Good Ideas but bad policies on Education

February 17, 2015

Good Ideas but bad policies on Education

Ambitious education policies don’t work because they are premature given the current inadequacies of the system.

COMMENT by Wan Salman Wan Sallam

Although he is actively critical of the Najib Administration, Tun Dr4th PM of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad seems to be still in possession of his sense of humour. He quipped recently that he’d want to be Prime Minister again if he had the chance. He said one of the things he would do would be to bring back the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

PPSMI is one of the many things he gave the nation during his tenure as Prime Minister. It was intended as a means of globalising students at an early stage. But things didn’t turn out as nicely as they should. It did not, for instance, succeed in narrowing the gap of educational opportunities between the urban and rural populace.

The problem of availability of extra materials and classes to reinforce learning has always been more severe in the rural areas. To worsen the situation, English language education has always been less effective in the rural areas. It is an open secret that in schools with large majorities of Malay and Bumiputera students, English teachers speak more Malay than English during lessons, perhaps thinking that this would help the students better understand the lessons. This happens even in secondary schools.

The students therefore do not have enough opportunities to communicate in the language, let alone enhance their skills. At the end of the day, they essentially don’t learn much. They experience problems not only with English, but also with understanding the basics of Mathematics and the Sciences. Thus the urban-rural gap is widened even further, and we can conclude that Mahathir’s policy was premature and problematic. It was premature because it was implemented without the conditions being ready for it.

After Mahathir retired, PPSMI was abolished and Science and Maths are now taught in Malay again. A problem may have got solved, but another one arises.

A step forward

In 2014, the Ministry of Education introduced a more thorough implementation of the School-based Assessment System (PBS). Formerly, it was implemented mainly in the form of oral tests for language subjects.

DPM of MalaysiaIt is good that we have finally found a way out of an extremely exam-oriented system and made a step forward. But yet again, the implementation was premature, with the pre-conditions not satisfied beforehand.

The enhanced PBS makes it necessary for teachers to keep updating students’ achievements in the system, adding yet another burden to their teaching duties.

Generally, we can assume that a classroom has about 40 students. Unlike a university lecturer, a school teacher must get to know his students individually and constantly give them personal support. Now that they are burdened with greater workloads, their chances of nurturing the pupils through the personal touch are reduced.

It has been reported that nearly 30% of schools in Malaysia are categorised as “schools with very small numbers of students”. One would think that the PBS system would work better in these schools. But no, 90% of these schools are poorly funded. Some of them even operate in other schools’ buildings and use their facilities. These schools, due to having few students, practice multi-grade teaching. As far as we can see from the environment of these schools, this is not a conducive condition for the implementation of PBS.

If that isn’t bad enough, the PBS management system (SPPBS) adds to our compilation of the worst things about PBS. With the system continually lagging if not hanging, we have another huge burden to add to the tons of workload already piled upon the shoulders of teachers.

Furthermore, the Internet speed also argues against the implementation of the online system. According to an Asean report, Malaysia’s average Internet speed is only around 5.5 Mbps, far from the global average of 17.7 Mbps, let alone Singapore’s 61 Mbps. Even Vietnam beats us.

With the implementation of PBS, both teachers and students are expected to make use of information and communication technology (ICT). But from a study done in a rural secondary school by a team from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, almost 80% of the students don’t have computers at home and more than 50% of them are not competent enough to use them. In fact, 70% of them get to use a computer for only about an hour a day. A good 42.9% don’t know how to use Microsoft Word and 60% aren’t familiar with e-mail.

PBS is, after all is said and done, another premature education policy. So if Mahathir wants to be PM again or if anyone else has the ambition to take over from Najib Abdul Razak, I’d ask him to please make sure that education policies are made to be compatible with current conditions. What is the point of an education policy if it benefits only a certain group of people, and a small one at that?

Wan Salman Wan Sallam is an FMT reader

With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third-party content provider.

GWU Alumni celebrate George Washington’s Birthday

February 7, 2015

GWU Alumni celebrate George Washington’s Birthday

by Din Merican

GWU AluminiFormer graduates of The George Washington University (GWU) gathered today at Le Meridien, Kuala Lumpur for a lunch. This lunch was sponsored by their alma mater to celebrate the birthday of President George Washington, after whom their university  was named.

Thank you to the local host, Farizuddin Aman, Class of 1980, and the University administration from making this gathering possible. It was a success. Dr. Puteri Julie, Class of 1994, has kindly agreed to host another function at her home later this year.

Geroge Washington BustHere’s George!

It was a wonderful opportunity for these graduates to renew their friendship and reconnect with the University which gave them a well-rounded high quality education. They shared fond memories of their time at GWU, and were kept up to date with the rapid and impressive progress of the GWU campus  in Washington DC; they noted with pride that their alma mater had gained a solid  reputation for educational excellence.

The alumni who gathered for this function came from The GW Law School, The George Washington School of Business, The School of Engineering and The Elliot School of International Affairs. Most of them who came were from the Class of 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s with one exception and that is super senior Din Merican, who was from the Class of 1970, The George  Washington School of Business.

Here are some of the photographs taken at the function:

GWU Alum Group Photo

GWU Friends


Happy Birthday, Mr. President and thank again The George Washington University for transforming our lives and for the tender loving care while we were under your charge. You made us global citizens. It was indeed an unforgettable experience for all us to be in Washington DC with a great institution.

