Balik Kampong (Going Back to The Village)


June 18, 2018

Balik Kampong (Going Back to The Village)  –The Recollections of a respected author cum journalist

by Johan Jaafar @www.thestar.com.my

A friend arrived from London two days ago, enduring more than 13 hours of non-stop flight, painfully adjusting his body clock to the seven-hour time difference. He was on a car a few hours later heading for Kota Baru. It took him and his family almost 15 hours to reach “home”, more than the time spent on the plane.

Replicate the story all over the country. It is not surprising a two-and-a-half hour trip to Ipoh becomes a nightmarish eight-hour crawl. The trip to the Tangkak interchange from KL normally is a two-hour journey , but it will take at least five hours on a bad day.

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Wow–The Modern Kebaya sans Tudung

Yet Malaysians still go back home, “balik kampung” – the exodus happens in  all festive seasons. We complain a lot about the horrendous jams but perhaps we have perfected the art of enduring it.

I have no reason to go back to my kampung in Muar. My children are all here in KL and one is working in Australia. It is a trip we can do without. My parents’ home is still standing but my sister-in-law is staying there with her family. Once a year the house is filled to the brim. There is no space left to sleep. Every space is occupied when my siblings and their sons and grandchildren descend upon the house on the eve of Hari Raya.

There is one surviving uncle in the village whom we will visit the second day. Then we will decide what to do next. Some will go back to KL. Others make their own plans. The two nights together matter to us. It is about keluarga berkumpul (family gathering together) more than anything else. It is bonding among the cousins and nieces and rebuilding ties among the siblings.

My children find it perplexing that after 44 years of leaving the village that is not registered in most maps, I am still obsessed about going home. When they were small I has a better excuse. At least an opportunity for them to see real rubber trees or palm-oil trees. Or get the feel of a real village where I used to live. But they are all grown-ups. Only this time, when my interest to go back home is waning, they are the ones insisting to balik kampung.

It has been a long, arduous and challenging journey for people of my generation from the villages to where we are now. Not many in the villages in 60s and the 70s had the opportunity to pursue higher education. Those who did were uprooted from the village and facing new realities in a handful of institutions of higher learning available at the time. Many of us left the villages for good. We domiciled mostly in Lembah Klang or in Penang. So naturally balik kampung became a ritual for many of us.

Things have changed a lot over the years. The surau in my village reflects that change. It used to more alive during the puasa months. After the terawikh, boys would be playing obak or main galah, traditional Javanese games of getting through a guarded barrier without having to be slapped on the back or worse. Religion and cultural festivities mixed well back then. Every 27th of the month there will be the Khatam Quran (completion of reading the Quran). It is a big social event involving every member of the khariah (congregation).

The village is losing many of the young who have gone out seeking better jobs. There are even a few abandoned homes now. The elders have all gone. I can only reflect on the interesting people I encountered growing up in the enclave. They were hard working individuals trying to make a living. Life was tough, but they played equally hard. Religious rituals were observed diligently. But cultural rituals were respected too. They hailed mostly from the area of Ponorogo, in the Javanese heartland in Java, thus they bring along their cultural expressions and performances. My village was known to have kuda kepang, ketoprak, wayang wong, cempuling and at the same time the berzanji, marhaban and even ghazal flourished. In fact my love for culture and the arts were nourished experiencing and watching the rich cultural heritage of the people in my village.

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There used to be three car owners in my kampung back in the 60s. There are now probably about 30. During Hari Raya there will be at least 300 cars meandering through the narrow village roads.  It is ironic to see cars bumper to bumper trying to pass through the bridge near my house. I thought I will not encounter a traffic jam here in Sungai Balang Besar.

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What does balik kampung means to the Malays? Or Malaysians as the whole? Almost everything it seems. Perhaps the younger generation is grappling with the notion of wading through hours of jams to be where their parents were born and raised as ridiculous. But more importantly it is the tradition that matters. The city-born children will never understand the lure of balik kampung fully.

Balik kampung is still the Malaysian thing, at least for many more years to come.

To all my Muslim readers, Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir batin.

Johan Jaaffar’s love for the arts has not faltered despite his years in the media and the corporate world. He has just published a book, Jejak Seni: Dari Pentas Bangsawan ke Media Prima Berhad which chronicles his 50-year journey as a stage actor, playwright and director.

