– Prof Dr. Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi
The Malaysian Insider
27 August 2014
In many senses, it seems funny that Malaysians, particularly the Malays, find great difficulty in the idea of a united, harmonious and happy Malaysia. I am a Malay. All my Malay friends at UTM and other universities and all my relatives and that of my wife are… racist. If I were to invite all of them to a marriage ceremony, the number would easily reach 3,000. Based on a simple sampling of 5% of this population that I engage in socialising, I have established that they know nothing about the idea of “Malaysia”. All they know is the condition of “we just have to tolerate those immigrants and make sure they don’t make us like Singapore” mind set. I have always thought that some of my friends and relatives whom I respect as very pious Muslims would be different, but they too turn out to be racist when political issues are discussed. It came as a shock to me. I thought that Islam would be one of the answers to eliminate racism, but apparently, the “Malay-view” interpretation of Islam always take precedence. Islam is NOT the problem but its racist interpretation is. I know this for a fact because of my vast reading of Islam, thousands of hadiths and many versions of Qur’anic Tafsir.
In this Merdeka celebration, the “idea” of Malaysia seems only in a dream or in a Petronas or a DiGi commercial. The idea of Malaysia does not exist in our schools, in our public universities, at our housing and our cities. But I still remain optimistic. Why? Because my family is NOT racist. My wife who is a retired teacher is not racist. My 28-year-old lecturer daughter educated at IIUM is not racist. My 26-year-old journalist daughter educated at TAR College and Taylors University is not racist. My 23-year-old son in his third year at UCSI University is not racist. My 20-year-old SEGi University daughter is not racist. And my 18-year-old Inti University son is also not racist. How did I manage to form my own small country of “Malaysia”? There are a few simple strategies that I had developed. I will save the most important one for last.
One of the simple strategies I used was the choice of schools for my children. All of my children had gone through SOME years at a public school. When we could afford it, I sent my eldest daughter and second child for two years to an all-Malay private religious school so that they could immerse themselves in some Islamic culture. However, I was most careful to take them out after two years and put them back in the public school because I did not want them to grow up without having any Chinese or Indian friends. All my daughters’ friends who had gone through 11 years of “Islamic” education are racists. When my daughters were put in a “special Arabic” class in a public school which was a poor excuse to put all the best Malay students in one or two classes and given the best attention, I wrote to the school, much to the dismay of my wife, to take them out and put them back into a multi-racial class. I did not want my children to grow up knowing Islam as being synonymous with racism and bigotry.
For my three other children, I was able to send all of them for two or three years at private international schools, but following the national curriculum. If I had more money, I would have insisted on an international curriculum. But sending them to private schools was already a strain on our two salaries. We were both extremely happy to see the three of them playing, gossiping, going to McDonald’s and movies with Chinese and Indian friends without any shred of racist thoughts. My two sons are not as intellectually-developed as my three daughters and the private schools did not have the best teaching staff. I even had to take my sons out for 2 months to coach them personally before their SPM. But we were both happy that our children were free from the racist and bullying issues of public school life. My children would sometimes spend the night at their non-Muslim friends’ and we always welcome their friends at ours. I made sure that our children grew up in a well-balanced society and not stuck in a Malay or Malay-Muslim centred social prison.
When the time came for my eldest to choose a college or university, I had already decided as a grand strategy for creating a new Malaysian citizenry that none of them would ever step foot in a public university like UTM, UKM, UM UPM, USM and worst of all… UiTM. Let me explain why. Firstly, I would like to go on record as saying that our public universities have the best trained academic staff to turn our children into architects, engineers and doctors, regardless of race. That Chinese students dominate the honour lists is testament to the non-racist policies of public universities in terms of academic teaching and instruction. But the racist attitudes of the Malay lecturers, professors and administrators are a different story altogether. I have 28 years of seminars, administrative meetings and socialising with academics and administrators as well as private conversations with graduating non-Malay students to testify to this fact. The university culture of students choosing group work members of the same ethnic background still persists and this was one of the things that I had wished to avoid.
However, at the public universities, I was not as concerned about racism as I was about the freedom of my children to be exposed to political consciousness. What I mean by political consciousness is not about joining DAP or PAS or Umno, but a keen awareness of the social and political issues of the day and the freedom to contribute towards solving these issues through organising clubs, societies, meets and even dialogues with political leaders of all parties. At the time my daughter was 18, I had already had 20 years of experience in the university and I knew for a fact that my children would never have the opportunities to grow politically like I had at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA. In my assessment, our public university students from undergraduates to PhD graduates are politically “dumb”. Not because they are stupid or slow thinking, but because of the academic culture that thrives on praising the “political masters”. I, in my classrooms always remind the students that Umno and BN are NOT the “political masters” of this country and that PAS or DAP are NOT “political masters” in their respective states. They are all our “political representatives”. The real political masters are you graduates in the classrooms that are over 21 years of age. I always tell the students to “take back” their country from those who seek to milk its wealth selfishly. In private conversations, it seems mine is the only class that seeks to inspire the students to be true democratic Malaysians at our faculty in UTM. You do not ever get that kind of talk from the vice chancellor, dean or head of department.
