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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, March 31, 2024

Subtle Signals From A Royal Iftar

 Subtle Signals From A Royal Iftar

M. Bakri Musa


A recent video of a royal iftar (Ramadan’s breaking of the fast) with the Agung, Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim, as guest of honor (or possibly host) posted by the Madani Government and making the rounds in social media drew my attention. The scene was a refreshing departure from the norm, symbolically as well as in so many other ways.


            Begin with the guests. The Malay dignitaries were as expected in their finest formal attire of collared colorful Baju Melayu, with glittering golden and silver (or perhaps diamond) collar studs, together with exquisite gold-embroidered kain songket samping (wide cummerbund). That is a common sight at official functions. What drew my attention with this one was the Agung’s attire. He was in a plain deep-blue, collarless baju Melayu worn over his plebeian kain peleket samping of simple cotton, locally referred to as the Madras pattern.


            Two sartorial points. One, the collarless style (congkak Musang) worn by the King is uniquely Johor. No surprise there. Traditionally the congkak Musang style is for commoners except that members of today’s Johor royal family have increasingly adopted it as their own. Two, and of special significance, was that the Agung wore his baju over instead of under his simple kain pelekat samping, a striking contrast to the Malay guests. In Johor that particular style of dressing is for commoners while the samping over baju and pants style is the exclusive preserve of royalty. For the rest of Malaysia however, that samping over baju is the accepted style for everyone, as reflected by the Malay guests.


            Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was the only Malay guest that evening sensitive to this uniquely Johor tradition. He donned his long Baju Melayu in a pale subdued color, letting it hang loosely over his samping. I doubt very much whether the other Malay guests in their splendored attire were aware of their glaring social paus faux, or the subtle message that the Agung and his Prime Minister were imparting at that glittering evening. Anwar’s baju however, was not the congkak Musang (collarless) style.


            There are other non-sartorial subtle but no less significant signals I gleaned from that function. One was of the Agung chatting amiably with the female guests. In most Malaysian gatherings the women would be clustered in one corner. Likewise with the dinner table seating; most of the tables had mixed (with respect to gender) seating. The other was of the Agung sitting cross-legged on the floor with his guests when breaking fast. I do not know whether they were using their fingers. That plebeian gesture was not at all jarring with the formally-dressed attendees and amidst the elegant ambience.


            The most significant symbolism from that formal evening was the obligatory Maghrib prayer immediately after the breaking of the fast and before dinner. Elucidating that necessitates a brief digression.


            Soon after Abdullah Badawi was sworn in as the nation’s fifth Prime Minister back in October 2003, his publicity office put out a video of him leading a small congregational prayer with his ministers, top civil servants, and the mosque’s usual Imam standing behind him. No mistaking the symbolism there. Abdullah was attempting to or allowed himself to be portrayed as both temporal as well as spiritual leader, in the grand tradition of our great Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him) and his four Rightly-Guided Caliphs. 


            That scene of Abdullah being Imam was of course video-taped and shown widely. What should have been a private personal moment of meditation was turned into potential campaign and publicity fodder. This was the man who also attempted to establish his own brand of our faith, Islam Hadhari, with him being the head, of course.


            Today few can even remember Islam Hadhari. That was all crass grandstanding using our great faith as the backdrop. That is not a surprise with leaders who have nothing else to show. Hadi Awang, leader of the Islamic Party PAS, is still using our faith for his political ends. It still works, at least among backward Malays of Kedah, Kelantan, and Trengganu. Inadequate leaders exploiting religion or using it as their prop is of course not unique unto Malays or Muslims.


            At that royal iftar neither the Agung nor Anwar led the Maghrib prayer. Instead it was a young Imam, with the Agung, Prime Minister Anwar, and other Muslim guests behind in an egalitarian row, as is the tradition.


            Imagine that Imam going home later that evening and telling his dear wife (I am presuming that he has only one) and children, “Honey, I had the privilege and honor of a lifetime earlier this evening. I led a congregational prayer with the Agung Sultan Ibrahim and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.” What a memory for him and his family! What a legacy!


            What touched me was the Agung’s sensitivity to symbolisms, as demonstrated by his plebeian attire while maintaining his regal bearing. As can be seen, sultans and other leaders do not have to patronize unhygienic roadside warung kopi and thereby risk their health and safety just to show that they are with the rakyat. People will see such gestures for what they are, condescending “photo-ops,” or worse, slumming. Besides, there is little need for today’s leaders to go wandering around incognito a la Caliph Omar to know how their subjects are doing. A modern efficient Statistics Department can give a better and reliable picture. 


            At that royal iftar the Agung, Sultan Ibrahim, again showed that he is very much in tune with his subjects. And he demonstrated that with class and majesty, which made it even more impactful.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Tumpukan Usaha Kepada Rakyat, Bukan Pemimpin

 Tumpukan Usaha Kepada Rakyat, Bukan Pemimpin

M. Bakri Musa

March 29, 2024


Banyak kritikan terhadap pemimpin Melayu atas kegagalan mereka membela nasib masyarakat kita. Peel mereka pun selalu menjolok mata. Sekerang mereka heboh dengan stukin yang dicap dengan nama Allah. Takde keje lain ke? Renungkan pula Simposium Kongres Ekonomi Bumiputra yang berlalu pada 29, Feruari 2024. Seperti yang dulu sejak tahun 1965, penyerta heboh dengan ratapan masalah tetapi hampa tidak seorang pun memberi cadangan untuk membatasinya. Mereka sibuk menghuraikan kekurangan kaum kita serta memohon sekali lagi untuk kerajaan memberi peruntukkan yang lumayan.


            Tidak perlu untuk diingatkan aras kebangsatan dan keburukkan kaum kita. Itu sudah ternyata serta memalukan. Di Kuala Lumpur dan bandar lain, berapa banyak perusahaan Melayu? Tak malu ke pemimpin kita? Lawati universiti terkemuka seberang laut. Berapa ramai penuntut Melayu ada disana? Maksud saya, tidak payahlah berpanjangan dengan huraian masaalah kita. Yang dikehendaki ialah cara untuk menyelesaikannya. Pengalaman menunjukkan bahawa peruntukkan dana yang mewah tidak sama dengan atau akan mengakibatkan penyelesaian. Kecergasan otak melebehi lautan dana.