Could Tengku Razaleigh be the Leader for UMNO and Malaysia?

January 29, 2015

Could Tengku Razaleigh be the Leader for UMNO and Malaysia?

by Terence

Tengku Razaleigh HamzahThe Leader for UMNO and Malaysia?

 COMMENT With the UMNO President under dire threat from a proven career-stopper, with his Deputy as quiescent as an extinct volcano, a No 3 impaled on a sword he helped forge, a No 4 disqualified by dynastic and graver caveats, and a No. 5 stymied by geography, who will the party or, what is more accurate, its overlords turn to as interim saviour before a new and younger cast of leaders is rung in?

The answer may be Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, provided of course he acquiesces to conditions imposed by the career-stopper. It is not that this scenario is being discussed with any great enthusiasm in political salons, but if the description of the state of the top leadership situation in UMNO is accurate, then conditions are conducive for the drafting of Ku Li, as he is popular known, to the post he has long coveted.

Mahathir-Vs-NajibThe Battle Royale

In August last year Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was served with an eviction notice by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a ‘stop-work order’ that is reckoned to carry greater weight than an order of mandamus our civil courts have issued in recent times in child custody fights. In short, it is an order the evictee cannot mess with.

The Prime Minister has tried to do a Houdini but the financial crisis portended by the looming failure of the sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and, now, the spiriting out of the country of one of two cops convicted of the murder of Altantuya Sharribuu bodes the direst threat to his longevity in office.

Speculation is rife as to who helped murder accused, Sirul Azhar Umar leave the country – before the Federal Court delivered final judgment in the case – for the relative safety of Australia.

Australia is bound by its opposition to the death penalty to preventing Sirul’s return to face the gallows in Malaysia for a murder for which there was no motive and where the Federal Court’s guilty verdict is a resolution that does not solve the mystery of why the victim was killed and in so brutal a manner.

The word is that if Sirul talks, this mystery of the Mongolian woman’s murder that has puzzled the country from the time it occurred in late 2006, will unravel. His mother, Piah Samat, has already intimated that her son feels betrayed at what she said he thought was something he did as duty.

altantuyaShe continues to haunt us

In other words, that mystery of Altantuya’s murder remains to be resolved and the tendrils radiating from Sirul’s direction hold promise of more light that may be shed on the matter.  There’s no telling what names will sink with the unravelling of this mystery.

A dash for the lifeboats?

But matters of this nature tend not to arrive at catastrophic denouements; sanity would compel a dash for the lifeboats by those most threatened by Sirul’s potential disclosures.

General fatigue at the shrill partisanship that has beset the nation over many years, high anxiety at the anaemic condition of the economy, and deep foreboding over worsening racial and religious ties amongst the citizenry would combine to make the commencement of an interim premiership by Ku Li highly probable within six months.

Of course, there would be conditions imposed by the career-stopper but at 78, Ku Li would not be fazed by them, especially if it means that a way must be paved for Mukhiz Mahathir to gravitate to the top. But this trail would not entail a bar for Khairy Jamaluddin on the grounds it would be healthy for UMNO to place a younger set on an upwardly mobile trajectory.

Ku Li will be two years older than Nelson Mandela when the latter began his presidency of South Africa, perhaps the oldest start by a new leader of a country but a start nevertheless by someone who has always believed that it is his manifest destiny to lead the country.

The past five years Ku Li has spent in going around the country, furnishing audiences with reasoned disquisitions on the economy, and on the post-Independence history of the country and society, were aimed precisely at holding himself out an inclusive leader to steer the country out of the doldrums he had warned it was backing into.

His sometime adversaries and allies may now admit that in our current fraught economic and social conditions, he is the prescription that the times warrant.

Note: Razak Baginda’s Interview in the Malaysian Insider: .

[Razak said, …” I have said this hundreds of times, I don’t even know how to say it anymore. Najib never knew the woman. Najib is innocent. If you all think there is a connection, where is the evidence? Let’s not forget that in any situation like this, there are a lot of opportunists out there. We have seen this so many times.”]

Tun Musa remembers Tun Abdul Razak

January 14, 2015

Tun Musa Hitam on his mentor, Tun Abdul Razak

by MD

Published: 14 January 2015 2:00 PM

To commemorate the 39th death anniversary of Malaysia’s second prime minister and “Father of Development” Tun Abdul Razak, The Malaysian Insider is running a series of interviews with his colleagues and close associates who, with Razak, steered Malaysia through the early days of rebuilding following the race riots of May 13, 1969.

Earlier today, we heard from four of Razak’s sons on his legacy and their personal memories of their father.


In this article, former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam speaks about Razak’s leadership style and of his experience working with the man who brought him back to UMNO after his expulsion. Musa had been expelled from UMNO after the race riots over a fall-out with the then Prime Minister and UMNO President, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Readmitted to the party by Razak, Musa went on to rise in UMNO and also held the post of Minister of Primary Industries in  Tun Razak’s Cabinet.

Despite the political tension surrounding Tunku’s departure and Razak’s ascension as Prime Minister, Musa remembers his mentor for his gentleness, patience and consultative approach, coupled with his firmness to see a decision through once it was made. These were values, Musa says, that Razak knew were needed to manage a multireligious and multiracial country like Malaysia.

TMI: What kind of person was Tun Razak to you? As a leader, a friend or a colleague?

