December 5, 2018
A Tale of Two Malays
by Tajuddin Rasdi
In this article I present my views on the different responses and approaches of two Malay and Muslim educated leaders to raise questions about nation building. The two personalities are Prime Minister Dr Mahathir. Mohamad and the “respected” mufti, scholar and academic Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.
The scenario in question is the recent Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple incident. I do not view the temple incident as a racial one even though the police have established that the clash was between 50 Malay “hired thugs” and the devotees of the temple.
From the excellent police report and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement, we can gather that these Malays were hired to solve the problem of vacating the land in order for commercial development to take place. The company to which the land belongs has since denied it was involved in hiring thugs.
I have heard whispers of this kind of thuggery being undertaken to resolve the problem of vacating people from state and private land. I have also heard whispers that police often turn a blind eye to such actions. I hope these whispers are not true but the glaring events at the Seafield temple have confirmed my personal fears that there may be truth to many of them.
Whatever the real and intended purpose of the Malay “thugs”, I am convinced it was not a racial conflict but a simple “Melayu-thugs-for-hire” one. But politicians, clerics and opportunists have grabbed on to this incident to colour it as a racial conflict. When I read that 70 Malays turned up later that day, I feared the worst but thankfully, our police force was at its best.
When Asri came out with a forceful statement about taking a harsh approach in dealing with “illegal temples”, I feared it would only aggravate the situation, especially with sentiments over the ICERD still strong.
Although Mahathir has reversed the government’s earlier decision to ratify the UN treaty, many, including the “respected” cleric, seem to be egging on a demonstration that I fear could pull this country apart. We know the damage that was done by the previous Jamal Yunos-led Red Shirts rally.
Here I wish to draw attention to the approach of Mahathir on the temple issue: he showed exemplary leadership in putting Malaysian, “Malaysianness” and nation building above the idea of “Malayness”, “Islamicness” and “Tanah Melayu-ness” of those in PAS and Umno, and now – sadly – Asri.
One excellent character trait of Mahathir that I admire is that he can stand firm, no matter what the ulama, royalty and politicians throw at him. From his writings, speeches I have heard and media statements, Mahathir does not come out as a simplistic “my race above all” thinker like Zahid Hamidi and Ibrahim Ali, nor does he comes off as an “Islam above all” thinker like Hadi Awang or Asri.
He has his own personal views of Islam which I have read, his own idea about Malaysia’s history as well as his own personal formula on how Malays should change. He even admitted his failure to change the Malays, giving as proof the vast corruption by Malay elites, including in UMNO and the civil service. He dumped UMNOo… twice! Yes, UMNO dumped him once, but he did it twice. He is even said to be engineering UMNO’s elimination and a reboot of his own version of “Malay-Malaysianess” in PPBM.
Personally, I think it will never work as he is too old and may not have time to train Malays in the new “Malay-Malaysian ideology” so that they become progressive and critical-minded Muslims with a Japanese work culture.
That model of “Malay-Malaysianess” never took off even when he was the leader of UMNO.
But what I admire most about the way Mahathir handled the Seafield issue is that he was decisive and humanitarian and he did it with a Malaysian finesse. The government has ordered the status quo to be maintained and for the rule of law to take effect.
The matter has been taken to the courts again by some devotees, and a few millionaires have started a campaign to raise funds to buy the land from the owner. I suspect Mahathir may have had a hand in the idea of buying the land.
Mahathir may have lost his credibility as a Malay, a Muslim and a leader among kampung-educated Malays, bandar-educated Malays and university-educated Malays. But he has won my respect and that of the non-Malays and the very, very few thinking Malays.
He has lost the Malay political mileage that is badly needed to restabilise Malaysia as well as prop him up as the PPBM and Pakatan Harapan leader. I think it is a costly price that he has paid personally, but Mahathir is no stranger to such sacrifices.
What matters to him is a clear and unadulterated vision of where Malaysia should be heading, a vision very few Malays understand and are willing to follow, both in the opposition and in the government. Mahathir has put his political career on the line for the sake of a peaceful Malaysia.