            Mengikut pakar monyet (primatologis) Belanda Frans de Waal, tiada pemimpin jika tidak ada pengikutnya. Itu memang sedia dimaklumkan. Dalam kata lain, lebih berfaedah jika kita kaji atau perhatikan pengikut mereka. Bila pembaca meter boleh menjadi menteri, masalahnya bukan dengan dia, tetapi lebih lagi pada si pemilih atau mereka yang mengundi. Hadi Awang sukar di pilih atau dilantik sebagai penangkap anjing di Amerika, bahkan di Johor pun.


            Sementara itu di luar ruang politik pula, saya hairan bahawa ulama yang tak faham Bahasa Arab pun yakin mentafsirkan kitab suci kita, dan dengan itu mempengaruhi rakyat. Tetapi renungkan sedikit. Itu hanya boleh berlaku di Terengganu dan Pattani. Tetapi jika di Johor dia tidak mungkin memenuhi ruang rumah kilat. Seperti juga seorang mufti yang ucapannya penuh dengan bahasa Arab yang berpanjangan dan sukar difahami oleh pendengarnya. Tetapi siapa berani menegur Dr MAZA atas tidak mentarbatkan bahasa kebangsaan kita? Seperti intelek gergasi kita Pendita Zaaba, Dr. MAZA mengejek Zaaba dengan dikenali hanya dengan akronimnya.


            Beberapa tahun dahulu sebelum masjid kecil kami di California mempunyai Imam sepenuh masa, saya bertanggungjawab mencari khatib untuk mengimamkan solat Jumaat. Suatu ketika, dalam keadaan terdesak, saya mendapati seorang ulama yang kononnya hebat. Pendakwah yang berapi dan berkobar tanpa berhad. Seperti di anggapi, khutbahnya tidak berhabisan mengutuk dan mencerca orang kafir.


            Selesai sembahyang dan dia menamatkan doanya, saya hairan tidak seorang pun bersalam tangan dengan dia seperti yang selalu berlaku. Jika saya mempunyai sebarang keraguan tentang penerimaan si khatib di kalangan ahli Jemaah kami, itu hapus bila seorang hamba Allah menegur saya. “Bakri, aku nak tengok macam mana kau akan sesuaikan khutbah ini untuk di terbitkan dalam surat berita (newsletter) kita!”


            Sekiranya saya masih lagi keraguan atas pendapatan umum jemaah, sangkaan itu hapus apabila seorang lagi menegur saya dengan tegas, “Jangan kau jemput lagi pendakwah ini.”


            Kita boleh menganggap taraf sesuatu masyarakat dengan memerhatikan pemimpim dan siapa yang di hormati. Di Amerika, antara penerima Pingat Kehormatan Presiden (Presidential Medal of Honor), anugerah awam tertinggi negara itu, ialah Denzel Washington dan mendiang Steve Jobs. Saya tidak perlu menyenaraikan pencapaian mereka. Sebaliknya perhatikan kehebohan semasa di Malaysia, yakni bekas Menteri Kewangan Tun Daim yang sekarang didakwa makan rasuah. Beliau bukanlah Tun yang pertama didakwa sedemikian. Terdapat ramai lagi "Tun tercemar." Seorang bekas Ketua Hakim Negara, juga bergelar Tun, cuba menyembunyikan perkahwinannya di Selatan Thailand. Mengapa dia merasa perlu berbuat demikian kurang saya fahami. Maklumlah agama kita membenarkan berkahwin berapa kali asalkan tidak melebihi empat isteri pada satu masa!


            Mukadimah saya agak berpanjangan. Maksud saya ialah jika kita ingin mengubah keadaan masyarakat, kita mesti menumpukan kegiatan bukan kepada pemimpin tetapi sebaliknya ke atas pengikut mereka. Kalau dahulu perhimpunan besar-besaran orang Melayu adalah di ceramah politik, hari ini di masjid dan acara keagamaan. Melalui medan sosial dan alat rakaman video yang tidak mahal yang di reka oleh si kafir, para ulama kita boleh mempunyai ramai pendengar tetapi belum lagi setaraf dengan padri di Amerika. 


            Jika kita ingin mengubah nasib orang Melayu, tumpukanlah tenaga ke atas pengikut dan bukan pemimpin. Sekali lagi memetik de Waal, “Musuh sains bukanlah agama . . . . Musuh sebenar adalah menghambakan fikiran, otak, dan rasa ingin tahu kebawah dogma.” Begitu jugalah dengan Islam semasa. Bentuk agama kita kini heboh dengan akhirat dan memberatkan bentuk dan acara (ritual) tetapi isinya kosong dan hanya menjadi ranjau dijalan kearah kemajuan.


            Ini bukanlah Islam yang dulunya membawa penganutnya ke Zaman Keemasan Islam. Sejak dari awal lagi, agama kita telah dijadikan suber penelitian dan kritisan. Soalan asas pernah dilembangkan oleh para ulama dahulu dan pengikut mereka. Salah satu soalan terawal dan asas ialah sama ada Al-Quran dicipta atau sedia kekal. Soalan itu menggoncang dan hampir merobek agama kita tetapi mereka teguh mencari jawapannya. Dan dengan sentiasa menyoal, agama kita tetap berkembang maju. Perhatikan kutukan perit dan pedas Al Ghazzali terhadap Ibn Sina dan Ibn Rasyid sehingga menuduh mereka sebagai kafir.


            Sekarang kita sanjung tinggi semua ulama kuno itu. Orang Islam purba juga tidak enggan belajar dan meniru orang dan budaya lain mungkin pun mereka yang tidak percaya kepada Tuhan dan menyembah patung seperti kaum Yunani kunu.


            Seperti yang diterangkan oleh Mu’nim Sirry, bekas pelajar pesantren Indonesia dan PhD Universiti Chicago dan sekarang dosen di Universiti Notre Dame, AS, mempertikai fahaman dan fikiran tentang agama serta tafsiran yang berlainan, serta fikiran terhadap akidah antara kaum agamaan dan ulama kuno, ialah perkara biasa dan bukan dianggap sebagai satu perbuatan angkuh seperti apa yang disifatkan oleh para agama sekarang. Tradisi yang mulia inilah yang patut kita hidupkan semula, bukan ketaatan buta kepada satu versi kebenaran 'rasmi' yang di akui dan disiarkan oleh pemerentah.