Good Wishes for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, 2018


June 15, 2018

Good Wishes for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, 2018

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Phnom Penh at night–hauntingly mysterious, warm and delightful to all

To All Muslim Readers and others of Goodwill in Malaysia and around the world,

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I wish you all Selamat Hari Rayo Aidil Fitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin. I thank  you for making my blog a popular one. Your comments and ideas have been helpful and educational. I owe you a depth of gratitude. Best Wishes–Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Taking a Break from April 13-18, 2018


April 12, 2018

Taking a break from blogging

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Image result for The Cambodian countryside

 

I am taking a break from April 13-18. I shall be away from Phnom Penh to see the beautiful countryside and meet the folks who are the backbone of the Cambodian economy.

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I wish my Cambodian readers, friends and associates  a Happy and Peaceful Chhol Chhenam Khmer which falls on April 14, 2018.  –Din Merican

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018


December 23, 2017

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018

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Dr. Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and Din Merican in Phnom Penh wish all our friends and associates around the world a Merry Christmas 2017 and prosperous New Year, 2018. We are indeed grateful for your warm friendship and support we enjoyed during 2017. We forward to working with you in the coming year and together we can make our world a better place.
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We have little time for politicians and ideologues as they are a crop of egoistic, misogynistic  and greedy people. All we have to do is to look at Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and other places to see for ourselves their handiwork. People are their victims, especially women, children and the elderly. They have lost the moral high ground and we must put our differences aside and work hard for peace.
On the occasion of Christmas and the New Year 2018, may we ask Michael Jackson to sing for us his famous song, Make The World a Better Place. –Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican.

Happy 2017 Diwali to All People of Faith, Peace and Goodwill


October 18, 2017

Happy 2017 Diwali

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With the Inauguration of a new President in the United States some 9 months ago, we have entered a period of global uncertainty.  Democracy promoted by  The United States since the end of the Second World War, as we taught to know it, is now dysfunctional. The America Dr. Kamsiah and I knew and admired has become  a selfish and self- centered fading power.

It is no longer the exceptional and indispensable nation. Under President Trump, America has shown worrying signs of having lost its moral high ground to preach and hector other nations on democracy, justice and human rights. At home,  it  is ideologically, religiously and racially divided. A House Divided cannot stand, nor can it lead.

New centers of global power have emerged–China, India and resurgent Russia–to  fill the gap created by  “America First”. My favorite Republican Senator from Arizona and a Vietnam War Hero, John McCain , said it most eloquently  just a couple days ago:

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Senator John McCain and Mrs Cindy McCain

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.”

It is an uncertain world ahead as Trump’s America looks inwards purportedly to develop its badly neglected infrastructure and the economy. The vacuum in global leadership  is waiting to be filled. The rest of us must now adapt to new players and learn to deal with an enigmatic Donald Trump. It is, therefore, appropriate for us to reflect on the challenges for humanity since these times threaten our common future. What better occasion than Diwali 2017 –The Festival of Lights.

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Dr Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and I in Phnom Penh take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Diwali 2017 with lots  of Peace and Happiness.

We thank you all for your friendship, support and kind cooperation. We have enjoyed engaging with you on FaceBook and this blog. We may have not agreed with you most of the time, but we pleased  that you were able to share your views and ideas with us.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

The passing of Kassim Ahmad, the quiet Public Intellectual


October 16, 2017

NOTE:

This moving gut wrenching tribute to my late friend and public intellectual, Pak Kassim Ahmad who passed away October 10, 2017 escaped my attention. It is accounts for why its appearance on this blog was delayed. My sincere apologies for that.

Image result for kassim ahmad and din mericanAn Iconoclast and Quiet Revolutionist, Jebat and Rebel with a Cause but most of all a devout Muslim

 

Thayaparan is  an interesting writer who is known to say what he means in plain, very readable, and direct English. I enjoy reading his pieces in malaysiakini.com and thank him for this fitting tribute to a man who never forgot his roots from Malaysia’s Rice Bowl Kedah  with a passion for knowledge and ideas, a Malaysian who did his best to speak the truth to power. He single-handedly took on Malaysia’s bigoted religious establishment and won, and left an imprint in legal history. –Din Merican

The passing of a quiet Public Intellectual

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | For Kassim Ahmad, a discourse has no winners or losers, only people interested in discovering their faith.

“According to government data, the objectives of the NEP have yet to be achieved. But I think the Malays have this consensus… these special privileges that have made them comfortable. They have this comfort zone where they face no challenges. Because of this, they don’t see the necessity in putting in the effort to progress. So they are weak and lack competitiveness. It is better to end something that does no good to the people anymore.”

– Kassim Ahmad

There is this meme as to the kind of Muslim the late Kassim Ahmad was. To his admirers, the persecution of this public intellectual demonstrated the fear the state had to what he wrote and said, and this made him the poster child for the kind of Islam they believed was “acceptable” in a multiracial and multi-religious country like Malaysia.