The same can be said about the ICERD issue. Many have criticised him for “backtracking” from his tough talk at the UN but I think it takes guts and a visionary leader to go against one’s “reputable standing” and make decisions within a dynamically changing socio-political scenario. Other politicians would have taken more time to weigh the political cost and delay their decision, but Mahathir was quick, decisive and clear over both the ICERD and Seafield issues.
In contrast, let us look at how Asri responded to the temple issue. A day after the reported clash, I was shocked to read his harsh statements encouraging the authorities to come down hard on the Indians with regard to the many “kuil haram” on land not belonging to that community. Although many Muslims I know will side with him in this very popular statement, I think it is selfish and immature with respect to the idea of nation building.
Although I have admired Asri for his academic and religious views framed in an intellectual stand on many issues, his statements suggest his stand on Indians is far from friendly. The first clue to this attitude was given in his Facebook posting about Hindus attacking Muslims in India as well as the burning of widows. He made those statements in defending controversial preacher Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India. I have also heard his veiled attempts at making Hinduism look bad by associating it with the abhorrent caste system.
I will answer his criticism of the Hindu religion by giving three points. Firstly, it is most difficult to discern the principles of a religion from the cultural practices of the adherents. Until I read 20,000 hadiths, I never knew that Malays were practising “Melayu-Islam” and not the Prophet’s Islam. When Asri criticised harshly many of the attitudes and practices of the Malays using hard textual evidence, many Malays despised him but I agreed 100% with what he said concerning this matter.
I have read the hadiths and so I know. Most Malays do not read and they depend on clerics like Azhar Idrus or Zamihan Mat Zin to fill them in on what Islam is. I am 200% behind Asri in his “war” against the Malays and their ethno-centric interpretation of Islam.
Having said that, I have to ask: does Asri know enough about Hinduism to separate the cultural practices or attitudes from the philosophical teachings of that religion? I have read several books on Hinduism, including the Bhagavad Gita and the meditative techniques stemming from that faith, and I find them filled with the wisdom of the ages.
Hindus dissected the self, the ego and the mind long before Prophet Muhammad was born. Much of the concept of “self” by Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali and Rumi echo the same teachings – not because they have been “influenced” but because of the generality and universality of the messages.
Most Muslims have a narrow window, framed in the 1,400-year scholarship of Islam, and refuse to take a walk outside of that box into the world of human civilisation and strive to understand who they are and how best to behave or act in a community of communities.
Secondly, with respect to the caste system, most societies, even the Malays, practise them. Abdullah Munshi detested the difference in punishments meted out to peasants, guards of the Rajas, the bangsawan or aristocrats and the Rajas, saying they were un-Islamic. To him all men were equal under Allah. I have many Hindu friends and I have never heard of widow burning or the imposition of the caste system; neither have I heard them threaten people of other faiths.
Thirdly, if Asri considers all Hindus as terrorists for atrocities committed against Muslims by some, then what of the Islamic State fanatics bombing here and bombing there, using lorries and other vehicles to knock down and kill non-Muslim civilians? Certainly Asri would point out that Islam the religion is free from such heinous acts and that those who do these things do not reflect Islam which offers a message of peace.
If that is so, why can’t Asri see the “terrorist Hindus” as a party totally different from Malaysian Hindus such as P Ramasamy and P Waytha Moorthy who are fighting peacefully in the political arena for the betterment of their own race? Clearly Asri has not acted with wisdom or out of consideration for the peace and safety of the many Malaysians in making such statements. He thought only about his own race and faith.
Thus, in conclusion, we can see two sons of Malaysia, two sons of the Melayu culture and two sons of Islam having two divergent approaches and attitudes towards the idea of building a peaceful nation.
One of them cares about all life in Malaysia while the other seems to care only about those of his race and religion. One has a long view of Malaysia’s future in the global community while the other has views limited to what is important to his own faith.
Malays have to decide who they should follow.
* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.