Eidul Fitri in Prison

By Farish A. Noor

This week marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadhan and the celebration of Eid’ul Fitri the world over. For more than a billion Muslims all over the planet the month of Ramadhan has been a time of personal reflection, contemplation and deliberation over their deeds and achievements over the year; a time of restraint and introspection; a time of reckoning. One only hopes that the leaders of the Muslim world have also taken this time off to do some serious soul-searching as well, and in particular to reflect on their deeds and misdeeds in the course of running the respective countries they have been elected to govern. (That is assuming that they were elected in the first place, for the quaint peculiarity of the Muslim world today is that quite a number of Muslim leaders have never been elected, and many of them regard the position of high office as if it was a God-given right to them and their families.)

During this month of Ramadhan quite a number of peculiar events have taken place all over the Muslim world. In Malaysia, the fasting month began with a right-wing leader of the conservative UMNO party making some rather repugnant remarks about the Malaysian Chinese community, referring to them as foreigners who can go back to China if they dont like things as they are in the country. Odd that such a remark could mark the start of the month of Ramadhan, when Muslims are meant to be controlling their emotions rather than letting them run riot in public. Odder still that a leader of the UMNO party can even make such a historically inaccurate and unqualified remark, oblivious to the simple fact that not only have the Chinese in Malaysia – and the rest of Southeast Asia – been in the region for more than five hundred years, it was also thanks to the missionary efforts of Chinese Muslim scholars that Islam came to some parts of the region like Java for instance.

The month of Ramadhan also witnessed a string of rather uncharitable actions being performed in the glare of the public eye: Teresa Kok, a member of Parliament and one of the leaders of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) of Malaysia, was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on the grounds that she had made some inflammatory remarks concerning the volume of the azan, or call to prayer, emanating from the mosques in her constituency. The member of Parliament was then detained under the ISA on the grounds that her own remarks were ‘provocative’, despite the fact that much of the hoo-haa that led to her arrest came from the pro-UMNO vernacular Malay media. During the course of her detention Teresa Kok maintained that she had never made any of the remarks or statements she was accused of, and that she was the victim of an orchestrated media campaign aimed at defaming her character instead.

Indicative of the lack of direction that prevails in the corridors of power in Malaysia today, the political leadership at the top of the Badawi administration was not even consistent in its stand on Teresa’s case and the MP has been released from detention without trial.

But the sordid spectacle of a media campaign used to whip up public anger and hatred against an individual is indicative of the culture of pogroms and black-listing that dates back to the Emergency era when laws such as the ISA were first created, designed to help bolster a (then) colonial British government on the brink of collapse. Since the 1950s hundreds of Malaysians have been the victims of the ISA and other colonial-era laws such as the Sedition Act, all in the name of national security and the stability of the country.

Malaysia’s use of such colonial laws is neither new nor unique: Similar laws were once used in countries like India, Pakistan and South Africa, and if the issue at hand is detention without trial then one can only conclude that this has been the norm is many Muslim societies dating well back into the pre-colonial era.

But it is during the time of Ramadhan that our thoughts go to those who are unfortunate enough to become the prey of such laws. Muslim history is replete with cases of such arbitrary modes of (in)justice at work, where countless Muslim scholars and intellectuals fell prey to the whim and fancy of despotic rulers and tyrants who ruled with an iron fist, and always in the name of God, needless to say.

One needs only to look to the case of one of the most famous scholars of Muslim history, Ibn Khaldun. During his lifetime Ibn Khaldun was imprisoned time and again by a succession of despotic rulers who found his critical ideas and deconstructive reading of official history somewhat trying. On more than one occasion he was framed, defamed and scandalised by his rivals and enemies who sought to discredit the scholar and to erase his contribution to scholarship for good. Time and again the unfortunate Khaldun found himself languishing in gaols and dungeons, to be kept there indefinitely according to the whim of the ruler of the day.

Yet despite the hardships he endured, including having to spend many a month of Ramadhan in isolation in his cell and away from his family, Khaldun persevered in his critical scholarship against the odds. At a time when official history was nothing more than courtly hagiography written to benefit and inflate the egos of rulers and noblemen, his humanist reading of history placed the ordinary individual at the centre of the process of history; insisting on the rational agency – and by extension power and responsibility – of the individual as the master of his own destiny. For the courtiers who grovelled at the feet of their rulers, this form of popular history was destructive and threatening to the order of things.

