Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin
The Malay mind has been shaped and conditioned by their belief and tradition and adatembedded in their societal matrix.
The traditional Malay mind/mentality is steeped in a conglomeration of tribal mores and lore and feudalistic adat that demands subservience to a leader or council of elders as in the tribal communities or to a single individual as in an absolute monarchy.
It is augmented by a host of regulatory adat (traditions) and local wisdom. For example, the saying “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat”, which means we must even be willing to sacrifice our children just to maintain our tradition.
Such was the state of the Malay mind through the various absolute monarchies of the Malay world before the advent of the colonial era. However, the Malay mind continued to be shackled through the colonial era not only by the feudal system but also by colonial imperatives.
A turn for the worse happened during the Japanese occupation during which the Malays were enslaved and humiliated.
Perhaps this trauma, humiliation and slavery by the Japanese and as chattels during the feudalistic era, ignited in the Malay mentality a sense of freedom and wanting to be shorn off all mental and physical shackles. Thus the awakening of the Malay mind after World War 2 to challenge and demand independence from the British.
There were Malays who were exposed to British education which opened up their minds to universal values, ideas of emancipation, democracy, socialism and communism. Such people were in the minority and confined to the urban areas. In the rural Malay hinterland, traditional Malay schools and religious madrasah were the mainstay of the educative process, which perpetuated the traditional feudalistic mentality that stresses conformity and submission rather than free thinking and expression.
The duality of the Malay mind, traditional in the rural areas and modern in the urban areas, has created a chasm in the thought process of the Malay masses.
Thus, for the past 60 years, the ruling party has exploited this identity crisis to serve its vested interests. Umno and Pas have taken advantage of this duality of mindset by using race and religion to exploit rural Malays by saying that they are the defenders of the Malays and Islam. However, Umno has a two facades; one, race and religion for the rural Malays, and two, secular and materialism for the educated urban Malays.
The party engaged and embraced the urban Malays into its fold by appealing to their materialistic tendencies through party positions, corporate appointments and other forms of remuneration. In this way it minimised the public advocacy of the educated Malay minds.
The mentality of the rural Malays was easily shaped to serve the vested interests of Umno and Pas. An almost communistic vigour of unquestioned loyalty and acceptance of false religious pronouncements have been drummed into them.
Pas has gone further, indoctrinating them to believe that those who support this so-called religious party are assured of paradise. It is a religious requirement to oppose the infidels that not only include non-Muslims, but also Muslim members from opposing parties. That a cruel and corrupt Muslim is better than an honest humanitarian non-Muslim. That it’s permissible to fabricate lies in the service of the leaders and the party, for these lies are sanctioned by the leaders as syariah-compliant.
Currently, both Umno and Pas, former sworn enemies, have become strange bedfellows for their own vested interests and are actively playing the race and religious card, labelling non-Malays as infidels and enemies of Islam.
Sadly, the open-minded and educated urban Malays are silent and are not countering this bigotry. Most of them are leaving it to the new Pakatan government to counter this extremist attitude. If unchecked, it would lead to a catastrophe as the perpetrators are willing to risk the peace and harmony of this multi-ethnic nation just to serve their greed for power and wealth.
It would take a long time to change this Malay mentality towards an open, critical and sane state that views the socio-political-economic scene from an educated and intellectual perspective.
It is the responsibility of all leaders and politicians to accept the challenges of co-existence by discarding bigoted attitudes and working towards a peaceful and prosperous nation. This would require a change in mentality and world view of all races in Malaysia, which would reflect a common mission and vision for a shared prosperity.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 17 March 2019
Expressions of Islamophobia range from outright confrontation involving subjugation and killing to various forms of punitive actions.
Such repressions could be communal or state sponsored as a form of external aggressions from people of different faiths or within the same faith.
These have resulted in both covert and overt actions ranging from sanctions to their physical appearance, speeches, practices, banning them from visiting certain countries, restricting their movements to specified areas within a country to outright massacre and genocide.
