A meditation about the common bond of life and how it relates to the recent tussle for ownership of the word ‘Allah’. This is an essay in three parts which will be published over three consecutive days. Comments may only be made on the third instalment. This final segment discusses the possible steps we as a nation can take to get out of the political rut we are in as a result of turning the word ‘Allah’ into an issue.

So where do we, as Malaysians of this beautiful country go from here? I do not have all the answers. In fact, I do not think any of us individually do. But together, if we engage with each other with soul-searching honesty, with complete humility, without seeking some advantage for ourselves, I truly believe we can find it, I truly believe we can work at it and I truly believe if we give it our best effort, we can even come to learn how to love and appreciate one another.

My first suggestion is that we cannot leave it to the government, to the non-governmental organizations, to the media, to even our Imams, church leaders or temple priests. Each and every one of us has to shoulder that responsibility to commence that engagement with each other in the manner I spoke of earlier.

My second suggestion is that we all have to start taking an interest in not just our own religion and culture but others as well. The political Malay cannot go around demanding that others respect them while they go about disrespecting and being ignorant about other cultures and religious beliefs. The political Malay must start the process of learning about other religions and cultures and even better, look for the commonalities between them. The political Malay must realize, in spite of their fear, that the others (the Indian community, the Chinese, the Orang Asli, etc.) are not out to annihilate them, to demean them or to show that they are superior to them. In truth, most are only too ready to understand and help them. They must view favourably and be more patient with the others’ attempt to understand them. So often I see Malays tell their Chinese and Indian countrymen to shut up and not ask when they try to learn something of their culture and religion. The Malays must try to understand that to be asked is not the same as to be questioned, so there is no need to be defensive and contemptuous.

The Chinese and Indians in turn must try to understand and comprehend not simply the Malays but the political Malay that has been so subjected to the reckless damaging policies of our government and be less harsh with the appraisal and appreciation of them. They must come to understand that no matter how many times the Malays try to push them away they must not recoil into fear and loathing, but keep returning to their sides, always ready to forgive and embrace them with the widest arms.

Yes, I know they have been marginalized, oppressed and discriminated against but the solution does not lie in more of the same. The way out of this conundrum does not lie in revenge or apathy. It lies in compassion, empathy, patience and fondness, if not love. These of course are the hardest things to have and hold on to in an environment of distrust, contempt, ignorance and fear, and that is why it is all the more important that we do so.

My third suggestion is that we, as citizens of Malaysia, if we truly love our country and want to make it a better place, all have to try and give it our best effort. That effort and the will to drive that effort will be difficult, it will be painful, it will always be disheartening. The greatest prizes often demand the most heart wrenching, soul searching and demanding of efforts, if not the prize would not be great.

A harmonious, peaceful, flourishing and loving Malaysia is one of the greatest prizes our country can hope to have. So great is that prize that one or a few men cannot achieve it, nor even a group of people, nor even a group of organizations. That prize is so great that it commands nothing less than the efforts of our entire country, the efforts of each and every one of us to pour ourselves into that struggle so that we can all claim it together because we can only claim it together or not at all.

These three suggestions are my meager offerings in trying to foster and cultivate a more refined engagement on the conundrum besetting our country. I know it is not easy and so I hope very much that I can last and stay the course and live to see that our country claim that great prize, or at the very least all our children would. I cannot bear the thought that our future generations would have to dwell in such oppressive and fearful conditions, and toil in the humidity of anger and hatred as we do now.

Let us take that first step and stop asking, How am I different from you?

Let us instead ask, How alike are we?

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it...

5 replies on “The Common Bond of Life and the Exclusivity of ‘Allah’ (Part 3)”

  1. Fahri,

    Your meditations moved me to tears. So much of what you say, especially in Part I, is so close to Buddhist thinking that I immediately felt a common bond with you. Nay. more. I felt I was listening to a soul mate.

    Like you and some others who have left comments, I believe wholeheartedly that the solution to most of our problems is to be found in a radical mindset change spearheaded by an educational system that enables better knowledge and understanding of our own and others' religions, cultural histories, values and ways of life.

    Let me just focus here on the issue of our education system, which, as we all seem to agree, is currently not at all conducive to the kind of mindset change we desire but instead reinforces ethnic separatism and even a kind of ghetto mentality.

    To be fair to the present government, when Najib was the Education Minister, he did broach the idea of what he called the "vision school" where all the vernacular and national-type schools are housed together under one roof. But as we all know, the idea was furiously contested by those with vested interests in the current system. I remember the Chinese community was particularly vocal in their contestation.