            Beberapa tahun lalu saya pernah mengikut perbincangan antara Dr MAZA dan Mu’nim Sirry di mana bekas mufti itu berperangai angkuh dan kasar. Dia keluar kerana tidak setuju dengan pendapatan Dr. Sirry. Sepatutnya Maza dengan cara ilmiah melawan dan mencabar pandangan Sirry. Saya tidak peduli dengan tindakan kasar serta biadap si Dr Maza. Itu hanya mendedahkan intisari dirinya. Sebaliknya saya memuji penganjur panel itu, Islamic Renaissance Front, kerana sudi mengadakan acara itu. Panel seumpama itulah yang masyarakat Melayu perlukan sekarang untuk mendedahkan pandangan kita kepada pelbagai fikiran dan pandangan walau pun agak pedih pada pandang pertama. Itulah caranya jika kita ingin "menggantikan dogma dengan pemikiran, renungan, dan rasa ingin tahu." Hanya dengan cara inilah yang kita akan benar-benar dapat menikmati dan mendapat manfaat daripada agama kita yang agung serta suci. Hanya dengan cara kita yang akan membolehkan bersama dengan mereka yang maju dan cerah.



Sunday, March 24, 2024

Focus on Malay Leaders, Not Their Followers

 Focus On Malay Followers, Not Their Leaders

M. Bakri Musa


There is an endless chorus of criticisms of Malay leaders for failing our community. Their antics and vulgarities too assault our sensitivities, bringing shame to us. As for solving our myriad problems, consider the latest Simposium Kongress Ekonomi Bumiputra of February 29, 2024. Like earlier ones, this too was long on lamentations and short on prescriptions.


            We do not need reminders of the shameful reality of our community. The current obsession over socks with “Allah” knitted on them epitomizes Malay leaders’ obsession with trivia. Stroll the streets of Kuala Lumpur and the glaring absence of Malay enterprises would be embarrassingly obvious. Visit the leading campuses abroad and find how many of the Malaysians there are Malays. The problem is with finding the solutions. Throwing money–the usual remedy–does not equal a solution. What is needed is not financial but intellectual capital, and we are not developing that.


            The Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal observed that you cannot be a leader without followers. Obvious enough except we do not ponder on that. Meaning, we should focus on them. When meter readers become ministers, the problem is less with them, more with those who chose or elected them. Hadi Awang would have a tough time getting elected as dog catcher in America, or Johore for that matter. As for that folksy Arabic-illiterate comedian-cum-ulama mesmerizing his followers, that can happen only in Terengganu and Pattani. In Johor or Kuala Lumpur he could not fill a living room. Likewise the mufti who peppers his speech with long incomprehensible Arabic. No one dares accuse Dr. MAZA (he is known only by his acronym, aping our great Zaaba) of not mentarbatkan (respecting) our national language.


            Years ago I was in charge of finding a khatib to lead our small congregational Friday prayers here in Morgan Hill, California. Once in desperation I found a fire-and-brimstone preacher at the last minute. True to form, he railed against the evil infidels.


            At the end of the prayer service, there was surprisingly none of the customary shaking of his hands by the congregants. If I had any doubt of the khatib’s reception, a regular attendee came up to me afterwards. “Bakri, I sure like to see how you would render that sermon in our newsletter!” In case I missed the general sentiment, another congregant pointedly told me not to ever invite that preacher again.


            We get the leaders we deserve. We can tell much about a crowd by its leaders, and a society by whom it honors. Peruse America’s Presidential Medal of Honor. Among the recent honorees were Denzel Washington and Steve Jobs (posthumous). No need to list their accomplishments. By contrast, Tun Daim is now charged with corruption. He is not the first, and there are many such “tainted Tuns.” There was one character, later a Chief Justice, who concealed his second wedding in Southern Thailand. Why he felt the need to do so when our faith allows multiple marriages escapes me.


            This is a rather long preamble to my central point. That is, our hitherto focus on Malay leaders is misguided; instead we should study their followers. In the past, mass Malay gatherings were at political events; today, mosques and religious occasions. Through such kafir-inventions like social media and affordable electronics, these ulama can now reach a wide audience, though not as yet to the level of American televangelists.


            Quoting de Waal again, “The enemy of science is not religion . . . . The true enemy is the substitution of thought, reflection, and curiosity with dogma,” That also describes the current true enemy of our ummah. Focusing on pendatang (immigrants) and depictions of deities on socks is but a major distraction, and a dangerous one at that.


            What led the ummah to their Golden Age over a millennium ago was that right from the very beginning of Islam they were critical and unafraid to question. They did so not out of disbelief or disrespect rather to understand the faith better so they could pursue the straight path. One early and very fundamental controversy was whether the Qur’an was created or eternal. That nearly tore apart the faith but it survived, and thrived. As for vigorous questioning, read Al Ghazzali’s searing criticisms of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rashid to the point of labelling them as unbelievers. Yet today we hold all those ulama in high esteem. Nor did those early Muslims shy away from learning from others, including those who did not believe in God, as with the ancient  Greeks. Knowledge is knowledge, and all originate from Him.


            As the Indonesian product of a pesantren and later University of Chicago PhD Mu’nim Sirry noted, this fierce questioning of the faith, as well as the ulama of each other, was the trademark of our ancient scholars, a defining contrast to the rigid and arrogant certitude of their present-day counterparts. It is this precious earlier tradition that we must now revive, not the blind obedience to a powerful monolithic ‘official’ version of the truth.


            A few years back there was a panel discussion involving Dr. MAZA and Mu’nim Sirry where the former rudely walked out instead of challenging Sirry’s viewpoints. I am not bothered with MAZA’s walking out–that revealed more of the man–but I applaud the Islamic Renaissance Front for sponsoring that and other similar events. Malays need those diverse and challenging viewpoints, more so now. We have to be exposed to diverse and yes, even provocative views so we too could “substitute dogmas with thought, reflection, and curiosity.” Only thus could we truly enjoy and benefit from this great faith. Only then would we find our rightful place among the developed and enlightened.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Cabaran Bakal Khalifah

 Dua Cabaran Untuk Bakal Khalifah (Serta Ummah).

M. Bakri Musa


Dalam khutbah Jumaat yang terakhir sebelum Ramadan, Imam Ilyas kami dengan lucunya mencabar bakal calon Khalifah untuk menyelesaikan dua masalah abadi yang dihadapi oleh umat Islam semasa. Pertama, teka-teki yang tidak berkesudahan samada melihat anak bulan atau menggunakan perkiraan saintifik untuk menentukan Ramadan dan Aidilfitri. Kedua, menyelesaikan masalah kasut yang bertabur di luar serambi masjid. Pada satu masa Perdana Menteri Anwar Ibrahim kelihatan hampir jatuh tergelincir bila dia keluar dari masjid. Renungkan berapa banyak pinggul yang patah akibat tersandung kasut!