Musa: Tun Razak was a national leader in the true sense of the word. He had vision and perception. He understood the priorities of our country on attaining independence. The long-term interest of the nation, to him, was a united Malaysian nation based on the principle of unity within diversity.

Undoubtedly he recognised the immense challenges, appreciating that years of colonial rule had left the country racially compartmentalised. Razak thus started off with giving top priority to education and rural development where these, as it happened, coincided with disparities among racial groups.

In shaping the country’s priorities and targets, Razak was consultative but once conclusions and decisions were made, he ensured that these were implemented with firmness, justice and fairness.

As a leader, he was never rude (I never witnessed him raising his voice in any discussions or conversations), respected as well as respectful. His priority was national interest and never personal interest.

On a personal note, Razak was always the inspiring teacher and guide to my political journey right up to the end of his life. He was always willing, in fact always encouraging, to hear my opinions and views that I would care to bring up to him in many of my one-to-one meetings with him.

He was respectful and accessible to the young. And collectively, as the young in UMNO then, we found him always ready to listen (and) at the same time advise us. With such high respect I had of him as a national leader, I could never categorise him either as friend or colleague but as the Leader.

TMI: Please share some of the memorable things you can recall of his leadership and of personal experiences you had while working with him.

Musa: Being consultative as he was, his leadership style was focused, confident and relaxed. This, in turn, gave so much confidence (to) the different communities in the country, which in turn attracted widespread support.

One personal memorable occasion that I gained from him was a (piece of) very personal advice he gave me: “You just work hard with honesty and dedication… that way the party (i.e UMNO) and the people will discover you”.

TMI: Following the May 13, 1969 racial riots, can you recall his role from the time he replaced Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister? Did you agree with the pressure against Tunku then?

Musa: After the May 13 turmoil, as chairman of the National Operations Council (NOC), the powers bestowed upon Tun Razak were near absolute. Yet, he appointed personalities who were ideas-oriented and passionate in trying to look at the best way of putting the country back on track. He dedicated himself to finding the best route to national reconciliation.

Prior to my departure from government (because of my difficulties with the Tunku, who was PM then), both Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail (then Minister of Home Affairs) separately gave me appointments for a hearing, listening intently to my criticisms and views. Even at a number of meetings which I attended, I had always felt welcome to air my views on all issues, ranging from hawkers to squatters to security as well as future direction of the country. These privileges were not exclusive to me, of course. Thus was Razak’s leadership, well-informed, clear and firm.

To cap it all was the formation, the structure and the methodology of the National Consultative Council. The NCC was all-inclusive of both civil society and political interests. The NCC greatly contributed to the shaping of the New Economic Policy.

On the Tunku, Tun Razak was well aware of the “out-datedness of the Tunku” as Prime Minister, but pleaded for time and patience. I was one of the strongest of the Tunku’s critics but within the confines of the top leadership.

To me, it was the experience and gentle skills of Tun Razak that managed to get the Tunku in the end to make way, thus paving the way to the progress of modern Malaysia.

TMI: Tun Razak set up Barisan Nasional (BN) to replace the Alliance. Do you think this formula of one-race parties sharing power in an alliance is still relevant today, or should Malaysia move towards more inclusive, multiracial political parties?

Tun RazakEducationist and Diplomat

Musa: The formation of the Barisan Nasional was the culmination of Tun Razak’s personal approach towards national reconciliation through the concept of consultation, accommodation and inclusiveness. It was also his acceptance of the realities of race as a major factor in Malaysian politics; yet (it was the) start of the long journey towards a multiracial Malaysia.

Unfortunately, within UMNO itself there is still a very strong lack of political willingness to accept a multiracial Malaysia in the original version as envisaged by our founding fathers led by the Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun VT Sambanthan, joined later by leaders in Sabah and Sarawak then.

The irony of it all was that it was some UMNO dissidents who broke away and formed the opposition grouping that seem to venture into political multiracialism and pluralism.

“Pluralism” and “liberalism”, which actually translate into multiracialism, however, are “dirty words” currently and under intense attack by some UMNO personalities as well as related groups.

Thus, it remains to be seen how these original national objectives of our founding fathers would survive. Beside the need for a strong assertive political leadership, education, overall, is the only factor that could counter such trends and threats.

TMI: Has the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by Tun Razak been successful in closing the gap between the rich and the poor?

Musa: The NEP has achieved considerable success. The Malays, particularly, are way above their original position of backwardness and neglect. One needs to look back to appreciate how it was then and how it is now to appreciate how successful Tun Razak was in his vision of putting Malays up to the level of playing equal parts in modern Malaysia’s national development.

One could choose selectively any lack of progress in any particular field, of course, and find fault. It was considerably the result of the NEP that racial groups in Malaysia now can no longer be compartmentalised into professions and stereotypes. There are so many social, cultural and mentalities that could easily be accepted as “Malaysian” as indeed Malaysians are proud of.

The NEP was meant to be the means to an end. The NEP itself was the means to the end objective of nationhood. Detractors are aplenty with questions of “at what cost…?” to each community. Such whining is to be expected because there is surely no perfection in any human endeavour.

As far as the NEP and its effects on the country as well as issues relating to national unity are concerned, there is an urgent need to try to get them out of the way of partisan politics and open them up to rational discussions. That is why I am encouraged by the emergence of the Group of 25, the Group of 33, etc, and the tendency towards rational debate and discussions.