The massacre of the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar is a cause celebre.
Myanmar’s government has systematically maimed, tortured, raped and killed the Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship despite the fact they are the original inhabitants in the state.
Less known and out of the glare of the international media and covertly executed is the persecution and subjugation of the Uighur Muslims of Turkish origin in Xinjiang, China.
Out in the Middle East, Israel with the connivance of America are persecuting Palestinian Muslims, torturing and killing them, having occupied their lands and incarcerated them in a prison-like blockade of land, sea and air.
Unlike the covert subjugation of the Uighur Muslims in China which was put under wraps and disguised as acculturative re-education, the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians are cause celebre, but with a different slant.
In this case the Jewish American-controlled media distorts the facts, creating the perception that Israel is the victim while the Palestinians are the aggressors. This is an overt form of Islamophobia.
There are other covert intimidating forms of Islamophobia in so-called democratic countries that are supposed to have freedom of religious and secular expressions, pretending to tolerate differences of belief and lifestyle and celebrate unity in diversity.
Another aspect of Islamophobia is the prejudice within the Islamic community. One is between nations and the other is within nations.
In both cases, the conflict is between Sunnis and Shia, which dates back to the time of the emergence of the four Caliphates. It is prejudice and animosity between these two denominations of Islam.
Sunnis believe Muhammad is the last Prophet, while the Shia regard Ali as the anointed successor of Prophet Muhammad. Shia-Sunni relations have been volatile, resulting in violence confrontations.
Such confrontation occurs when one country has an overwhelming Shia or Sunni population as in the case of Iran and Iraq or a proxy one as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
This sectarian conflict is also replicated within a nation having both Shia and Sunni populations as in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Azerbaijan, which have a majority Shia population, and a minority in Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.
It is a known fact that Shia and Sunni can co-exist peacefully but the underlying dormant tensions can be exacerbated into internecine conflict when political agendas are factored into the equation. This has been the case in Iraq and Syria.
Even within the exclusively Sunni Muslim population as in Malaysia and Indonesia, there are conflicts the result of different groups giving different interpretations in the practice of Islam based on their political ideology. Political parties that misused Islam purveyed their own brand of the religion and regard all others who are at variance with their religious and political beliefs as infidels.
Islam as a religion has attracted so much negative attention, perceptions and animosities. Its believers have been persecuted, subjugated, maimed and killed in certain countries. It has been touted as a religion of violence and linked to terrorism.
The beauty and the true image of Islam has been tarnished by unscrupulous leaders who hijacked the religion to serve their political agenda.
The regional and world organisations such as the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Asean seem unable to solve the plight of the Muslims.
The Muslim community is fractured, each having its own earthly agenda and forsaking the true teachings of Islam as enshrined in the Quran and Hadiths.
And the western powers have taken advantage of the economic weakness of the Muslim countries as well as the greed of the despotic and corrupt rulers of the wealthy countries to perpetrate dissension and confrontation among the Muslim countries, especially those in the Middle East.
It is imperative that Muslim countries cast aside hostility towards each other and reconstitute the ummah to be a military and economic force that is able to exert influence and secure the safety and security of Muslims beyond individual geographical borders.
Muslim countries must have physical, economic and intellectual strength to counter the covert and overt confrontation of Islamophobia.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 3 February 2019
Islam is again at the forefront of public scrutiny as a result of several issues among which are the LGBT cases, the caning of two women accused of lesbianism, the incarceration and caning of a prostitute and child marriages in Kelantan and Terengganu. And last year the so called Islamic political party, PAS, introduced a Private Member's Bill, RUU 355, to increase punishment for syariah-related offences. It gives the impression that Islam is mainly concerned with punitive issues, rituals and sermonising through religious lectures by celebrity preachers and that it is a restrictive and repressive religion. It displays its calcified stance in adherence to syariah regulatory injunctions in the case of child marriages without taking into account the social implications of such marriages.