            Masjid di Malaysia ada masalah tambahan pula. Jika pakai kasut baru ke Masjid, terjaminlah itu akan disapu sebaik sahaja Imam menglafazkan "Amin!"


            Kami disini mengatasi masalah kasut bertabur dan tidak kemas dengan mengadakan seorang di pintu masuk. Itu menyelesaikannya hanya sebahagian sahaja masaalah itu kerana apabila sembahyang bermula hamba Allah itu perlu bersama. Walaupun melihat kasut yang berbaris kemas, mereka yang lewat akan terus mengabaikannya dalam keadaan tergesa-gesa melemparkan kasut dan seliparnya bersebar.


            Pada suatu ketika semasa dia memberi khutbah, Imam kita ternampak sebuah kereta mewah yang menghalang jalan masuk. Dia serta merta menghentikan khutbahnya dan meminta pemilik kereta itu keluar dengan segara untuk memindahkannya supaya tidak menyekat jalan masuk. Imam mengingatkan semua bahawa pahala dari menghapuskan bahaya yang dikenakan oleh kereta yang menghalang jalan masuk jauh melebihi dari borkat sembahyang. 


            Di Malaysia semasa solat Jumaat, jalan disekeliling penuh disekat oleh kereta yang diletakkan secara sembarangan. Bayangkan jika ambulans terpaksa lalu.


            Masalah masjid di Malaysia tidak terhad kepada kereta dan kasut yang tidak beratur. Lihatkan sahaja kelakuan kanak kanak. Walaupun kita patut galakkan kanak-kanak ke masjid, tetapi faedah atau pahala serta kegembiraan itu akan cetus hilang dengan serta merta jika mereka berkelakuan tidak senonoh. Pada satu ketika apabila Imam kami memberi khutbah, kanak-kanak bertabur berlari mengganggu ahli jemaah. Dia menutup teks yang disediakan dan terus meminta ibu bapa menjaga anak-anak mereka yang berlarian tanpa disiplin. Perbuatan itu jauh lebih penting daripada menjalankan sembahyang dan berdoa.


            Itu kebijaksanaan Imam kami. Khutbahnya tepat dan relevan. Serta masuk akal! Tidak perlu memetik hadis atau ayat al-Quran untuk menegaskannya. Anak anak tidak kira umurnya mesti di beritahu dengan jelas perangai serta tingkah laku yang patut di hormati di tempat sembahyang. Lagi muda kita mulakan mengajar adab lebih baik. 


            Sebagai pakar bedah di Kuala Lumpur pada tahun 1970-an, saya pada satu ketika menegur pegawai perubatan saya kerana dia pergi bersolat Jumaat meninggalkan si pesakit yang tenat di bilek kecemasan rumah sakit. Bagi doktor pelatih itu, borkat Allah lebih besar dari sembahyang daripada menolong si pesakit yang tenat.


            Sepanjang bulan Ramadan ini saya melihat satu lagi trend yang menganggukan. Yakni orang merebut makanan bila berbuka puasa. Semangat kemurahan hati dan budi pekerti jelas tidak kelihatan.


            Kembali kepada melihat anak bulan, masyarakat kami disini telah lama menyelesaikan masalah itu. Pada permulaannya kami pernah menyewa dewan untuk solat Raya dua hari berturutan sekiranya bulan tidak kelihatan pada kali pertama. Itu nyata membazir duit. Allah tidak suka kita membazirkan apa apa tambahan pula wang yang boleh digunakan untuk membantu si miskin.


            Kami masih menghormati sunnah melihat anak bulan. Tetapi kami mengubah pengalaman itu supaya menjadi satu peluang untuk mengajar pergerakan badan angkasa dan pelbagai faktor yang menentukan kebolehan seseorang melihat anak bulan, seperti keadaan cuaca serta ketajaman mata seseorang.


            Orang Islam purba tidak membezakan antara pemerhatian saintifik dengan pengetahuan yang di terima melalui wahyu. Kebijaksanaan inilah yang membawa mereka ke Zaman Gemilang Islam. Sifat tambahan mereka yang hebat dan patut kita contohi adalah minda yang terbuka terhadap pergerakan dan pendapat baru. Mereka tidak segan dan teragak-agak belajar dengan orang lain, bahkan mereka yang tidak percaya kepada Tuhan, seperti orang Yunani kuno.


            Kembali kepada melihat anak bulan, renungkan peningnya serta pembaziran sumber dan wang jika seseorang itu bertanggungjawab menyelerakan jadual penerbangan atau penghantaran surat!


            Seorang profesor wanita Melayu pernah mencadangkan supaya kita berhenti kononnya meniru Barat. Sebaliknya dia mencadangkan kita mulakan hari baru kita pada waktu matahari terbenam. Itu satu budaya si Arab, bukan Islam, tergantung atas iklim mereka. Hari mereka bermula hanya selepas matahari suntuk dan kepanasan udara berkurangan dan boleh ditanggung.


            Pada orang Barat, pilihan tengah malam itu sesuai dan juga masuk akal kerana kebanyakan kita tidur pada masa itu. Oleh itu, pertukaran masa matahari suntuk yang berbeza beberapa jam di antara musim panas dan musim sejuk tidak penting dan mengelirukan. Renungkan pada pertengahan musim salji di Tundra. "Hari" baharu mereka mungkin berlama beberapa hari disebabkan matahari tidak muncul. Kalau kita ikut cadangan profesor pandai tiga suku itu, kita akan menambah satu lagi unsur kerumitan. Bangkok yang pada sekarang sama masanya dengan Kuala Lumpur akan berbeza waktunya kerana ia lebih jauh ke utara. Matahari di sana sentuk lebih awal di Disember dan lewat di Julai.


            Apa yang dia anggap sebagai meniru Barat lebih mencerminkan kejahilannya serta keangkuhan–satu pasangan yang sangat merosakkan serta berbahaya–seseorang itu. Kaum Cina juga mengikut ke edaran bulan tetapi mereka tidak ragu untuk mengamalkan sistem "Barat." Budaya Barat juga tidak teragak-agak dalam membuang huruf Latin mereka yang rumit dan menggantikannya dengan angka Arab yang lebih unggul. Keangkuhan pemikiran "Cara kami sahaja yang terbaik" inilah yang merosakkan serta membantutkan kemajuan kita. Ini di tambah pula dengan keengganan untuk belajar daripada mereka yang berlainan dari kita. Inilah kecacatan budaya kita. Inilah yang melemahkan kita.