    I personally thought the vision school was a very good idea and had furious debates with many Chinese friends, who, of course, saw me as a traitor to their cause and threw in my face the fact that as a peranakan, I do not understand their attachment to their language and the advantages of their culturally determined pedagogical system. I have to say I couldn't argue with them on that point because I barely speak Chinese myself. But I also realized then that people's attachment to their linguistic identity and cultural memories (real or imagined) cannot be ignored, and cannot be made to disappear simply through legislation and the formulation of yet another policy.

    In the years that have gone by, I have thought more about the matter. I still believe that inter-ethnic socializing–especially in the early formative years–is crucial for the development of a national identity that transcends ethnic differences. But I also believe that the solution is not to compel it through law, since it will most likely lead to a counter-productive, more tenacious clinging to the status quo. The solution, as I see it, is to entice detractors to an acceptance and even embracing of the idea.

    How? Briefly, because I don't want to bore everyone to death, we have to take a leaf or two from the corporate world, in particular its ideas on "business reengineering" and "change management". Here is a possible plan of action:

    1. Blueprint of concept: Get together a think tank to work out in some detail what an ideal "vision school" (for lack of a better term) should be like and what is required to make it work.

    2. Proof of concept: Start one (small) "model" school based on the blueprint as an experiment. Involve only those vernacular schools that are willing to participate in the experiment and are committed to seeing it succeed.

    3. Retraining: Bring together a group of pedagogical, business re-engineering, and change management experts to re-train the teachers and administrators involved in the experiment.

    4. Perfecting the system: Through periodical discussions, get feedback from all stakeholders (teachers, parents, children, relevant ministries), identify problems, find solutions, and tweak the glitches.

    5. Publicity: publish results and findings of the experiment in national and international pedagogical journals (we may be a world's first so there's no need to be shy in asking for opinions from the world's teaching communities) and publicize its successes.

    6. Buy in of other stakeholders: Invite boards of governors of other schools in other states to come and observe the school in action. Persuade them to participate in the setting up of their own model schools–say, one in each state to start with, and then one in each major city/town etc.

    Admittedly, this is a slow process, but we are trying to undo the mistakes and destabilize the mindsets formed over more than a hundred years. It can't be done in a day. But human nature being what it is, I reckon that if it is done properly, and if these model schools are perceived as "premier" schools, a lot of kiasu parents will be fighting for places for their children.

    I'm sharing these thoughts (imperfect though they are) here in the hope that some of your readers may see some potential in them and may be inspired to do something active and practical to make it work, instead of merely complaining bitterly about how the status quo doesn't work.

    If you have read this far, I thank you for your indulgence.

    May you be blessed for your enlightened views.

  2. Fahri,

    I shared similar experiences when I was in St John's Institution. We didn't see colour or religion and like you, racist names were always terms of endearment between school mates.

    The BN component party are too stuck in an arrangement agreed more than 50 years ago. It is about time we discard the chinese, tamil or for that matter sekolah agama rakyat schooling system and have a single school system. Unfortunately, our communities (irrespective of political affiliations) are still divided on racial lines and any such policies to have a single school system would be so politicized that no political party (I have not heard neither BN nor PR putting forward a proposal to have a single school system) will dare make that move despite the fact that now it is a matter of survival for the nation.

    The only way forward is to enact laws that make it illegal for any association or political parties that are formed along racial or religious line. For the sake of the nation, BN can no longer have their component parties along racial lines and PR must ensure that similar component parties within PR to do the same. Have each side be the check and balance to the other side.

    I think the time must come that old arrangements be reviewed in order for our nation to move forward.

  3. Fahri's well articulated article came just when I thought that every man and his dog have had his say on the Muslims claim to their exclusive right to use the word ‘Allah’. After all said and done I still find it rather difficult to comprehend how the government is going to enforce the exclusivity of the word 'Allah' for Muslims only , when it comes to that . Compartmentalizing it's use to various states will probably not work as enforcement will then become another thorny issue between the 'Green' and 'Red' states.