Centuries later, the rulers and kings who imprisoned Khaldun are all but forgotten. Nobody remembers their names despite the grand monuments they built to their own egos. Ibn Khaldun, on the other hand, has been immortalised as the founder of modern political sociology, a discipline that remains crucial in the political education of millions the world over. His imprint can be read in the works of Franz Fanon and Antonio Gramsci, and the humanist, materialist approach he took to the writing of history changed the rules of that discipline forever. It is thanks to the efforts of scholars like Ibn Khaldun that history today is and remains a political and politicised discipline, and not just a collection of happy fables to placate the demands of demagogues and dictators.

Like Khaldun, there are thousands who languish today in the prisons of the Muslim world as political prisoners who are deemed a danger to the prevailing order of power. Though history and hindsight may offer little consolation for those who are languishing in prison, it is important to remember that the pen is mightier than the sword and that the labours of the just will always prevail over the injustice of tyrants. History will see to it that they will be remembered, long after the names of the tyrants and dictators who abused them have been forgotten.

  1. #1 by sweetiec on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 11:43 pm

    Ramadan and Hari Raya Puasa are supposed to be the holyest for Muslim’s calender; however, BeEnd totally ignored her truthest meaning and misused her holyness solely for her very own self interest….

    Where got future for Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia???

  2. #2 by ahluck on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 12:19 am

    during the fasting month (ramadan) the devil or (syaitans) are tied up. subsitute syaitans lock innocant people up under isa. now you all know who the actual syaitans are? next the syaitan going to tell the component parties of bn about the power transfer not get permission. all will except and live happily ever after unless anwar do something about it. In this holy month and festival one brother like pkr inside and other brothers celebrate and enjoy. what a law in malaysia!!!!! hugging and kissing with dagger behind the back.
    anyway hope next year be a better hari raya celebration with change in govt.

  3. #3 by bclee on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 12:35 am

    we need a change of government,radicle change no tranfer of power.

    Free RPK abolish ISA
    Free RPK abolish ISA

  4. #4 by Dumbgovnt on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 12:51 am

    Action speak louder than talk. I would like to see more action. Show them that PKR really mean business, then they won’t have so much to said and do anymore.

  5. #5 by bclee on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 1:48 am

  6. #6 by bclee on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 1:49 am

    read this article by Syed Azidi on why two top gun changing post?


  7. #7 by Raja Umnoputra on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 1:54 am

    Dear Lim Kit Siang,

    I wonder when can we solve all these problems created by all the Umnoputra? Can we wipe them off from the surface of the world? or can we declare them as “not fit to rule the country” anymore?? Regards.

  8. #8 by bennylohstocks on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 3:05 am

  9. #9 by AsalUsuLMalaysia on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 3:06 am


    Aka UMNO’s and colony, ruler’s by Dictatorship from Dynasty of nepotism, a bunch of Kleptocrat who C4/ISA and even used the name of Islam to protect their sin.


  10. #10 by AsalUsuLMalaysia on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 3:20 am

    $omeday PETRONA$ is gonna be $oak dry by these Kleptocrat$ Dynasty$…

    It will be BeEND of this Beautiful country, our next generation is gonna starves like african country, strives by crooks and dictator running wild in the country and the streets.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 3:45 am

    Farish said that “History will see to it that they (people like Ibn Khaldun or our local equivalent, RPK) will be remembered, long after the names of the tyrants and dictators who abused them have been forgotten”.

    Death as described by Shakespeare’s Hamlet is that “ undiscover’d country from whose boundaries no traveler has yet returned”.

    So poser is, is it worth the price to pay to take arms against the Strong and the Powerful, “bear the slings and arrows of the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the insolence and spurns of high office”, suffer solitary confinement and worse than dog’s food under ISA just for a chance of being remembered, glorified nay immortalized “only when (in Shakespeare’s words) one has shuffled off this mortal coil”? In short, does it really matter that one is remembered as a martyr when one is long dead?