To his detractors, he was a purveyor of falsity that threatened Muslim solidarity and he was a puppet of the “opposition” whose writings and speeches would cause the collapse of Malay/Muslim political and religious hegemony.

Indeed, some opposition supporters would be perplexed of some of the things he said about certain opposition politicians and the UMNO state would be perplexed at some of the positions he advocated after they had branded him a deviant and an “enemy” of Islam.

The truth was that Kassim Ahmad was a devout Muslim who believed that his faith was hijacked by interpreters who had agendas of their own that were not compatible with his own interpretation of what would lead to a liberated world.

He had many young followers of his work who often told me that what was inspiring of his interpretation of Islam was that it did not foster fear but hope and that through questioning of what they were told and taught, they would be liberated from the falsities that were all around them.

He encouraged dissent, especially on his own writings, and he was cognisant that ultimately this was a discourse that had no winners or losers, only people who were interested in discovering their faith.

 

Unfortunately for him, the world is a cruel place. Those who make the claim that theirs is really a religion of peace do not have the empirical evidence to support such a claim. Indeed, the persecution of Kassim Ahmad was evidence that thinking was verboten.

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The duplicity, arrogance, and illegality of the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) in its persecution of this religious scholar is a matter of public record. Indeed, not only was Kassim Ahmad targeted but also his long-time advocate Rosli Dahlan.

There were things he said and wrote about that a person could disagree with. Depending on your own belief system, they were roads that Kassim Ahmad walked that you would have no desire to travel on but what separates Kassim Ahmad from the petty religious bigots that persecuted him was that he would never dream of imposing his beliefs on others.

Indeed, he welcomed discourse. He welcomed the challenges his ideas inspired. He wanted Muslims to think about their religion, but more importantly, think for themselves. His was a quiet revolution of the Muslim soul.

Blind faith

This is an example of what baffled him – “Malaysia happens to be a strong upholder of hadith(s). Sometimes the so-called experts, appearing on the Forum Perdana every Thursday night, quote the hadiths more than the Quran.

“Muslim scholars, Bukhari and five others, collected many thousands of so-called hadiths and classified them as authentic or weak 250 to 300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. These are collections of the Sunni sect. The Syiah have their own collections of so-called hadiths.

“To my mind, these fabricated hadiths are a major source of confusion and downfall of Islam.”

If ideology and religion is the lens through which some view the world, it is understandable (for those who know anything about Islam) as to why someone like Kassim Ahmad would find succour in this religion which has been weaponised here in Malaysia and the rest of the world. A religion he thought –  which is different from “believed” because he put in a great deal of effort and time into “thinking” about his religion – could be a salvation to the problems of the world.

Here is another snippet in his own words – “In the University of Malaya in Singapore, I joined the leftist Socialist Club and later joined the People’s Party of Ahmad Boestamam, and quickly became its leader for 18 years! Somehow or other, I did not feel real about the power and success of socialism. It was simply to identify myself with the poor to whom I belong.

“I was therefore critical of things I inherited from my ancestors. The first scholar I criticised was Imam Shafi’e for his two principal sources (Quran and Hadis). The book ‘Hadis – Satu Peniliai Semula’ in 1986 became the topic of discussion for two months, half opposed and half supporting me. After two months, it was banned.”

Anyone who has read what this scholar believed his religion was about, would understand that Kassim Ahmad’s sympathies for the marginalised were paramount in his belief structure. You could make the argument that his beliefs gave structure to what he eventually hoped rational Islam could accomplish.

Having the mindset of being critical of what you inherited from your ancestors is the most potent tool an adversary of state-sponsored repression could have. This was why they feared this quiet scholar who simply spoke of things that his interpretation of his religion inspired in him.

His intellectual contribution to Islam was anathema to people who believed that blind faith was true faith and his steadfastness in not disavowing what he said, his noncompliance to the diktats of the state was a wound that would not heal for those who wish to impose their beliefs on others.

When I read of how the state persecuted him, I understand why he posed such a threat. If Muslims realised that their interpretation mattered then the so-called scholars would lose their influence and their hegemony of the debate would vanish. Kassim Ahmad was a constant reminder of what would happen if people embraced a religion that they had thought out for themselves.

In a time when the Islamic world is suffering from a dearth of outlier voices, the passing of Kassim Ahmad is a great loss not only to Malaysians but to the other sparks in the Muslims world waiting to be ignited by people who choose not to subscribe to fear but who genuinely want to understand their religion.

I will end with this quote by Henry David Thoreau. Hopefully, it means something –

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfil the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.