More encouraging and meaningful would be if these groups could engage themselves in closed-door, non-publicised meetings in the true spirit of looking for a genuine national understanding and consensus.

Perhaps it would be helpful if one were to learn from the experiences of the National Consultative Council (NCC) formed after the May 13 turmoil. The NCC was a platform for all to have their say, yet addressors were prevented from playing to the gallery for political support. The idea here is not to duplicate but rather to use the NCC as a model to achieve positive, consensual results. Perhaps a small beginning could be such as between the G25 and the G33? Without constructive efforts, digging heels in the current atmosphere of racial and religious stresses and tensions would bring disaster!

Considering that the NEP was launched in 1970 and that it has gone through 45 years of up-and-down experiences, it should never be dismissed as a failure. On the contrary, as I said earlier, it has achieved considerable success. It is the pull from different directions by a much more successful, enlightened and demanding civil society that has contributed to more intense demands and criticism that we all are witnessing now. It is to the credit of the BN government that a much more democratic environment exists in Malaysia.

The challenge for the governing parties now is how not to panic and resort to easy short cuts in the way of curtailing the freedoms (now that were) initiated by former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

TMI: How would you describe Tun Razak’s legacy to Malaysians today?

Musa: The best tribute to Tun Razak and the best way of recognising his legacy is for the government to stay the course with calmness, with patience and a high level of tolerance in managing our beloved country. Indeed, as the most outstanding leader among our founding fathers, it was Tun Razak who wished our country to be a multireligious, multiracial one that would be to the well-being of all Malaysians.


Remembering Tun Abdul Razak

January 14, 2015

Remembering Tun Abdul Razak, Father of Malaysian Development

Nazir RazakThe youngest son of Malaysia’s Second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, who died on this day 39 years ago, has called for the setting up of a national consultative council to bring Malaysians together, just as his father did after the 1969 race riots.

Banker Datuk Seri Nazir Razak said this when asked by The Malaysian Insider (TMI) what message his father would convey if he could speak to Malaysians today.

“I think he would say that it is time to set up another national consultative council, like he did in 1970, to discuss critical issues around preserving harmony and fostering unity amongst Malaysians,” says Nazir. “I think he would be shocked that it is 2015 and race and religion divide Malaysians even more today than during his time.”

Nazir was replying to questions posed to him and his other brothers, Johari, Nizam and Nazim about their father as part of a series of articles TMI will be publishing over the next few days to mark the passing of Razak, who died of leukaemia in London in 1976, to the shock of the nation, at the young age of 54.

Razak and his wife Tun Rahah had five sons and the eldest is, of course, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Taking over as Prime Minister in 1971, Razak formed the Barisan Nasional to include erstwhile opposition parties like PAS, the Gerakan and SUPP as part of his national reconciliation efforts.

tun-razak-and-zhou-enlaiTun Abdul Razak and Zhou En-lai

Abroad, his biggest achievement was establishing diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1974 – the first member of ASEAN to do so. Beijing had till then supported communist insurgencies in many southeast Asian countries.

Historians say that it was unfortunate that Razak died too soon as he was only into the fifth year of implementing key policies introduced post 1969, like the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the National Education Policy that led to the conversion of the medium of instruction in national schools from English to Bahasa Malaysia.

Despite the fact that radical policies were introduced to stabilise the country post 1969 and were opposed by some as being pro-Malays, those who knew him well and even his political opponents say that Razak was a strong advocate of moderation and multi-racialism.

“As the most outstanding leader among our founding fathers, it was Tun Razak who wished our country to be the multi-religious, multi-racial one that would be to the well-being of all Malaysians,” says Tun Musa Hitam, who back in the early 1970s was deemed as a young turk of UMNO and a prodigy of Razak.

DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang says that together with Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn, Razak made sure that Malaysia stayed as a strong secular and multiracial society in the first 25 years after independence.

“During their premierships from 1957 to 1981, the basis of Malaysia as a multi-racial, democratic, secular state where Islam is the federal religion was not in question,” he told TMI.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, then a young civil servant, says Razak was an inspiration to civil servants as he led by example. “As a Prime Minister, he touched all our lives by his wonderful example. And at that time, we took it for granted because such was the ethics of civil service then,” he says.

Another trait of Razak that was legendary was his frugality and his careful use of public money and this was something he had always impressed on his children.

“He made sure of the distinction between private funds and public funds,” says Nizam. “Spending on family was always private (money).”

Razak Boys and Tun RahahThe Razak Boys and Tun Rahah

Below is the full Q&A with Johari, Nizam, Nazim and Nazir. Over the next few days TMI will be carrying the interviews with Musa, Lim, Ramon, Kassim Ahmad, Tan Sri Abdullah (Kok Lanas) Ahmad and Tan Sri Michael Chen on their thoughts on Razak and his legacy.

TMI: January 14, 2015, would be the 39th anniversary of the passing of your father Tun Abdul Razak. How would the family be marking the occasion?

Nizam: As with every year for the last 38 years ​we are holding tahlil prayers to mark the occasion. This is one day of the year that the family locks in the calendar. We invite family friends, relatives and the friends who were his contemporaries.

Nazir: This year it will be held at the Ar Rahah Mosque in Bangsar South.

TMI: 39 years is a long time ago but what do you remember of that day in January 14, 1976, and the days leading to his passing? We understand the children were not aware of how ill he was. Where were you then and when were you told that the illness was terminal?

