Some Stuff for Malaysians

Excerpts of the portions LoyarBurokker Aston Paiva had omitted due to to time constrains from speech at EMPOWER’s Youth Dialogue on Religion and Politics. True to form – he calls it as he sees it.

I was invited by a member of Sisters in Islam to give a talk on the 9th of July 2010 at EMPOWER’s Youth Dialogue on Religion and Politics. The other speakers included Tricia Yeoh (Research Officer to Menteri Besar Selangor), Mrithula Shiva (United Religions Initiative and Nur Damai Cooperation Circle) and Nazreen Nizam (SIS Legal Officer).

It was a good session with very many questions posed by the audience. I must thank EMPOWER and the folks at Gerak Budaya for the privilege and must commend them for their dedication in encouraging debates and provoking thoughts among young Malaysians.

Owing to time constraints, I had to omit a number of important issues I wanted to talk about. I, fortunately, managed to address these other issues during the Q&A session. The following is an excerpt of the portions that I had omitted.

artist-hand-by-alex-grey

The State of Affairs

A lot of the misconceptions about Malaysia being an Islamic State, comes from politicians, in particular, during the Mahathir administration where, in my opinion, Islam was hijacked by politicians and used as a trump card against Western nations and their policies.

In wanting to adopt an “identity” predicated on “Eastern values”, the Mahathir administration had sought to make Malaysia the exact opposite of a ‘Western liberal democracy’; curtailing civil liberties, removing political dissidents and policing morality – all in an effort to cultivate a “holier than thou” attitude when compared to the “greedy”, “ignorant” and “arrogant” Western nations.

It is most unfortunate that the fallout of this vendetta against the West was the resultant spiritual and intellectual poverty among the Malaysian population.

Politicians should learn to do their job; that is to protect the individual from harm caused by others and to allow people to interact with each other. What a politician should not do is curtail individual expression and segregate ethnicities and religions.

Respect for the country will only come if citizens are treated with respect not if they’re segregated for 11 years of their lives in schools for Islam and Moral or told that those who are not Muslims are inferior and will be going to Hell.

I am reminded of the Hindu concept of Dharma or Duty – rather famously encapsulated by the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita.

Krishna explains that if a person has taken up a duty to do something, he must perform it till the end and perform it with his heart and mind fixed on the task – he must perform his duty truthfully, sincerely and without any expectation of rewards or benefits. He must do his duty because it is his duty. To not do so, will be to live in dishonor.

Our politicians stand to learn a lot from the concept of Dharma – they would then be real politicians and not cowardly manipulative hypocrites – their actions will benefit the country and not their bank accounts, their investments will be for the citizens and not for their family members.

This nation would certainly see itself progress and its citizens be guided by the truth instead of falsehoods.

Socio-Political Dilemmas and Solutions

One question that I’ve been commonly asked by many Malaysians is – “What has happened to Malaysia?”

By that they mean, why has Malaysia become a nation of indifference and apathy, of religious and racial intolerance, of segregation and division, of Islam and Bukan Islam, of Melayu and Bukan Melayu, of Bumiputera and Bukan Bumiputera.

Everyone is quick to blame this mishap on others. Thus far, the blame has fallen on the British, the education system, the National Economic Policy, the special position of the Malays, Biro Tatanegara and race based politics. But I think none of these are the root of the problem.

The root of the problem and the real people who are responsible for Malaysia’s fragile state are Malaysians themselves; each and every single Malaysian has been perpetuating a broken and divided Malaysia – Malaysians only have themselves to blame for this.

Why do I say so? Because the real reason why we live in such a brittle state of race and religious relations is because we simply have stopped trying to know each other. How many of us here actually take an interest in each other’s life? On how the religion of others have made them the people that they are? Why aren’t you curious to ask? Or to know why? To not know is to cause racism and intolerance. Doesn’t anyone notice that?

The majority of those who consider themselves Muslims in this country, for instance, have entirely closed themselves up to learning about the religion and culture of others, choosing to live in their own little bubble of “My religion is better than everyone else’s” or “My God is greater than your God.” It is this kind of ignorant and arrogant attitude that is tearing the social fabric of Malaysia.

We must take an interest to read and know about the religions of our fellow citizens.