    It is a well known fact that at least four state anthems have the word 'Allah' in it's lyrics. Are we going to stop non Muslims from singing the anthem? Probably unknown to many the badges of rank in the army (pips/crowns) which are proudly worn by Muslim and non Muslim officers alike have the following words inscribed in bahasa on the pips (Berpegang tegoh pada Allah) and on the crown the words 'Allah' Mohammad is inscribed on it in Jawi. Are we now to tell all non Muslim officers that the word 'Allah' does not apply to them and they are not to use/refer to it as they are non Muslims. Or are we to introduce a new badge of rank for non Muslims which replaces the word 'Allah' with God? To go a step further many medals and decorations bestowed by the King/Sultans to all citizens who have served the country/ state well also have the word 'Allah' inscribed on it . In particular the Federal decoration (Ahli Mangku Negara) A.M.N. and the (Kasatria Mangku Negara) K.M.N. have the words Dipeliharakan Allah ( Blessed by Allah) both in bahasa and Jawi inscribed on it . Again are we to tell the non Muslims recipients that they as non Muslims are not Dipeliharakan Allah as Allah does not apply to them as it is exclusive for Muslims!!!. Are we then to introduce a fresh set of medals and awards for non Muslims using the word God to replace 'Allah'. It is not that straight forward as there is much to be thought through before we decide to make 'Allah' exclusively for use of Muslims.

    Fahri has raised another very important issue about nation building which I can relate to when he suggests that, " And nation building starts as simply and cheaply as letting children of different races play, learn and eat together somewhere as they grow up." In the Army we practice this to the hilt as we often, train, play, eat, fight and at times die for each other . It is this bond which we have cultivated that throws colour and race out of the window and makes us army wallas a "Band of Brothers" Long after we have left the service we still keep in touch with our Sarban Singh's, Ah Chongs, and Ramasamys this is a permanent bond. If it can work for us it sure can work for bringing people together and starting them young is a great idea. Forget about all that song and dance it has been tried during the time of Tok Mat , the 'SEMARAK' (Bersama Rakyat) it did not work then and it will not work now.

  4. Hi Serviceb4self,

    Thanks for staying the course over 3 parts and still have enough in the tank to comment! I appreciate your industry!

    On your second paragraph, I am in agreement. For myself, we should just have one national school which caters for all the different community needs instead single race based schools. It is in our childhood that nation building begins and it kicks off as simply as letting them play with each other, not when we are older and our hearts a little harder from experience and hurt.

    I remember in my secondary school days in Bukit Bintang Boys school that my class had an encouraging mix of the different races. And the funny but best part was that we were terribly racist at the time calling each other racist names or berating each other's father's names but with this very important difference – none of us took each other seriously because those insults were made in jest and understood to be taken that way. And we did this almost everyday, yet in my entire secondary level education, I don't think there was an out and out racial fight that broke out. But these days, I don't even dare utter one of those insults in public or even amongst my friends for fear it be taken the wrong way.

    The political party in government just does not know what to do except maintain hegemony and political survival. They fail to understand that to build a nation you cannot keep a people apart. You have to bring them together at their earliest. And nation building starts as simply and cheaply as letting children of different races play, learn and eat together somewhere as they grow up. That's it.

    We don't need some song and dance branded 1Malaysia event media covered star studded event. I hate those shams. Those events are not about our future, but our sordid past.

  5. Fahri,

    Well written.

    We have progressed as a nation based on the understanding and recognising the sensitivities of one another. This is a formula that works. There has always been a give and take and I believe the future of our nation will be based on whether ALL races will continue on this basis,

    Unfortunately, the direction of education system where nearly 100% of Malays are educated in the national schools and 98% of the Chinese are in the Chinese schools, has caused the absence of interactions between the races. Without such interaction, our future generations will grow up not knowing one another thus allowing prejudices to frame their perceptions of the other race.

    So many a times, I have received comments from my Chinese friends " Wah, you know how to use chopsticks" or "You are not like the normal Malay, you are very hard working" etc. I'm sure amongst the Chinese readers would have heard similar comments from Malay friends "I can trust you" etc. These comments may be very complementary but in essence it reflects the underlying prejudice each race have of the other.

    On the kalimah "Allah" issue, let look at bare facts. There are 9% Christians in Malaysia and Roman Catholics represents only 1% of the population in Peninsular Malaysia. Of these percentage, I doubt Christians that use "Malay" during their mass is more than 4% of Malaysia's population. Irrespective whether there is a legal and/or cultural basis on the restriction of the term "Allah", the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia are just too sensitive over the use of "Allah". This may not be the case for the Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak.

    Therefore the facts before us is 60% of the population in Peninsular is unhappy, the balance of the 39% don't care for it doesn't impact them and only a portion of the 1% of the Roman Catholics in Peninsular are impacted. Even so, such restrictions on the use of "Allah" won't prevent such portion of Roman Catholics from their freedom of religion.

    Why don't the government conduct a referendum on a state to state basis. If a majority in that particular state agrees to allow the use of "Allah" by the Roman Catholics, so be it but if in the alternative, then the ban stays for that particular state. Let the people decide afterall it is their sensitivities at stake.

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