March 21, 2018
Anwar Ibrahim: The Rainmaker of Ideas–In celebration of his imminent release from Prison
By Pan Jin Ming
“God does not play dice,” Albert Einstein is known to have once said. He was referring to the symmetry and completeness of the universe. Even if the universe, as some physicists believe, continues to expand, its expansion is derived from clear mathematical formula.
But the vastness of the universe—-if one insists multiverse—-makes one prone to a state of forgetfulness. Invariably, “insan,” a Quranic description of humankind, that who is inclined to forget, is a key concept in Islamic hermeneutics. The latter may seem like a big word. But it means human interpretation of the revealed scripture.
One of the first Malaysian scholars to unpack the meaning of “insan,” was Professor Syed Naquib Al Attas, the original founder of the Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) whose existence under International Islamic University (IIU) was discontinued; though there are discordant voices to restore it.
Professor Naquib Al Attas explained in “Faces of Islam,” one of the first Islamic programs in TV3 back in the mid 1980s, that it was precisely due to the forgetful nature of humankind, that God has to manifest Himself in the form of readable and recitable words that is the Quran.
Anwar Ibrahim, then in his mid 30s, appeared as one of the speakers of “Faces of Islam” too. Being a former student of Syed Naquib Alattas, Anwar Ibrahim naturally carried the flair of his grandmaster. But, through out the hour long interview by Dr Ziauddin Sardar, the host of the “Faces of Islam,” Anwar Ibrahim spoke time and again on the meaning of ‘Tawhid,’ or, the Unity of God.
In other words, while all of us may be different by the intentional designs of God, He nonetheless has a teleological view of how all of us should co-exist. In the mind of God, the best of the humankind were those who spoke “truths to power.”
Between 1980s and 2018, whether Anwar Ibrahim is in or out of incarceration due to trumped up charges, he has always been consistent in telling the truths.
He warned, for example, that 1MDB would explode into a financial disaster. Sadly, events have proved him right. Anwar Ibrahim, in his Malay book, “Menangani Perubahan,” literally to handle change in a deliberate manner, further attests to the importance of civil society existing side by side with the state.
Again, the proliferation of Bersih, Tindak, C4, and Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), even Sisters in Islam, have proven themselves vital and necessary to the creation of a just society, one governed by the Rule of Law.
In his heydays of UMNO, when Anwar Ibrahim was the Deputy President of the party, he was intent on giving due emphasis on Islam Madani, or, civil Islam. Such an Islamic concept would have served as a mirror to reflect on the flaws and failings of the state.
In this sense, Anwar Ibrahim has always tried to don the role of a rain maker, albeit of the intellectual kind. When ideas and concepts were lacking in the dreary landscape of Malaysia, he was one of the first to introduce the works of Ismail Al Faruqi, Parvez Manzor, Usman Awang, A. Samad Said, indeed, Malik Ben Nabi and Sheikh Qaradawi.
Elsewhere, Anwar Ibrahim also encouraged more Malaysians to read the works of Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” or, Gai Eaton, or, even Professor Toshiko Izutsu and Professor Tu Wei Ming.
Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was a best seller when it was released in 1987 (Hardcover)
The generation of thinkers who had worked with Anwar Ibrahim gained amply from such a long and sophisticated reading list. The likes of Dr Mohammad Al Manuty, at one stage the president of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia or ABIM, had served him in good stead. Manuty, came away, well read and perpetually curious; while others like Kamaruddin Jaffar, another confidante of Anwar Ibrahim, too, did not abandon his scholastic leanings.
In fact, the current campus of the International Islamic University has Anwar Ibrahim to thank. It was during Anwar Ibrahim’s tenure as the Minister of Finance in the mid 1990s that the actual size of the International Islamic University was allowed to grow manifold in the Gombak campus.
In the eyes of many, Anwar Ibrahim may be the perennial political fighter. After all, his creed, “Lawan Tetap Lawan,” or, The Fight Must Go On, has always been his talismanic call in any general election.
But the truth is, Anwar Ibrahim is not so much what the contemporary parlance would call a ‘realist,’ as he is either a ‘magical realist,’ in the mould of Gabriella Marquez, a Noble playwright, or, a ‘constructivist.’
As a ‘magical realist,’ all things can happen. Like “The Count of Monte Cristo,” who was wrongly imprisoned, French author Victor Hugo wrote of a character who escaped his dreadful imprisonment to wreak revenge on those who sent him to the gallows.
Anwar Ibrahim, as Tun Dr Mahathir may attest, does not want his wife or his daughter, to hold a permanent grudge against Tun Dr Mahathir. The goal in life was to forgive, with a vision to move on, and up.
Anwar Ibrahim is not an enigmatic figure by virtue of his exotic reading habits. Rather, the strength of Anwar Ibrahim comes from his ability to challenge his readers to a serious read and new potential. The moment a person begins to keep up with his readings, and writings, that’s when s/he can grow exponentially.
When the political tsunami in Malaysia comes right on time by the 14th general election, Anwar Ibrahim’s true power may rest in his ability to inspire the nation to devour their books once again, even if they may be in the form of surfing through Kindle or Good Reads.
In this sense, the upcoming tsunami of Malaysia, as preferred by Anwar Ibrahim, would be intellectual first, although having lost so much time, due to unfair imprisonment, Anwar Ibrahim may concurrently instigate people to read and do.
The role of a rainmaker is to fill up the lakes and dams. Only when the right policy knowledge is all dammed up, would Malaysia be ready for serious restructuring of the political economy of Malaysia.
The latter has now become a truculent version of its old self, devouring nothing else but the disposal income of the average citizens.
For a tsunami to wipe the slate of Malaysia clean, the place to begin is to read deeply and widely. Once this is done, academic knowledge imbued with democracy and respectful spirit of listening, would form the crucible of an actual policy or intellectual discourse.
When Malaysians of all colors and creeds can remind each other of the flaws faced by the country, than piecemeal solutions can be found.
Just like the ice cap mountains whose melted water can turn into a torrent, Anwar Ibrahim has the effect of triggering a tsunami in rural and urban areas that are thirsting for books, papers, magazines, and alternative media—-none of which are sheer pulp.
A true tsunami begins with throwing away the yoke of oppression and the post colonial mentality of fearing nothing but the state. Malaysia can go far, especially if more Malaysians are ready to be counted.
Also read my views on Anwar Ibrahim ( Published on | Modified on https://www.malaysiakini.com/opinions/76167