            Berbalik kepada cabaran bakal Khalifah, saya lebih kagum jika dia memberi tumpuan kepada isu penting seperti bagaimana kita boleh berdamai satu dengan lain, terutamanya mereka yang tidak seagama dan tidak sama kepercayaan mereka dengan kita, serta bagaimana kita boleh bersama menjadikan dunia ini lebih aman dan baik. Samada kita orang yang beriman atau tidak, kita semua hamba Allah dan harus berkongsi untuk berdamai dan maju sesama.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

A Would-Be Caliph's (As Well As Ummah's) Double Challenges

 A Would-Be Caliph’s (As Well As The Ummah’s) Double Challenges

M. Bakri Musa


In his last Friday sermon before Ramadan, our Imam Ilyas facetiously challenged any aspiring Caliph to solve two perennial problems facing the ummah. One, the endless conundrum of moon sighting versus scientific calculations for determining Ramadan and Eid. Two, have congregants arrange their shoes neatly. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was once seen stumbling over some shoes as he emerged from a mosque. I wonder how many hips have been broken from tripping over shoes.


            Malaysian mosques have another problem. Wear nice shoes and they would be swiped as surely as soon as the Imam utters his “Ameen!”


            We handled the messy shoe problem by having someone stand at the entrance. That solved it only partially as when the service begins that individual would have to come in. Despite seeing all those other shoes already neatly lined up, late comers would invariably ignore that in their rush.


            Once during his sermon, our Imam saw an expensive sedan blocking the driveway. He interrupted his service to ask that the owner to please leave immediately and remove his car. Our Imam reminded us that removing the danger imposed by the car blocking the driveway far outweighs any potential pahala (religious merits) the owner would gain from praying. In Malaysia during Friday prayers, neighborhood streets would be blocked by haphazardly parked cars. Imagine if an ambulance had to pass through.


            Cars and shoes are not the only problem. While it is gratifying to see kids attending mosques, that vanishes if they were to misbehave. Once during his sermon, the children began running around disturbing the service. Our Imam quietly folded his prepared text and asked the parents to take care of their children. That was far more important than to pray. Eminently sensible! You do not have to quote hadith or Qur’anic verse to justify that. Besides, it is never too early to teach your children mosque etiquette. Likewise when I was a surgeon in Kuala Lumpur back in the 1970s, I once had to reprimand my medical officer for abandoning his patient while he was off for his Friday prayers. His promised future salvation came ahead of his patient’s current welfare.


            During this Ramadan I am seeing videos of another disturbing trend of people grabbing food and gorging themselves at iftar. The spirit of generosity and plain good manners are conspicuously absent.


            Back to moonsighting, our community had long ago resolved that issue. We used to book a facility for two consecutive days in case the moon would not be sighted the first time. Then someone pointed out the wastage. The money could have been better spent on the poor.


            We still pay deference to the sunnah of moon sightings. However, instead of mindlessly going through the ritual, we have turned it into an educational experience. We have someone explain the movements of celestial bodies and the various factors determining visibility.


            Ancient Muslims saw no incompatibility between scientific observations versus revealed knowledge. It was this wisdom that ushered them into their Golden Era of Islam. Another of their wonderful traits worthy of our emulation was their openness to new ideas. They had no hesitation learning from others, even those who did not believe in God, as with the ancient Greeks.


            Back to moonsighting, imagine the headache and waste of resources if one were to be in charge of flight schedules or even simple mail delivery!


            A Malay lady professor once suggested that we should quit “aping” the West and instead start our new day at sunset. Starting the day at sunset is an Arabic tradition, not a Muslim one. We can appreciate knowing their climate. Their day begins only after the hot blistering sun is gone and life becomes bearable. 


            The “Western” choice of midnight makes practical sense as most of us would be asleep at that time. Thus variations of a few minutes or even hours as between summer and winter would not matter. Consider midwinter in the Tundra. Your new “day” could last for weeks. Adopting that professor’s suggestion would unnecessarily add another layer of complexity, for in addition to the time changes with the Meridien we would now have to add latitude. Bangkok which today has the same time as Kuala Lumpur would now be different as it is further north, if the professor were to have her way.


            What she considered as aping the West reflects more her ignorance combined with arrogance–a particularly destructive pairing. The Chinese also go by the lunar calendar yet they have no qualms adopting an alien “Western” system. The West also had no hesitation in dumping their cumbersome Latin letters for the much superior Arabic numerals. This conceit of “Ours being best” and the associated destructive mindset of unwillingness to learn from others is a severe handicap.


            As for the challenges of our would-be Caliph, I would prefer that he focus on important issues such as how to get along with our fellow human beings, especially those who do not share our beliefs, and how together we could make this world a better place. Believers or non-believers, we are all hamba Allah (God’s creations) and have to share this world together.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Fasting: Where Religion Meets Evolution

 Fasting:  Where Religion Meets Evolution

M. Bakri Musa



The Qur’an exhorts us to fast as “ . . . it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation.” (2:183; approximate translation.)


            Taking a much broader or stretching the meaning of “those before you” to include our hunter-gatherer ancestors, extending the meaning of fasting to mean sustained periods without food, and interpreting salvation to mean survival, the essence of that ayat is one of the few certitudes that both faith and science share.


            The signal difference between the fasting (or periods without food) of our hunter-gatherer ancestors versus the current practices of many faiths, as well as health enthusiasts, is the factor of volition. Unlike our ancestors who had to endure periods without food because of the environment, as with poor hunting seasons, today’s faithful and health enthusiasts choose to forego food for specified periods of time.


            Our biology however does not appreciate such differences. The net effect of food deprivation, whether intentional or otherwise, on our metabolism is the same. The evolutionary energetics (the study of energy and its transformation) of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to cope with periods without food are still operative and called upon today in those who fast. Principally this is the “metabolic switching,” of using glucose as the principal source of energy in times of plenty versus relying on stored body fats during fasting or periods without food.


            In the last few decades biologists have used this insight to help elucidate the dynamics of our evolutionary pathways, supplementing in very major and revolutionary ways the evidence garnered through such traditional sources as fossil studies of bone (in particular skull) sizes and shapes. For this we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our contemporary fellow humans who still retain our ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Hadza tribe of Central Africa.


            Using doubly-labeled water, 2H218O (DLW–where the hydrogen has an extra proton and the carbon, an extra pair), for their subjects to drink, biologists could estimate the “free-living energy expenditure” of an individual. Energy is and reflects life; no energy, no life. Incidentally these experiments with DLW were first done on the military.