Take Taoism or Taoist philosophy. The concept of Yin & Yang as propounded by Taoism states that there is always balance within life; that there are no contradictions, only complements. This is a profound view. It teaches us that looking at things as opposites will lead to ignorance.

There is therefore no such thing as Non Muslim and Muslim, Non Malay and Malay or us and them. Everyone exists for each other and live in mutual cooperation. If you take the Chinese or Indians out of Malaysian public life during any period of the history of Malaysia, the Malays would be doomed both economically and politically. This applies vice versa. All of us need each other. We are complements to one another.

What about Sikhism? What can Sikhism teach us?

All Sikhs are raised as spiritual warriors and a Sikh must therefore live his life for the good of society at large; he must defend the people of his country, regardless of their race or religion, against injustices and oppression. This is part of Sikhism. It is a very honorable value to cultivate and we see it in people like Karpal Singh.

Such a value is important in life. It teaches us not to be blindsided by egotistical and deceptive ideas like “Malay Rights” or “Bumiputera Rights” and instead calls on people to see all of mankind as a single class of humanity; that we must cure any kind of injustice suffered by any member of society so that all men may prosper. This we will learn more about if we read about Sikhism.

But not many seem to know or care to know about these things. And that is very sad.

I tend to notice that the local Ulamas are quick to shun non Muslim faiths and insult the intellect of Muslims by saying that reading the religion of others will confuse them. Such a thought should be rebuked as being ridiculous nonsense.

Nobody is asking you to convert to another religion. Nobody is asking you to not believe in Allah. Nobody is asking you to leave Islam. There is no harm whatsoever in knowing about the faith, life and values of others. It is in fact to be looked up upon.

What you are gaining when you read the religious texts of others is a greater understanding of values – values like truth, compassion, love, forgiveness and these should serve to complement your life as a Muslim or any other religion you belong to, in order to make you a better and more wholesome individual.

We must bear in mind that if we don’t start learning about each other soon then we will be stuck with a very sick, diseased and disgusting Malaysia. This is not a Malaysia I want to live in and I don’t think it is one you would either.

Another fact to bear in mind is for Muslims to actually start reading the Qu’ran for yourself, in a language that you best understand, rather than relying on others to tell you what Islam is. You must think and decide for yourself what Islam is to you and not expect others to tell you what Islam is for only then will you be free from the religious oppression caused by your misinformed ulamas and religious officers.

When interpreting religious texts, remember to ask yourself if what is being propagated is proportionate, reasonable and values human dignity. I have read certain Hindu religious texts which allude to the existence of the “caste system” within society. The “caste system” is repulsive and it violates Article 8(2) of the Malaysian Constitution for it is discrimination by descent.

Likewise, the Qu’ran too is express in its approval of slavery. Slavery too violates Article 6(1) of the Malaysian Federal Constitution and therefore should never be allowed. We must interpret religious texts as we interpret the world presently. The old must be made obsolete, the new embraced and treasured as being the best we can offer ourselves.

In our quest towards becoming better people, we must also never shy away from assessing the values of those whom we call “Westerners”; they are human beings just like us.

We must learn the good that they have cultivated within their lives. One such value (at a civil and political level) is equality: that men and women must be treated alike, nobody is lesser than the other. I see no harm in such a value and in fact I only see good in it. A woman must be revered and cherished for we must never forget that we all began our lives within the sacred space of a woman’s womb.

Another value which we have never truly understood as a post colonial country is ‘Independence’.

Malaysia, in its early stages, was a melting pot of different cultures. The immigrants that came here saw a need to be respectful to the locals while the locals saw a need to be respectful to the immigrants. The relationship was very much like that of a welcoming host and a courteous guest. All lived in mutual respect and the affairs of the Government was generally considered to be made in good faith.

This is largely different from how history unfolded in the West, where men went out into the wild capturing lands and naming things which they found. There was a sense of pride and independence in what was achieved. Any attempt by larger authority to curtail the freedom of men was opposed, often times militantly for all men were considered to be independent individuals.

This value of ‘Independence’ is something that we Malaysians should actively learn about and cultivate in our lives. We have in recent years seen how concentration of power into the hands of few men has sought to corrupt the entire hierarchy of Malaysian socio-cultural life.