It was then to my wife’s dismay and surprise that I suggested my eldest daughter go to TAR College. My plan was to send my children to private universities and colleges away from public universities. But my eldest wanted to go to the International Islamic University. Why? Well… her boyfriend was there. If it were before 1997, I would have said okay, but the Anwar-saga left me dangling in the shredded faith of a true Malaysia by a political party that I had voted for twice before that and from a prime minister that I had once had the privilege of meeting with other student leaders in his hotel room in Chicago. But I reasoned that IIUM still had a strong Islamic spirit from its international staff that would be void of a racist flavour. And so I said yes, and so she went through an education that still had a pure spirit of non-racist Islam for 5 years. However, her political consciousness suffered because IIUM was becoming a political prison. Fortunately, I was able to light this fire of consciousness through my many discussions with her about the social and political events after 1997.
My second child had no problems accepting my idea of TAR College. Although she had enough subject distinctions to attend public universities, she did not like the Malay dress code imposed there and I supported her simply because of my political strategy. Between the two of us, we outvoted my wife. After her diploma, she spent a year at SEGi University but changed to Taylors University with a MARA partial loan. In all this time, I monitored closely all her assignments and smiled inwardly as they took on a more critical discourse of local social and political events that would have been a taboo subject matter at any local university. I noted also that Taylors University had invited Nurul Izzah Anwar for a talk a month after inviting Mahathir for a special speech. In a public university, the likes of Lim Kit Siang, Anwar Ibrahim and Mohamad Sabu would never grace the podium of a lecture hall but at Taylors perhaps they still could. If I were a rich man, I would spend every cent on educating my children overseas so that they could bloom into a whole human being conscious of social, spiritual and political issues and with the inspiration to change the world. You can’t do that at local universities, and I suspect eventually at the private universities also.
It was thus that my wife finally accepted my grand strategy of developing our children at the private universities. As a Muslim mother, my wife was very concerned that our children would grow up “wrong” Islamically because her definition of Islam was restricted to tudungs or head covers and prayers. However, after listening to religious scholars and leaders spouting racist statements and tudung-ed individuals with vileness in their hearts against other religions and races, she began to accept that though our children were not too ritualistically Islamic with the tudung and prayers, they were good-hearted individuals without a shred of racism in their hearts. This proved beyond a doubt that the religious curriculum of our country, not through the fault of Islam per se, is the most important contributor to the sustaining of racism in this country. Thus, if our children had had a “proper” religious education, they would eventually turn up racist also. I had the fortune of being transferred to a national-type Chinese school in Taiping where I chose to stop learning Islam from Form 2 onwards even though the Chinese head teacher wanted to hire a single ustaz to teach me alone. I was, therefore never indoctrinated, and being in USA for graduate and post-graduate schools, I was further away from a Malay-centric Islamic university education.
Amidst all these strategies of choosing schools and universities, I would constantly engage my children in private conversations on the simple values of human survival and what they mean for being a Malaysian. Firstly, the Prophet Muhmmad taught a non-racist Islam and that all other religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism are God’s guidance to mankind to rise above petty ethno-centric concerns to rise higher than the angels in human kindness that is a key to a peaceful existence. When you stand in front of God on judgement day, you stand alone with your deeds and values, not your race or social status. Secondly, motivation gurus and western spiritualists teach us that our differences in race and religions are our strengths and not a cause for conflict. No man can live alone and so likewise no race or society can exist. A simple example would be a husband and wife. Two completely different individuals with completely two different physiological and psychological make-up have to live together to raise five to ten other individuals with different ideas and emotions. If we can accept our spouse and children’s different views and concerns, why can’t we accept other races and religious concerns? Thirdly, although man can determine many things in life, there are four things that he cannot: his time of death, a natural disaster and his fate in heaven or hell. Do not judge poorly or look down on others, for it may be the grace of God that they may be favoured more. Finally, in a democracy, you control the destiny of your children and never let any politician tell you otherwise.
In closing, I have written this anecdotal piece to politely tell Malaysians that we have serious problems in our school values and in the way our universities produce the next generation of professional Malaysians. If things do not change politically, I told my children that I will leave them with one house each, one car each and a RM20,000 start-up capital so that they can start saving to be able to educate their children in private schools with international curriculum and finally send all of them off overseas. This is the only way that they will be free from a Malay-centric Islam and a university system that thrives on producing a professional slave labour force dancing to every racist beat choreographed by irresponsible political leaders that have defiled our Parliament.
Only then can our sons and daughters return to rebuild and reignite the dreams of Datuk Seri Onn bin Jaafar and our politician forefathers of a united, harmonious and intelligent society deep in spiritual consciousness. Happy Merdeka! – August 27, 2014.