Johari: I was with my father in London during his last days there. I was studying law at Lincolns Inn and it was during the Christmas holidays that he came to London. I was told that it was only for a check-up and I was not aware that it was for anything more serious. I remember that after he arrived, we went straight from the airport to the hospital and remember thinking that it was strange that we went straight to the London clinic. If it was only a check-up, there seem to be no reason why we had to rush there without checking into the hotel.

I was only told by the doctor a week before he died that he had been suffering from leukaemia and that he was diagnosed around September 1969. In fact, the doctors had at that time told him that he had at the most two more years left. You can imagine the shock I felt when I was told by the doctor. It was almost unbelievable since as far as I knew, he was never sick and to suddenly be told not only that he had leukaemia but also that he did not have much longer to live.

In my naivety I asked the doctor how many more years did he have left? The doctor replied without mincing any words that it was not a matter of years or months or even weeks. It was only a matter of days.

He never told the family. The doctor told us not to discuss with him as he might be upset that we had been told. This might also indicate to him that he might not have longer to live and might adversely affect him. Till today, I am not sure why he did not want the family to know but my guess is he did not want us to worry. He also did not want any political instability which would probably arise if other people knew of his leukaemia and that he might not live much longer.

He kept working right up to the end and did not stop to take time off as many people would have if they were suffering from a terminal disease.

Nizam: ​I was 17 at the time, studying in England. We were excited when we received the news of our father coming to London during our Christmas holidays for a rest. I did not have any plans for Christmas except to stay in London so his visit was a welcome treat.

​I was taken aback when I saw him alight from the plane. He looked terribly gaunt and not at all well but as we had been told he had been unwell and was coming to rest, I thought this was a normal ‘sick and then recover’ situation.

My father was hospitalised for some days. After he was discharged, I thought everything was going to be normal. My mother’s sudden appearance was not a surprise and did not set off any alarm bells. We had some memorable days in London with many walks in the parks and nostalgic visits to his favourite restaurants and shops.

In less than a week after his discharge he had a relapse and was readmitted to the hospital. It was then that I was taken aside by the doctor who informed me that my father was seriously ill. Like any child I didn’t want to consider any eventuality other than a recovery. However his condition steadily worsened and within a few days after being told he was seriously ill, he passed away. I was by his side when he passed away as it was my ‘shift’ early that morning.

One unforgettable incident when he was out of hospital was his insistence on buying me a present which was unusual because buying things for the children was normally my mother’s domain. My father actually followed me to buy a present. I eventually settled for a squash racquet. Little did I know that this was his “farewell” present. He had bought something for everyone. Needless to say this racquet is treasured and has never been used.

Nazim: I was unaware of the seriousness of the illness, neither was I told that it was terminal. However when I was to postpone my return back to school when term started I realised that it was more serious than I had thought.

Nazir: I was 9 years old. I remember being left at home alone for a long time while he was being treated in London but I had no inkling of how ill he was. A few days before he died, Najib came back to KL so even more reason not to think of the worst.

Then one day I was told to pack my bags as he (Tun Razak) wanted to see me, and that Najib and I would be flying that night itself. Initially I was thrilled as I had never been overseas, and I was going all the way to London. I became a little worried when it dawn on me that something must be very wrong; we were breaking family protocol that said we only get to travel overseas after turning 10. But, I still did not think he was dying.

Then some hours later, before we left for the airport, the phone rang for Najib. I was next to him and listened as he reacted to the news that Dad had died. I was in complete shock.

TMI: What was Tun Razak like as a father, politician and prime minister?

Johari: He was a loving but stern father who emphasised the importance of studying and getting a good job. He told us to always be humble and to help other less fortunate people. He sent us to boarding school so that we could learn to stand on our own two feet. He always felt that we might be spoilt staying at home with so many servants and other people being nice to us because we were the children of the prime minister. He was always very busy but had time to talk to me whenever I asked him any question.

Nizam: Despite being very busy as a prime minister, my father​ always kept a watchful eye over me especially on my academic performance. He never missed a report card. Quality time with him was limited though but we tried to make the most of what we had which was normally the lunches and dinners when he ate at home and post-dinner family time. Holidays did not always present good opportunities to spend time with him because there were always an entourage of people who followed him on trips and as a young child/teenager I was always in the “background”.

Nazim: As a father he was caring and was always very concerned about our well-being and most of all our studies. He charted my education and that became a target for me to complete them in the years to come.

TMI: What were the values that he as a father tried to inculcate into you as his son?

Johari: To work hard, to be humble and to respect and help other people.

Nizam: My way of learning his values was to observe the things he stood for. Humility, simplicity, honesty, hard work and frugality were some of the more important values I learned from his conduct in life and in politics. I can never forget how careful he always was with government spending on himself and family.

He made sure of the distinction between private funds and public funds. Spending on family was always private. Additionally, my father never forgot that he was there to serve the people. His ultimate purpose was to uplift and improve the quality of life of the people.​ He never forgot where he came from and the hardship he had gone through.

He sent me at a young age to study in England because he knew that was the way I could grow up without being sheltered and having an easy life.

Nazim: He always stressed the importance and value of education, strong discipline, honesty and hard work. He always undertook his tasks very seriously, be it studies, sports or the positions he served in.