            The major consumption of energy for our ancestor hunter-gatherers, as extrapolated from studies on the Hadzas, is directed towards the twin purposes of brain function and reproductive capacities. That makes teleological sense as the former is for immediate self-survival; the latter, species survival.


            For our ancestors, periods of food deprivation were the norm. It was only much later when they discovered agriculture that they settled on the land, their foods now assured through farming. While they had plants as food earlier as with their fruits and leaves, those too were seasonal.


            Beyond that, their discovery of metals that could be fashioned as killing tools, as well as the utility of fire beyond keeping themselves warm, as with cooking and preserving their hunted meat, were consequential. Dried meat buffered their hunting droughts. With cooked meat they could dispense with huge jaws, thus preserving precious skull space for the brain.


            Beyond those visible anatomical changes, deep in our cellular innards were even more consequential changes with our basic metabolism, specifically energy production. In times of plenty we burn glucose and store the excess as fat. Glucose is what powered our muscles as well as the brain. In times of scarcity we burn fat, the by-products being ketone bodies which the brain could use but not muscles. We could burn muscles to produce glucose (gluconeogenesis), but that would be self-destructive, akin to depleting our capital. We need muscles to hunt. Weak muscles equal no kill and thus no food.


            The ability of the brain to use ketones, and very effectively too, again makes teleological sense. When times are tough we need our cognitive ability more than ever to strategize and hunt smarter. No surprise that ketogenic diet is now used to enhance cognitive ability. It has long been the mainstay to prevent convulsions of childhood epilepsy. The spiritual enhancements of ascetics as well as the heightened spirituality of Muslims during Ramadan reflect this. Their commonality with marathon runners who fast before major races may be mediated through the effects of these ketone bodies on the brain.


            In contrast to the positive evolutionary changes with fasting through the ensuing ketogenic diet, starvation is destructive. With the latter, with fat being depleted, you start burning muscles. That undermines your strength and physical integrity. You need muscles to hunt or even to breathe. The vicious cycle continues until you die. The clinical manifestation of this is anorexia nervosa, a condition where the individual loses any desire to eat.


            We should leverage this role of ketosis during fasting. It is no surprise that mosques are full during Ramadan because of this enhanced spirituality. Ramadan is my most productive time intellectually. During lunch hours I can work uninterrupted. The hour before the breaking of fast, being too tired to do any physical work, is spent reading; likewise the early hours after suhor (the predawn breakfast). I enjoy a quantum leap in my reading during Ramadan.


            Rumi encapsulated it best:  Fasting blinds the body in order to open the eyes of the soul. In modern biological parlance, that would be enhancing our central neuronal connections. Or as per my Imam Ilyas, Ramadan is the time for us to get closer to Allah. May this Ramadan achieve this as well as bring peace and prosperity to all.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Takdir Anwar Ibrahim Untuk Membawa Kita Mengarah Qiblat yang Tulen

 Dilema Melayu Masa Kini

M. Bakri Musa


Terakhir dari Tiga Bahagian: Takdir Perdana Menteri Anwar Ibrahim Untuk Membawa Kita Mengarah Qiblat Yang Tulen


[Dalam bahagian pertama saya menarik perhatian atas kebodohan dan kemusnahan budaya kita yang asyik berperaga. Perangai demikian mengakibatkan masyarakat kita mundur dan tidak setanding dengan bangsa lain walaupun negara maju. Dalam Bahagian Kedua saya mengesa agar orang Melayu mencontohi penganut Katolik Ireland pada tahun 1950-an untuk mengatasi dilema semasa. Dalam bahagian ketiga dan penutup ini, saya percaya bahawa Perdana Menteri Anwar Ibrahim adalah pemimpin yang boleh melaksanakannya matlamat ini. Takdir dia untuk mengarah kita ke Qiblat yang tulen.



Ranjau terbesar yang menghala kemajuan negara ialah rasuah. Walaupun akibat burutnya menghampa semua kaum, tetapi bebannya tidak sama dan lebih berat lagi di tangung oleh masyarakat Melayu. Itu adalah akibat kaum kita lebih bergantung kepada kerajaan. Walau pun Perdana Menteri Anwar teguh memerangi rasuah tetapi itu masih belum berkesan.


            Sebaliknya petualang besar yang membantutkan kemajuan kaum Melayu ialah golongan Islamis yang berfikiran kuno dan nasionalis bahasa yang terlaluan. Orang bukan Melayu sudah tentunya tidak dapat mereka pengaruhi. Golongan Islamis dan nasionalis ini mempunyai pengaruh yang tidak wajar terhadap kerajaan dan orang Melayu. Apa yang dikatakan sebagai dilema Melayu bukanlah, seperti yang disangkai ramai, musuh hantu seperti Barat dan kaum pendatang. Menyalahi mereka mungkin boleh memenangi undi Melayu dan melonjakkan kerjaya politik seseorang, malangnya itu tidak akan membaiki nasib orang Melayu. Pendatang atau tidak dan Islam atau tidak, kita semua mahklok Allah.


            Para Islamis yang berfikiran kuno ini tidah kesah atas kemunduran kaum kita. Sebaliknya mereka memperlekehkan dan dengan terus terang menolak pencapaian duniawi. Dengan itu mereka, sengaja atau tidak, mengiatkan orang Melayu supaya tikak berusaha untuk maju. Renungkan. Tidak mungkin ada zaman kegemilangan Islam dan agama kita yang murni ini tidak tersebar luas seandainya umat Islam zaman kuno dulu hanya taksub kepada akhirat.


            Kemiskinan mendekati kekufuran. Kita tidak patut bermegah dengan kemunduran serta kebangsatan kaum kita atas alasan syurga akan menunggu kita. Nyawa kita serta dunia ini adalah anugerah Allah teragung. Kita patut bersyukur dan menujukkan kesyukuran kita dengan berusaha untuk membaiki ke dua dua. 


            Pada abad ke-8, Si Rabi’a Al Adawiyya pada satu ketika terlihat berlari di bandar Basra membawa baldi air di tangan kanan dan obor di tangan kiri. Bila ditanya, dia menjawab bahawa dia ingin memadamkan api Neraka dan membakar pintu syurga supaya manusia akan mengabdi kepada Tuhan hanya kerana Dia dan bukan kerana ingin masuk syurga atau takut Neraka. Berbuat baik kepada satu dan lain serta manusia amnya ialah cara kita menyembah Allah. Itulah pengajaran utama. Ketaksuban kepada Akhirat itu hanyalah gangguan.


