ariffin Zakaria, the man who in 2015 upheld the Appeal’s Court reversal of a trial judge’s acquittal of Anwar’s so-called second sodomy trial.


            In that unanimous five-judge 2015 decision, Ariffin infamously added that the five-year jail sentence for sodomy imposed on Anwar was “not too severe.” This coming from a British-trained lawyer, including a University College of London’s LLM, and well into the second decade of the 21st Century. That learned judge, his sterling British law credentials notwithstanding, did not pause to reflect that modern Malaysia still has that archaic statute in her law books, or that it had never before been applied except to Anwar. Even prudish Singapore is repealing this colonial legal relic.


            The traditional greeting during Hari Raya is “Ma’af, Zahir, dan Batin,” approximately translated as, “I seek your forgiveness, physically and spiritually.” To forgive, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, is an attribute of the strong.


            The first thing Malay children do on Hari Raya morning would be to bow down low and kiss their parents’ hands, pleading “ma’af, zahir, dan batin.” During my childhood my mother, being a school teacher, would go beyond that mere ritual and inquire what specifically do I seek forgiveness from her. That would force upon me an uncustomary if not embarrassing moment of self-reflection and introspection, making the exchange that much more meaningful beyond the ritualistic utterance of a well-rehearsed phrase.


            I am certain that being traditional Malays both Anwar and Ariffin too had uttered that hallowed “maaf, zahir, dan batin” during their handshake in that mosque, with both smiling. Going back to my mother’s tradition, what forgiveness did Anwar seek from Ariffin, and vice versa?


            For Anwar, could it be because he had criticized those Federal Court Judges for “bowing to the dictates of their political masters?” It cannot be, as that negative view was universally held beyond and even within Malaysia’s borders. One should never apologize for uttering the truth. Instead Anwar should be applauded by all, especially Malaysians, for exposing that ugly reality.


            As for Judge Ariffin, if what he did in upholding Anwar’s jail sentence was the “right thing to do” after weighing all the submissions presented to his court, then he too should not apologize. If Ariffin did utter that traditional greeting to Anwar, then what is it that Ariffin was seeking forgiveness from Anwar? Or was Ariffin’s Raya greeting mere ritual uttered with no meaning and even less emotion attached, as with the verdict he had rendered to Anwar back in 2015?


            Anwar’s magnanimity towards his jailors (and others responsible) reminds me of the much-revered Nelson Mandela when he was released from Robben Island prison. As he related in his memoir Long Walk To Freedom, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead me to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”


            The day before he was to be released, Mandela made a request to meet all his jailors who had worked in shifts to guard him. As it turned out, because of the huge crowd that had gathered, Mandela did not get his wish to meet his guards in person to bid goodbye or seek their forgiveness. Nonetheless his intention, or as we Muslims put it niat, is magnanimity bar none.


            Anwar too has come to terms with his ordeals. Like Mandela, Anwar had the magnanimity to forgive his main tormentor and the culprit most responsible for Anwar’s incarceration, former Prime Minister Mahathir. One consequence is that Anwar today is at peace with himself while Mahathir is still stewing in his self-destructive bitterness.


            What a supreme irony if not karma and poetic justice as well that today Anwar Ibrahim is Prime Minister while Mahathir is being totally rejected by the people. He suffered the rare abject humiliation of not only losing his last election but also forfeiting his deposit! Worse, he as well as his children and cronies all face possibilities for being hauled up to court for corruption. What a prospect, more so when you are in the twilight of your years! Who says that Allah is not All-Knowing and All-Just?



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