But those propagating the Islamic way of life through the implementation of syariah laws and other formal and informal regulatory measures are bent on impressing the punitive rather than the compassionate aspects of Islam that emphasise harmony, forgiveness, sharing and caring.
Most of such people emphasise the afterlife rather than the current one and that this life is ephemeral, a brief existence in preparation for eternal life. As such these people place spiritual needs over materialistic ones and neglect economic viability and discount secular education and other elements such as shelter, health, connectivity that formulate the fabric of living. A good example is Kelantan under PAS rule, which has remained the poorest state in Malaysia because the state government is more concerned about the ritualistic and punitive aspects of Islam instead of seeing to the worldly needs of the people.
In actual fact, Islam requires us to attend to both the needs of the present life and the preparation for the afterlife. While we must fulfil the prescribed Islamic practices such as prayers, fasting, and payment of zakat the social deeds to fellow men and women in meeting their economic, marital and educational needs form a significant part of the ibadah for consideration in the hereafter. The giving of alms and mandatory payment of zakat testifies to the importance of the social and economic aspects in the well-being of the ummah. Thus, Islam requires its adherents to strive for prosperity so that they could share it with those who are less fortunate. It encourages people to seek knowledge from all sources to be intellectually and technologically proficient to uplift the image of Islam.
Above all, Islam espouses the quest for knowledge, justice and truth and to view all syariah transgressions through the prismatic light of mercy and compassion. It is far from meting out punishments for syariah transgressions to flaunt authoritarian and dictatorial political stance as was the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support her child as she did not receive financial support from either her ex-husband or the state. Likewise, such unyielding authoritarian stance was also displayed in the case of the two women who were accused of lesbianism.
Syariah laws are not so much individualised as it is communal for the administration of syariah laws involving the community, that is, the state. The state is responsible for the wellbeing of the ummah by way of ensuring the availability of physical comfort – food, shelter, health, security – and intellectual competence (education) through the various state and private sectors, economic initiatives as well as other support facilities to ensure a decent living that would prevent them from committing crimes to meet their physical needs. Thus, the state is culpable, in the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support herself and her child.
It is not that the state should provide everything but it must create opportunities for employment through sound education and economic planning and practice. Thus, each to his/her own ability to eke out a decent living and those mired in poverty because of circumstances beyond their control should be helped by the Baitulmal.
Other religious institutions, besides the Baitulmal, especially the mosques, are also required to augment the state efforts in helping their needy khariah (people living within the mosque's jurisdiction) through their collection and donation.
Instead of being a centre for monitoring and providing help to the people within its jurisdiction, the mosques have been downgraded to a place for prayers and religious lectures. Worse, the monies collected are not disbursed to the community but accumulates in the mosques' bank accounts. This social responsibility and public advocacy is seldom practised. But the current trend in Malaysia is that the Islamic authorities are more concerned about meting out punishment without doing much to alleviate the poor and destitute, and without any initiative to counter unnatural sexual orientations or counselling to prevent child marriages. They only act on the symptoms rather than the cause.
In this case the state is only concerned with the syariah enactment on child marriages, instead of dealing with the factors that prompted such marriages. It chooses to ignore the negative social and financial implications of such a marriage. Thus, such punitive actions meted out by the Terengganu religious authorities do not represent the true teachings of Islam. This is the problem when looking at Islam by piecemeal, disengaging it from its holistic perspectives, which also include the role of the Ulul Amri or leaders as role models of piety and selflessness in the service of the ummah. There is much more to be done to reflect the true teachings of Islam beyond the prescribed rituals and outward appearance and behaviour.
One needs to create a positive and enlightened image of Islam as a progressive religion that is economically and technologically resilient that combines the spiritual and material to serve humanity underlined by compassion, forgiveness and mercy.
Thus, submission to Allah is not only through spiritual enlightenment of the self but also through worldly engagement to serve humanity as ordained and enshrined in the Quran and the Sunnah.
Published in: The Sun Daily, 2 October 2018
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