TMI: As his son, how are you trying to live up to those values now that you are a father with children of your own, and with responsibilities of your own whether in private or public service?

Johari: Of course, as a son, I do try to live up to his values and to inculcate the same values in my children.

Nazim: I try to measure up to his dedication, determination and above all his loyalty and hard work. He was passionate about his work and passionate about his goals in life.

TMI: As the Prime Minister, your dad was obviously a very busy man but on the occasions when there was family time, did he ever talk about his job and what he was trying to do and achieve for the country?

Johari: We were a relatively young family. He did not discuss his job directly with us as he wanted us to concentrate on our studies and not be distracted by political issues. We did listen to many discussions that took place in the house when other people were present. We also talked to his advisers and others working with him and by talking to them we learned about his job and what he was trying to achieve for the country.

Nizam: Given that I was very young at that time (17) it would have been inappropriate to discuss serious national issues with me. In any case I was away studying in London from the age of 13 so there was not much occasion to do so even when I was older and able to understand national issues better. I do remember two occasions when he talked to me on national issues. The first was during the May 1969 incident. He was very upset at what had happened. I was 11 at that time and I remember he told me that fighting had broken out in the streets. He just couldn’t fathom how the situation could have deteriorated to that extent.

The second again an upsetting incident, concerned an aid that was offered to the country. It was obvious that he did not agree with the terms of the aid. He was furious, saying that he didn’t care if we didn’t get colour TV in Malaysia as long as Malaysians remained in control of its own destiny.

TMI: Your father took over as Prime Minister in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots and one of the first things he did was to stitch together a new coalition in Barisan Nasional by bringing in parties that were in opposition to the Alliance e.g. Parti Gerakan, the People’s Progressive Party, PAS, SUPP, just to name a few. The coalition that he founded is today under a lot of stress and facing a lot of challenges. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Nazim: The coalition was the best solution in the aftermath of the riots. It is now 39 years and society has changed (and)… the world has changed.

Nazir: It was a very different time and set of challenges. He was a democrat. When he had dictatorial powers in the aftermath of May 13th he chose to return power to Parliament as soon as possible even though many people around him tried to convince him to maintain NOC rule. He formed a bigger coalition of parties with BN as a legitimate way of lessening political tensions while preserving parliamentary democracy.

I think he would have realised that the BN formula would change and evolve over time. I believe that he had hoped that in 20 years (by 1990) the NEP experiment would have succeeded in eradicating poverty and closing the wealth disparity between races, and create the foundations for more conventional democratic politics.

TMI: How do you think your father would be remembered by Malaysians 39 years after his death? What do you think will be his enduring legacy?

Johari: As an honest man who worked tirelessly and selflessly for the country. He abhorred corruption and self-aggrandisement. His thoughts were always for the people. Their welfare was his priority. His focus was on the development of the country. Politics took a backseat for him.

Nizam: Of his many achievements, I believe rural development is his most enduring. Hence of all the titles accorded to former leaders, his was “Bapa Pembangunan”. Although prime ministers since then have not placed as much emphasis on rural development as he had done, the strategies and institutions he put in place​ have continued and endured long after his death. The restoration of democracy and uniting the country after 1969 and the formation of Barisan Nasional were his two other major achievements.

Nazir: Tun Razak should be remembered for dedicating his life to the nation. When he knew he was dying, he pushed himself harder at work. He was not interested in personal material gain and was in fact even more frugal when it came to government finances. So, even those who disagree with his politics or policies tend to respect the person.

He has been aptly dubbed the Father of Development. He was Deputy PM from independence until he became PM, but under Tunku’s leadership style the DPM was like a chief operating officer in today’s corporate parlance. Therefore, he was the key figure behind so much of what happened in the first 19 years of Malaysia’s life – from rural development to education, to negotiating peace with Indonesia, to forming Asean.

I think it is also important to recognise that he left a great legacy of leaders for the future. He spotted and groomed the likes of Mahathir, Musa, Razaleigh, Badawi, Rafidah and Keng Yaik in politics and Zain Azraai, Navaratnam, Thong Yaw Hong, Sarji and Azizan in the civil service. Truly great leaders ensure their organisations succeed after they are gone, and even though he died suddenly, he had groomed a cadre of very capable leaders.

TMI: If your father could speak to the people of Malaysia today, what message do you think he will convey to us – the people, the politicians and those who are in positions of power?

Nazir: I think he would say that it is time to set up another national consultative council, like he did in 1970, to discuss critical issues around preserving harmony and fostering unity amongst Malaysians. I think he would be shocked that it is 2015 and race and religion divide Malaysians even more today than during his time.

Can Islam change?

January 13, 2015

Can Islam change?

by Ziauddin Sardar

Note: This article was written in 2004, but the point this erudite writerDin and Farouk Musa is making is that Islam can be a positive force for the good of humanity. Islam Hadhari initiated by former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi was a good start for Malaysia, but  after he left public office in 2009, Islam Hadhari receded into oblivion.

Why? Politics and because every Malaysian Prime Minister needs a new slogan. Najib has  his 1Malaysia and Coalition of the Moderates (CofM) , and I am quite sure whoever succeeds Najib when he decides to retire is no exception. 1Malaysia will mutate into something else and those who are employed in CofM will be out of their jobs! Let us remind ourselves Islamic renaissance is a long term process, requiring political will, not political sloganeering. –Din Merican

SardarThe Muslim world is changing. Three years after the atrocity of 9/11, it may be in the early stages of a reformation, albeit with a small “r”. From Morocco to Indonesia, people are trying to develop a more contemporary and humane interpretation of Islam, and some countries are undergoing major transformations.