We must be against the Establishment if the Establishment is promoting injustice or destroying individuality. This is not being more Western or more Liberal or Budaya Barat or any other moronic terminology that the Government uses to discourage critical thinking among Malaysians.

This is using common sense, reason and disassociating oneself from evil. It isn’t something new either. Jesus, when faced with the Pharisees’ request that people obey the Law of Moses and stone a woman adulterer to death responded by saying “Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone.” The people never stoned the woman and instead left her alone. This is an active call against practices of an uncompassionate and unforgiving Establishment and Jesus independently stood against the Establishment.

If you see injustice, speak up against it; whether or not it be a Muslim, Christian or Hindu that is suffering. Write about it, advocate against it and work towards solving it.


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13 Responses to Some Stuff for Malaysians

  1. James Ling O. H.

    Doctrines aside, the role of religion should be to unite all it's believer to enable them to transform their inherent weaknesses and limitations and ultimately to be able to courageously and freely, no matter what the circumstances, to live and help others to live harmoniously with all people and enjoy God's creations. Religion and Faith can only be seen, believed and be of value when it is lived and manifested in one's behaviour, actions and in one's daily life. Action is the true intent of doctrine. What ultimate action can there be, other than human values, the making of the human beings to reach their highest potential in the truest sense of the word.

  2. Coconut Girl

    Wonderful article Aston – charmingly idealistic. However I take exception to the romantic views in the following overly rose-tinted paragraph:

    “This is largely different from how history unfolded in the West, where men went out into the wild capturing lands and naming things which they found. There was a sense of pride and independence in what was achieved. Any attempt by larger authority to curtail the freedom of men was opposed, often times militantly for all men were considered to be independent individuals.”

    These intrepid adventurers may have named the wild things that they found but then they either killed them, ate them or cut them down and left devastation and environmental destruction in their wake.

    Any indigenous people were rapidly driven off their native lands and were deliberately and systematically starved, raped, infected, murdered and generally treated with utter heartless contempt.

    I do not believe there was a sense of pride – there was a cruel struggle for existence in a strange and hostile environment and an insatiable greed that is still the motivating factor behind western society today.

    Any semblance of freedom or independence was vehemently opposed by the “larger authorities” and people were not seen as independent individuals but rather as cogs in the machinery that could easily be removed or replaced if considered defective or seditious in any way. Any attempt to circumvent or oppose ‘the system’ in any meaningful way was/is instantly punished.

    If you’re looking for answers or solutions then stick with the eastern religions and traditions you mention earlier in your article.

    The way of the west is a path to even further division and sadness.

  3. ladymissazira

    As I understand it Talhah, you are implying that only certain people who understands Arabic and are from a strict, rigid and traditional school of Islamic thought are qualified to comment on religion.

    Not rational, logical people like me.

    In that I must respectfully disagree.

    The point of Islam is a) to separate intervention of mediums in the relationship between a believer and God, i.e we have direct access to Allah in our 5 times per day prayers and b) to apply principles as we ourselves understand it and believe from our own personal readings of the Quran (hence Al-Iqra) instead of giving absolute authority and power to the select few to dictate how I chose to adhere to God.

    You sound very feudalistic, my friend.

  4. LN

    Dear Talhah72,

    I appreciate that we can discuss things, agree/disagree in respectful tones. Thanks.

  5. Syahredzan Johan

    Good stuff, brother!

  6. Talhah72

    Dear LN

    Exactly my point. Same goes to Al-Quran. Same goes to Hinduism. U need the scholars. A layman cannot simply say the caste system in Hinduism is bad by merely reading about it in the internet.

    Dear ladymissazira

    Please refer to my 2nd para 1st and 2nd line. Thanx.

    Dear rsttqn and LN again heh

    I understood the story perfectly well. I was merely illustrating how one story/verse can be interpreted in many ways by a non-Christian layman like me. That's why playfully i said i need to study Aramaic first. Meaning i am not qualify person to simply make a point based on that story without a proper study and based on my own understanding alone. It would be a great injustice to the Christians.

    Mea culpa – if you lost my true intention and meaning.

  7. rsttqn

    re: "cast the first stone"

    Talhah, are you being deliberately obtuse? Jesus wants to save the adulterer. Of course he's not going to throw any stones.