            Penganut Islam hari ini meremehkan kitab suci kita dengan menyifatkannya sebagai azimat ajaib. Baca sahajalah ayat tertentu dan dengan ajaib hajat anda dimakbulkan atau penyakit tersembuh. Begitu juga jika hendak cemerlang di sekolah. Tidak payahlah belajar bersungguh atau mendengar guru tetapi hanya beratib dan bersolat Tahajut yang tidak bersudahan. Tambahan pula, hanya Allah yang boleh menguji kita, bukan hambanya seperti guru. Kononnya!


            Ranjau terbesar kaum Melayu ialah apabila kerajaan dan pemerentah merestui dan memberi kuasa kepada kaum Islamis. Bahkan mereka sekarang berani mencaci sultan dengan lela serta mengkafirkan mereka yang berpandagan berlainan. Akibatnya buruk bagi orang yang beriman serta akidah dan masyarakat kita. Presiden Turki Erdogan enggan menamai parti atau kerajaannya sebagai Islamik. Dia takut jika kelalaian serta kegagalannya akan di anggap sebagai kekurangan agama Islam. Malangnya, dan ini amat menyedihkan, hikmah dan kewajaran ini tidak terfikir pun oleh pemimpin Melayu.


            Sementara itu kaum nasionalis bahasa itu telah menanamkan sentimen yang menjehanamkan masyarakat serta anak kita. Kepada mereka, mempelajari Bahasa Inggeris ialah satu pengkhianatan kepada atau tidak menghormati Bahasa Melayu. Lebih aneh lagi, Bahasa Inggeris disifatkan sebagai satu alat untuk "penjajahan fikiran."


            Ada petunjuk bahawa sinar terang mungkin memuncul. Pengaruh nasionalis bahasa sudah bermula tipis dan mungkin terus hapus. Menghormati bahasa ibunda atau tidak, bilangan murid Melayu di sekolah Cina semakin meningkat. Keputusan Mahkamah Persekutuan baru-baru ini bahawa sekolah vernakular dilindungi oleh perlembagaan adalah satu kemenangan bukan sahaja bagi orang bukan Melayu bahkan juga untuk kaum Melayu. Sementara itu orang Cina sudah lama memilih aluran “sekolah antarabangsa.” “Antarabangsa” itu hanyalah tirai melindungi keadaan sebenar, yakni sekolah Bahasa Inggeris.


            Walau bagaimana pun sinar harapan ini (bilangan anak Melayu meningkat di sekolah Cina) mungkin dikaburkan oleh perkembangan yang jauh lebih aneh. Yakni bilangan penuntut Melayu yang memilih aliran agama, dari peringkat prasekolah hingga pasca siswazah. Sistem itu mengindoktrinasi dan jauh sekali daripada mendidik. Renungkan, guru Inggeris tidak fasih berbahasa Inggeris dan ulama buta huruf Bahasa Arab. Itu hanyalah petanda keburukan yang ternampak. Inti yang busuk dan robok maseh tersuruk.


            Perdana Menteri Anwar sedar akan kelemahan ini. Pada satu masa dahulu dia juara nasionalis bahasa dan Islamis politik. Kini dia sudah jauh lebih bijak, telah diuji dan dipukul tetapi masih tidak patah. Sebaliknya, dan agak ironis serta sentuhan karma, si penyeksanya terdahulu yang kini terseksa.


            Anwar peminat Nelson Mandela. Contoh yang lebih bermakna untuk Anwar ialah penulis Pramoedya Ananta Toe. Dia juga lama di penjara dan di seksa tetapi itu tidak mematahkan jiwanya. Sebaliknya dia menjadi penulis yang lebih hebat. Begitu juga, ketidakadilan teruk yang dihimpakan ke atas Anwar hanya menjadikan ia pemimpin yang lebih baik, bijak, dan tegas. Nyata sudah menjadi takdir untuk Anwar sebagai pemimpin negara, khususnya orang Melayu, untuk mengarah kita menghadapi ke arah kiblat yang tulen. Hanya dengan cara demikian kita boleh memberi sumbangan yang bermakna kepada masyarakat dan negara.


            Nyata Anwar tidak boleh menyekat aliran agama atau peranan Bahasa Melayu. Tetapi dia boleh mengubah supaya sekolah agama lebih bertanggungjawab keatas keperluan negara dan masyarakat kita. Contohilah sekolah agama Kristian di Amerika. Ia menghasilkan lebih ramai cerdik pandai serta tokoh saintis, usahawan dan profesional. Hanya sebahagian kecil daripada graduan mereka yang menjadi paderi. Oleh sebab itu, sekolah tersebut menarik ramai murid yang bukan Kristian termasuk anak Islam. Harvard bermula sebagai tajaan gereja tetapi hari ini bahagian agamanya amat kecil. Yang lebih penting, ramai ulama Islam yang telah dididik oleh Harvard.


            Universiti Amerika di Beirut, yang ditubuhkan oleh mubaligh Kristian, kekal sebagai permata mahkota intelektual dunia Arab walaupun dia menggunakan Bahasa Inggeris dan kedaan kacau di sekelilingnya. Begitu juga Universiti Amerika di Kaherah. Ditubuhkan hanya pada tahun 1919 tetapi ia telah lama mengatasi Al Azhar yang berusia ribuan tahun.


            Jika sultan Melayu menggesa penjajah dahulu menubuhkan rangkaian Sekolah Melayu Anglo, seperti yang mereka lakukan dengan Kolej Melayu, bayangkan betapa tingginya pencapaian kaum kita! Begitu juga jika sultan menentang pandangan jahil ulama bahawa menghadiri sekolah Inggeris adalah sama dengan menjadi seorang Kristian! Bahkan ramai anak raja belajar di sekolah tersebut. Isteri Perdana Menteri kedua dan ketiga menghadiri Sekolah Convent! Kesalan terbesar dan tanpa habis Pendita Za'aba ialah apabila bapanya memancung putusan keluarga bila dia masuk sekolah Inggeris. Kemunafikan dan muka dua yang terus terang pemimpin Melayu pada masa dahulu dan juga sekarang inilah yang meruntuhkan masyarakat kita.


            Ranjau pendidikan anak Melayu ialah sikap negatif terhadap belajar Bahasa Inggeris. Itu diselubungi di bawah tuduhan tidak memartabatkan dan menghormati bahasa kebangsaan. Sebaliknya kita patut berusaha supaya murid kita fasih dalam dua–Melayu dan Inggeris, serta menambah masa untuk pengajian sains. Bagi sekolah agama pula, lebihkan masa untuk mata pelajaran sekular supaya mereka boleh menghasilkan bakal doktor, jurutera, ahli sains, dan para usahawan.


