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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, November 12, 2023

My Village Imam's Profound Observation And Advice

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 103:  My Village Imam’s Profound Observation And Advice

            At that last kenduri for me I asked my Imam if he had any pointers or du’as for me when dissecting human bodies, de rigueur for medical students. Caught by my unexpected question, he raised his palms towards me as if apologizing. 

            “I don’t know!” After a pause, he repeated his answer and added, “That is a new world for me,” he confessed. “I do not even know where to refer you. I can tell you how to prepare a body for burial, but that is not what you are asking.” 

            Then after a long pause and recognizing his unsatisfactory response, he continued. “Those cadavers are not just dead bodies. You are learning from them even though they cannot teach you as a living teacher would. Nevertheless they are your teachers, functionally.” Then pondering on what he had just said, added, “As such, you should treat those bodies as you would your teachers.” 

            Profound, and not just on that point! 

            To me my Imam was a repository of theological and spiritual knowledge. Yet there he was, humble and freely admitting to what he did not know. Later as a physician I take to heart the lesson my imam had unknowingly imparted upon me that evening. I do not hesitate telling my patients that I have not yet found an answer to their ailments. An “I don’t know or yet know ” response is far more preferable and satisfactory than telling my patients that there is nothing wrong with them. 

            As for the cadaver being my teacher, I regretted that I was less than faithful to my imam’s sage advice. At medical school I, like my fellow classmates, had treated the cadaver as just another specimen, as with the rabbit in my earlier biology classes. My humble and belated heartfelt apology to that unknown soul who gave me literally his body so I could learn. May the Good Lord bless his soul, and forgive me for my cavalier attitude! 

            Fast forward to today, at many enlightened American medical schools, the students and faculty have a special dedication ceremony at the end of their anatomy class to pay their respects and honor those selfless souls who had generously donated their bodies so would-be doctors could learn. It would have been quite a legacy had I listened to my Imam then and started that tradition at my old medical school way back then. Alas, I missed a splendid opportunity. 

            Who would have thought that a simple kampung Imam with an equally simple village education and experience would have such profound observations and equally sage advice?

            Today, Malay Imams are highly educated; many sporting doctorates from impressive universities. Few however can match the wisdom and humility of my old kampung Imam Mondot.

Next:  Excerpt # 104:  Leaving For Canada


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