Much of the attention is focused on reformulating the sharia, the centuries-old body of Islamic law deeply embedded in a medieval psychology. The sharia is state law in many Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and the Sudan. For many conservative and radical Muslims, the sharia is Islam: it cannot be changed, and must be imposed in exactly the shape it was first formulated in the ninth century.

Since 9/11, there has been a seismic shift in this perception. More and more Muslims now perceive Islamic law to be dangerously obsolete. And these include the ulema, the religious scholars and clerics, who have a tremendous hold on the minds of the Muslim masses.

In India, for example, where the secular state allows Muslims to regulate their communal affairs according to their own law, the “triple talaq” is being changed. Triple talaq gives a man the absolute right to divorce his wife by uttering “I divorce thee” three times. He can do it by letter, telegram, telephone, fax, even by text message. Quite apart from denying women’s rights, the law has inherent absurdities. For example, as one critic has explained, “The moment a Muslim male utters ‘talaq, talaq, talaq‘, his wife becomes unlawful to him, even if he has uttered those words under coercion, in a fit of rage or a drunken state, and regrets his utterance the very next moment.” The only way out is for the woman to marry someone else, consummate the marriage, get the second husband to divorce her and then remarry the first husband.

But in July, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board declared that triple talaq was wrong, promised to prepare a model marriage contract (which would require both husband and wife not to seek divorce without due legal process) and asked Muslim men to ensure that women get a share in agricultural property.

These may look like minor changes, but there are enormous implications to the board’s implicit admission that Islamic law is not immutable. Certainly, it has set defenders of the pure faith at the throats of members of Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD), who are campaigning for root-and-branch reform. “Remain in your senses,” the conservative Urdu Times warned Javed Akhtar, the poet and Bollywood screenwriter who is MSD President. “The day is not far when you too will be counted among the infamous blasphemers such as Salman Rushdie.”

Yet in India, at least, the purists – both the conservatives and the more aggressive radicals – are on the retreat. Uzma Naheed, an activist for women’s rights and Personal Law Board member, says that even the religious scholars are changing. “It is not just that a person like me is invited to address large gatherings of the ulema in different parts of the country, where I am given a very patient and sincere hearing. It is what the ulema themselves have started saying in public meetings that is more significant.”

In Pakistan, however, the mullahs are still predominantly hardline and are locked in a virtual civil war with reformers. The contentious issue here is the Hudood Ordinance, which states the maximum punishments for adultery (stoning), false accusation of adultery (80 lashes of the whip), theft (cutting off the right hand), drinking alcohol (80 lashes) and apostasy (death). The ordinance was imposed on Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, under pressure from Islamic parties. It makes no distinction between rape and adultery; thus women who are raped often end up being whipped while the rapists are exonerated. Girls who have reached the age of puberty are treated as adults.

Worse, women are not allowed to give evidence on their own behalf. Among the high-profile injustices was the case in 1983 of 15-year-old Jehan Mina, raped by an uncle and his son. She was sentenced to ten years in prison and 100 lashes, reduced to three years and 15 lashes in view of her age. In 1985, a blind maidservant, Safia Bibi, was sentenced to a similar punishment. In both cases, the girl’s pregnancy was used as proof that the sex act had been committed but the men were acquitted on the benefit of the doubt. Several women have been sentenced to death by stoning, the most recent being Zafran Bibi in Kohat in 2002, although that sentence was quickly overturned on appeal.

In the past three years, protests against the Hudood Ordinance, which was never popular, have reached a crescendo. The Joint Action Committee, a network of NGOs which has held a string of demonstrations across Pakistan, says that these “laws have not only given a bad name to our religion, but defamed Pakistan in the world”. Though he has often promised to repeal the laws, the country’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, always caves in under pressure from puritan Islamist parties. “No one can deny,” he told a recent meeting in Karachi, “that we have to adhere to the Koran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad. The question is of correct interpretation.” He wants the Council of Islamic Ideology to decide on the issue. And the mullahs who dominate it have never previously voted for justice and women’s rights.

However, they cannot be left out of the equation. For the vast majority of Muslims, changes to Islamic law have to be made within the boundaries of the Koran’s teachings if they are to be legitimate. Without the co-operation of the religious scholars, who bestow this legitimacy, the masses will not embrace change.

This is where Morocco has provided an essential lead. Its new Islamic family law, introduced in February, sweeps away centuries of bigotry and bias against women. It was produced with the full co-operation of religious scholars as well as the active participation of women.

Morocco retained much of the colonial legal system that France left behind, but, in family law, followed what is known locally as the Moudawana – the traditional Islamic rules on marriage, divorce, inheritance, polygamy and child custody. At first, King Mohammed VI had to abandon plans for change because, protesters claimed, he was trying to impose secular law and western culture on Morocco. In spring 2001, however, he set up a commission, which included women and was given the specific task of coming up with fresh legislation based on the principles of Islam.

Given enormous impetus by 9/11 and its aftermath, it produced a report that many see as a revolutionary document. The resulting family code establishes that women are equal partners in marriage and family life. It throws out the notion that the husband is head of the family and that women are mere underlings in need of guidance and protection. It raises the minimum age for women’s marriage from 15 to 18, the same as for men.