            Semua ini langkah mudah, berkesan, dan amat diperlukan. Ia tidak memerlukan dana dan jawatankuasa besar untuk melaksanakannya, hanya kemahuan untuk memulakannya. Anwar Ibrahim sahajalah yang mempunyai kebijaksanaan pimpinan serta kemahuan dan kemampuan untuk melaksanakannya.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's Manifest Destiny

 Part Three:  Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Manifest Destiny

M. Bakri Musa

Last of Three Parts


[In Part One I discussed the folly and destructiveness of our culture’s penchant for peraga (showing off) and the consequent discomfiting reality that a developed Malaysia has not resulted in a comparable status for Malays. In Part Two I suggested that Malays emulate the Irish Catholics of the 1950s in overcoming our current dilemma. In this third concluding piece, I posit that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is just the leader who could execute that for Malays. It is his manifest destiny to lead us to face our true qiblat (lit., direction for Muslim prayer; fig. new destiny).]


The greatest obstacle to Malaysia’s advancement is corruption. While its corrosiveness affects all, the burden falls disproportionately on those dependent on the government, meaning Malays. Prime Minister Anwar is making progress in fighting corruption but he still has a long way to go.


            Unlike corruption, the stifling stunting influence of the literalist medieval-minded Islamists and chauvinistic language nationalists falls exclusively on Malays. Non-Malays are of course insulated. Malay backwardness is in large part the consequence of the Islamists and language nationalists having undue influence on the government and on Malays. The so-called Malay problem is not, as many would have it, with phantom enemies like the West and pendatangs(immigrants). Blaming them may win Malay votes and advance one’s political career, alas that would not improve the condition of Malays. Pendatang or not and Muslim or not, we are all mahklok Allah (Allah’s creations).


            The Islamists’ answer to Malay backwardness is to belittle or dismiss worldly achievements. In one grand sweep they effectively disincentivized Malays. They forget that there would not have been the Golden Age of Islam and the faith spread far and wide had ancient Muslims been obsessed with the Hereafter. Heed the Malay wisdom:  Kemiskinan mendekati kekufuran (Poverty invites impiety). Our life and this world are Allah’s unique precious gifts. Embrace both and strive to make them better.


            The 8th Century Sufi Rabi’a Al Adawiyya was once seen running on the streets of Basra with a bucket of water in one hand and a torch in the other. When asked, she replied that she wanted to douse the fire of Hell and burn the Gates of Heaven so people will serve God only for His sake and not for fear of Hell or desiring Heaven. Serving humanity is serving God; obsession with the Hereafter is but a distraction.


            Today’s Islamists have also degraded our holy book by turning it into a magical amulet. Recite this verse and “Abracadabra!” your wishes would be granted or illness cured. To them, to excel in school is not by studying or listening to your teachers but by endless ratib and Tahajut prayers. Besides, they claim, only Allah can test you, not mere mortals like your teachers.


            The most consequential and detrimental effect on Malays and our faith is the state’s stamping its imprimatur on Islam. Whenever that happens, it is bad for the faithful, the faith, and society. It is this insight that led Turkey’s President Erdogan not to label his party or government as Islamic. This wisdom eludes Malay leaders.


            The language nationalists meanwhile have planted the destructive mindset that to learn English is to disrespect Malay. Worse, English is seen as but an instrument for “mental re-colonization.”


            The good news is that the language nationalists are fast losing their influence. Disrespecting our mother tongue or not, the number of Malays enrolling in Chinese schools is soaring. The recent Federal Court ruling that vernacular schools are constitutionally protected was as much a victory for non-Malays as for Malays. Meanwhile the Chinese are opting for “international schools,” a cover for English-medium instruction.


            That ray of hope (increasing Malay enrolment in Chinese schools) is eclipsed by a much bigger and more sinister development–the escalating number of Malays opting for the religious stream, from preschool to post-graduate level. That system indoctrinates rather than educates. English teachers not fluent in the language and ulama illiterate in Arabic are but the visible manifestations of a rotten system.


            Prime Minister Anwar is aware of these shortcomings. He is also the only leader who can “handle” these language nationalists and political Islamists, having himself earlier espoused those sentiments. He is now much wiser, having been tested and even battered, though not broken. Like well-tempered steel, Anwar is now stronger and more resilient.


            Anwar is an ardent admirer of the late Nelson Mandela. I suggest that a better model would be the late Pramoedya Ananta Toe whose long imprisonment made him an even better writer. Likewise, the gross injustices perpetrated upon Anwar have only made him better, wiser, and more determined. It is his manifest destiny to lead Malaysia, Malays in particular, to face our true qiblat. Only then could we make our rightful contributions to the nation.


            It would be political suicide for Anwar to curtail the religious stream or the role of Bahasa. However, he can make the former more responsive to the nation’s needs by emulating its counterparts in America. Church-affiliated schools there produce more than their share of scientists, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Only a tiny fraction of their graduates end up in the clergy class. As such those schools attract many non-Christians. Harvard started out as church-affiliated but today its Divinity School is but a tiny component. More to the point, many Muslim scholars have gone through its portals.


            Despite being started by Christian missionaries and not using Arabic, the American University in Beirut remains the intellectual crown jewel of the Arab world, the surrounding chaos notwithstanding. Likewise, the American University in Cairo; established in 1919 has long eclipsed the thousand-year-old Al Azhar.


            Ponder this. Had Malay sultans urged the colonials to set up a string of Anglo Malay Schools back then, as they did with Malay College, imagine the heights of our achievements! Likewise, had the sultans countered the ulama’s destructive take that attending English schools was tantamount to becoming a Christian! After all, many a royal scion attended those schools. The wives of the second and third Prime Ministers attended Convent Schools. Pendita Za’aba’s greatest lament was his father’s disowning him for attending an English school. It is this blatant hypocrisy of Malay leaders then and now that is the undoing of our community. 


            Today this destructive sentiment towards modern education, specifically learning English, is subsumed under the guise of not mentarbatkan (respecting) our national language. Imagine if we were to make national school graduates fluent in both Bahasa and English while at the same time increase the hours for STEM subjects! As for religious schools, ponder had the curriculum included more secular subjects, these schools could produce their share of the nation’s doctors, scientists, and engineers.


            These simple, effective, and much-needed measures do not need grand committees to implement them, only the will to initiate and competence to execute them. In Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia has just that leader.