    Your reading reminds me of all those overschooled semantic-hair-splitting over minutiae that completely misses the wood for the trees. No wonder Jesus harangues so much at those obtuse scribes and their roboticity.

    Corruptio optimi and all that.

  8. ladymissazira

    Talhah, you definitely DO NOT need to be proficient in Arab to understand the Quran. You only need to understand history, from both perspectives and understand the underlying principles behind the verses rather than perceive it standing on its own.

    The Quran teaches you to reflect principles with reality of the society. I'm sorry to say that isn't happening today with Muslims of any mazhab.

  9. Eunice Ong

    Aston, this is great stuff. I never thought u'd be so idealistic that way. Pleasant surprise :)

  10. LN

    Dear Talhah72,

    Jesus is referring to the Teachers of Law and Pharisees because they are human beings and all human beings are sinners. Jesus does not count Himself because He is God. In this context, He does not cast the first stone even though He's not a sinner. You yourself wrote a lengthy explanation about "interpreting Islam within context" which I thought was quite amazing (good for you). It may be difficult for you to grasp that Jesus is God because Islam only accepts Him as prophet and by that token, a mere man. And no, there's no need laypeople to learn Aramaic in order to get the FULL meaning of every verse in the Bible. The priests go through enough studies (some study Latin, some Greek, some Aramaic) to ensure laypeople get the correct meaning of the verses when they are unsure.

    Peace.

  11. Talhah72

    I guess you a master in Sanskrit one of the oldest language in the world and may be an ulama (wiki check "ulama" please) in Hindu's theologies too. Otherwise you wont simply say how unfair the caste system is unless the Hindus have a different standard – saying that by reading the Vedas in English is as good reading in Sanskrit. I hope nothing is lost in translation if this is the case.

    Muslim need to acquire certain discipline when dealing with Al-Quran. Yes you can read the English translation if your Arabic is bad but it will just give you a basic understanding only. To understand Al-Quran totally you must be good in Arabic of which by it self has many discipline. This is the first step. A real scholar in Arabic. Even your Arabic is more fluent than the KING of Saudi Arabia still wont make you qualify to interpret the Al-Quran.

    And then you need to be a scholar in Al-Quran history too. For example when did one particular verses was revealed. Who was the scribe? Is it raining or snowing (if ever in the desert) at the time revelation? etc etc etc. Verse by verse im telling you. Every verse has a different history. I think on average you need like 5 years even more to be a master in AL-Quran History alone.

    And may more discipline too long to write them all here. ie the discipline of asbabul nuzul al hadith al-fiqah. Suffice to say you need to be a complete scholar. A Renaissance man oppss A Renaissance woman if you will. (heh i dont want to anger SIS but giving a masculine world view here)

    To make it short without such disciplines one cannot freely interpret the Al-Quran like the issue of slavery in Islam for example.

    I suggest to you – go find your nearest layman (laywoman?) a Muslim/Muslimah and ask him/her what does he/she know about slavery in Islam. ie. Which verse or verses dealing with this issue. When the verse(s) revealed. Is it a Makkah verse or Madinah verse. Who was the scribe of this verse. When one can invoke this principle? I thought the principle is suspended now until the need arises. Is this slavery principle in Islam can be invoked in peace time? Who can be taken captive and make into slaves? How we treat the slaves? Is this principle is frown upon but alas it is also a necessity in certain situation? What is a better alternative- genocide- slaughtering war prisoner or slavery? Is it an assimilation process?

    I dont think the layman/woman will know much. You need a scholar-(ulama) the people who already have such discipline that i mentioned above.

    I hope you too do justice to the Hindu by taking up certain discipline which i presumed existing in Hindu's study before expressing your disgust and doubt concerning the caste system.

    p/s

    "Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone.”

    I wonder why didn't Jesus himself threw the first stone. Was he a sinner too? If he is then how could he be mmmmmm GOD as per the Trinity? Opssssss srry it was in English. Perhaps i should study Aramaic first.

  12. Adiba Shareen

    Very eloquently put Aston. A subscriber to such ideals, this is a pleasant reminder. Thank You!

  13. Lingswaran Singh

    Thank you for this thought provoking piece, very much appreciated.