Sunday 23 November 2014

A Faceless Hero

I shall not mention his name but this is not because he is the person whose name is not supposed to be named like Lord Voldemort. Rather he was an ordinary Malaysian who believed in doing the right thing based on his faith and principles and later endured the consequences, whether they were pleasant or otherwise.

He was an uncle to my late mother and we in the family loved him dearly. Having obtained his basic education through the religious system, he went on to Singapore for the Bachelor of Arts degree from then, the University of Malaya. This aggregation of religious and philosophical background, I suppose, shaped him into a person with impeccable integrity, demonstrated thorough his public service records thereafter.

Throughout his public service life, he assumed many important positions with the Federal government, as a teacher, leading the Anti-corruption agency, being the officer at the ministry of education and ministry of public enterprise and was in charge of Islamic affairs, to name the few. Later in his life, he was involved in the setting up of the International Islamic University and became the first Registrar. When he retired he went back to teaching English to school leavers who were pursuing their Quranic memorisation certificate at an institution set up by the Federal government.

Being honest and living what he believed were his trademark. Off course, such conducts may not necessarily be appreciated by the power that be, resulting in him being passed over when it came to promotion. Many of his juniors bypassed him in the civil service hierarchy  He never felt upset and never regretted his decisions and conducts, until the end of his life. He always reminded us to be honest, say Bismillah (the name of the supreme God) and do what we think is right and let Allah determines the outcomes.

He related to me a number of incidences which he experienced which later on became the guiding principles in my life in being truthful to myself. When he was serving a state government, it was customary in those days for senior civil servants to enjoy wine and spirit after meetings. Being one of the junior officers, he was asked to prepare cocktails for the senior civil servants. Knowing that this was against his principles, he mixed everything up to the extent that the drinks became in consumable. He was never asked to do that job again after that.

There was once an occasion when he brought a number of Muslim scholars to Europe to see for themselves modern ways of living and realities. When they passed the red light district he could see the embarrassment on the faces of the scholars. That was the person he was, always want Islam to be understood in the context of its surroundings, not just from parochial perspectives as what many of us would normally do.

Due to his integrity, there were many instances that he did not carry the instructions from his superiors, which at times came from the highest level of leadership then, which he did not agree due to his principles. This resulted in him being in their bad books. That was an occasion when he was cold storaged with just a desk and a chair at Masjid Negara. People were hoping that he will give up and resigned. He persisted to stay on and eventually prevailed.

From his dying bed he reminded me "not to be afraid of people", meaning only and only Allah can determine my fate. Such a simple advise is really a heavy task to follow through. In the world where we seek worldly pleasures, not being liked by those who are in power in unthinkable. This is something which I am still struggling to apply.

People like him are very rare nowadays. Apart from financial gains, being popular and doing things asked from those higher ups, irrespective of the principles behind the instructions, would result in many other rewards such as titles and honours. We forgot that the ultimate stakeholders are those who are affected by the decisions we make and that finally all our conducts will be scrutinised in the hereafter (this is what Muslims are supposed to believe and their conducts should be consistent with ultimate test).

In my book, this uncle of my mother is a hero, notwithstanding that he is not a household name and many of his deeds are not known to the many lives who he had assisted.

May Allah forgive all his wrongdoings and place him with those who enjoys success in the life hereafter.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Misquoting Muhammad

This is certainly an interesting topic not just for Muslims but those whose life are affected by Muslims. In countries where Muslims form a majority, there would be numerous groups claiming to represent the true teaching of Islam.

Islam is premised on two sources of truth, the direct revelation from Allah which is known as the Quran and the commands, conducts and approval of Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah, known as the Sunnah. Beyond these two sources are opinions of scholars, which would only be counted if the opinions are based on the principles derived from the two earlier sources.

I first heard about this book, Misquoting Muhammad, written by Johathan Brown when I was watching discussion by Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin or more fondly known by Dr MAZA. Asri is a scholar who is not only knowledgeable about Sunnah but has been able to connect Islamic principles with today's realities, especially in the context of a multi-religion, multi-ethnic society like Malaysia. Perhaps, his fellowship at Oxford (he is presently there for a second time) provides him with better understanding of interfaith issues.

Jonathan Brown was not known to me as a Muslim scholar. However, since I knew about his book (which I have not read) I have been watching videos of him discussing Islam in places where Islam is not a dominant thought in the societies. I could sense that Muslims in those societies are under pressure to demonstrate that their believe are compatible with whatever prevailing main stream views.

This is an example of how Jonathan's way of thoughts seems to be helpful when Islam is discussed within a more complex and intellectual societies. A bit bored to those who prefer immediate explanation.

On the other hand, in societies where Muslims form the majority, Islam is exposed to the risks of being practices based on how it is understood from many Muslims who inherit whatever version of Islam without the need to question whether that version of Islam that they practice is compatible to even the Quran and the Sunnah. People tend to follow without understanding and worse, impose whatever belief that they have on others. I call this situation 'artificial superiority' especially when this superiority is perceived to be driven by legislative power.

I suppose listening to scholars like Asri and Jonathan would provide the perspective of Islam which seemed to be missing nowadays, the one which engages people both at their intellectual level as well as with their hearts.

Given the complexity of the world which we are living in, the issue of whether Muhammad was misquoted or even abused by his own followers will continue to be we us.

Saturday 8 November 2014

The White House in Kota Bharu

White House is the name of the residence of the American President located at Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. This is one of the many tourist destinations in the American capital and one would not miss the opportunity to see for themselves the historical venue.

However, White House is also the name of a famous Chinese traditional coffee shop in Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan. It is located in front of the Muhammadi mosque, the state mosque. Although Kelantan is also known as the cradle of the Malay culture and most of its residents are Malays, Kelantanese are also known for their tolerance towards other Malaysians living in the state. 

Just imagine the Malays having coffee here after their morning prayers, the real 1Malaysia. In fact, having to add the number 1 to the name of this country could also be a signal of what is wrong with the present society. Perhaps, we had lost the essence of our society and are now living based on the reality as shown on TV or newspapers. Very American!

The White House is patronised by people from all walk of life and it is not easy to get a sit. I'm sure you could appreciate that for this sort of eating joint, calling in to reserve a table is unthinkable.

The main menu are half boiled eggs and toast, sounds simple but are the main attractions to this coffee shop. While the owner could be seen at the counter, there are a number of Malay waitresses serving customers their meal.

When I was there last week, I saw something amazing. An old Malay man who had difficulty walking was trying to get to his wheelchair. A group of young Chinese went to his assistance and helped him to be seated. That reminded me of the old Malaysia when we were not the most sensitive country in the world like today.

I suppose at the people to people level, life goes on and we have to learn to live together. However, for those who want to exert their parochial views, seeing people living together peacefully is an eye soar and they will raise all sort of nonsense to stir things so that people will react. While Muslims believe Islam brings blessing to the whole mankind, I wonder whether they forgot about that when some of them feel forcing their view on others is their birth rights.