The new Moudawana allows a woman to contract a marriage without the legal approval of a guardian. Verbal divorce has been outlawed: men now require prior authorisation from a court, and women have exactly the same rights. Women can claim alimony and can be granted custody of their children even if they remarry. Husbands and wives must share property acquired during the marriage. The old custom of favouring male heirs in the sharing of inherited land has also been dropped, making it possible for grandchildren on the daughter’s side to inherit from their grandfather, just like grandchildren on the son’s side.

As for polygamy, it has been all but abolished. Men can take second wives only with the full consent of the first wife and only if they can prove, in a court of law, that they can treat them both with absolute justice – an impossible condition.

Every change in the law is justified – chapter and verse – from the Koran, and from the examples and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. And every change acquired the consent of the religious scholars. Even the Islamist political organisations have welcomed the change. The Party of Justice and Development described the law as “a pioneering reform” which is “in line with the prescriptions of Islam and with the aims of our religion”.

Elsewhere, the focus is not so much on Islamic law as on Islam as a whole. In a general election last March (2004), the Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, argued that Islam was almost totally associated with violence and extremism and needed to be formulated anew. He called his new concept “Islam Hadhari”, or progressive Islam. It was pitted against the “conservative Islam” of the main opposition party, the Islamic PAS. For the first time, the governing coalition won more than 90 per cent of federal parliamentary seats. PAS, and its version of Islam (full implementation of the sharia, without modification; a leading role in the state for religious scholars; and so on), were routed.

Badawi, who is a trained religious scholar, took the term “hadhari” from Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century Muslim historian and founder of sociology. The term signifies urban civilisation; and Islam Hadhari emphasises economic development, civic life and cultural progress. When Muslims talk about Islam, says Abdullah Mohd Zain, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department, “there is always the tendency to link it to the past, to the Prophet’s time”. Islam Hadhari gives equal emphasis to the present and the future. “It emphasises wisdom, practicality and harmony,” says Zain. “It encourages moderation or a balanced approach to life. Yet it does not stray from the fundamentals of the Koran and the example and sayings of the Prophet.”

Islam HadhariIslam Hadhari – fully explained in a 60-page document published by Badawi last month – emphasises the central role of knowledge in Islam; preaches hard work, honesty, good administration and efficiency; and appeals to Muslims to be “inclusive”, tolerant and outward-looking. It advocates that Muslims should attend secular and not religious schools. Committees have been set up to spread the message throughout Malaysia, and mullahs have been instructed to preach it during Friday sermons.

Nik Abdul Aziz, the spiritual leader of PAS, dismisses Islam Hadhari as “nonsense”. But Muslim writers and thinkers, at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur in August, responded warmly. “It is certainly time,” said one participant, “to change gear and concentrate on the humanistic and progressive aspects of Islam.”

As critics at the conference pointed out, however, Islam Hadhari stops short of changes to Islamic law. And Badawi himself is hardly a good advertisement for the concept. Government-controlled television and newspapers in Malaysia are full of crude propaganda. The repressive Internal Security Act, a legacy of British colonialism, is still in force. But Badawi’s image will improve following the release this month of the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was framed on homosexuality charges for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

While Malaysia has a top-down model, Indonesia has opted for the bottom-up route. The reformist agenda is being promoted by Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the two largest and most influential Muslim organisations. Established at the dawn of the 20th century, they command between 60 and 80 million followers in mosques, schools and universities throughout Indonesia.

NU, essentially an organisation of religious scholars, is usually described as traditionalist, while Muhammadiyah, dominated by intellectuals, is seen as modernist. Since 9/11, however, the two organisations have acted, in some respects, as one. Both are committed to promoting civic society and reformulating sharia. They are campaigning jointly against corruption in public life and in favour of accountable, open democracy.

The newly formed Liberal Islam Network – intended to resist radical groups such as Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which was implicated in the October 2002 Bali bombings – follows a similar programme. Its membership consists largely of young Muslims.

All three organisations promote a model of Islamic reform that they call “deformalisation”. “The overemphasis on formality and symbolism has drained Islam of its ethical and humane dimension,” says Abdul Mukti, chairman of Muhammadiyah’s influential youth wing. “The first mission of deformalisation is to recover this missing dimension.” Its second mission, he says, is “to separate the sharia from political realms”. Islamic law, Mukti explains, cannot be imposed from the top – as it has been in Pakistan – but has to evolve from below. Indeed, the overwhelming view of scholars and thinkers I met recently in Indonesia – including teachers at a state religious university – was that the formal links between Islam and politics must be severed.

Both Malaysia’s Islam Hadhari and Indonesia’s deformalisation emphasise tolerance and pluralism, civic society and open democracy. Both are likely to spread. Malaysia is trying to export Islam Hadhari to Muslim communities in Thailand and the Philippines. Meanwhile, Morocco is trying to persuade Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to adopt its model of family law.

Muslims worldwide are acknowledging the need for fundamental change in their perception of Islam. They are making conscious efforts to move away from medieval notions of Islamic law and to implement the vision of justice, equality and beauty that is rooted in the Koran. If such changes continue, the future will not repeat the recent past.

Ziauddin Sardar’s Desperately Seeking Paradise: journeys of a sceptical Muslim is published by Granta Books