    Now compare the situation with that of “the courtiers” who grovel whose preoccupation is to “benefit and inflate the egos” of our UMNO rulers and noblemen, of whom I have known quite a few.

    In their present lives, they are enjoying the benefits of success : honorific titles, luxury cars and homes, they also have ‘respect ‘ but maybe of a different genre from (say) RPK.

    Their wives are busy shopping and holidaying in Europe, children studying in renowned universities in UK & Australia unlike wives and family of ISA detainees worrying sick and also suffering the forced absence of their spouses…..

    The question is :Which course would one take as wiser, would one fight for principles and pay the price of martyrdom for the liberty of the countless unnamed multitude one considers one countrymen – or would one take the view that charity begins at home and take care of one’s own position and family first???

    Aye, that’s the rub!

  12. #12 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 8:39 am

    When I was in school and there were still English history books around, it was actually taught that one of the main reason why the Malay Sultans adopted Islam was because they saw it as a powerful tool to rule their subjects. The feudal and basically narrow minds of the Sultan while professing the beauty of Islam was quite apparent in their interest in the power of the religion to suppress and discipline their subjects. Somehow, this fact is no longer even mentioned not only in our history books but also in current public debate.

    The root and evil of ISA goes way back and precede Islam or colonialism…

  13. #13 by de_Enigma on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:00 am

    Internet is mightier than the pen?

  14. #14 by Jimm on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:09 am

    Islam never promote any harm to the spirit of brotherhood …
    The wicked and greedy individuals that thinks they are GOD …
    We all knew that these greeds will never last …
    Those wicked merely like their names written as history …
    Stupid and profound ..yet they yearn for that ..

  15. #15 by zak_hammaad on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 12:04 pm

    Farish Noor should know Muslim history better than to taint it with the Western concepts as democracy and secularism! He states “…quite a number of Muslim leaders have never been elected…” – In traditional Islamic rule, there is no 2-party system or indeed election by the masses. It is a simple process entrusted to the Shurah (consultative assembly) which represents the concensualised views of the communities of the state. There is also no such thing as a “one person, one vote” idea where every citizen is given a right to decide on specialist matters that is within the domain of the qualified. By repeating popular propaganda, Farish will not change this fact.

    True that Islam is a religion that promotes peace, stability and unity through social justice. And if a government purportedly Muslim that fails to deliver on Islamic premises can be removed, but it is not the individual or an ‘opposition’ that decides on the successes and failures.

  16. #16 by Samuel Goh Kim Eng on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 12:22 pm

    May all those who come with the goodness of the heart
    Never from their noble goals in seeking justice depart
    They are never there to partake of the food like tarts
    When their desire is only to throw their freedom darts

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 021008
    Thur. 2nd Oct. 2008.

  17. #17 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:13 pm

    Zak, if it is not the people, who then? Are you implying that only certain class of people who claim to have more brain than others should decide? And what have those whom you gathered to have more brain proven themselves. In many sense of achievements, they have not achieved anything, except siphoning away the wealth of the nation. I think this is only country in the world which boldly dare to claim that purchasing goods on the behalf of the nation is entiltled to commission!! I think you should stop wasting our space with their pleads!!

  18. #18 by katdog on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:36 pm

    “And if a government purportedly Muslim that fails to deliver on Islamic premises can be removed, but it is not the individual or an ‘opposition’ that decides on the successes and failures.” – zak_hammaad

    So if individuals cannot determine whether a government has failed or not, then who decides? A select group of learned leaders? Who knows better than the average uncouth and uneducated individual?

    Ha ha! Your elitist views are really amusing. It seems that you believe that opposition should be discouraged and we should leave it our ‘well meaning leaders’ to decide everything.

  19. #19 by PSM on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 10:12 am


    Why do you bother answering Zakar Hammad’s “brainless” comments? Isn’t it obvious through his numerous worthless comments that he is a lap dog of UMNO (like MIC, MCA & Gerakan)?Yet, we must not blame him as the last 51 years of UMNO rule has “encouraged” the rise of brain-dead people like this Zakar!

  20. #20 by ekans on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 11:27 pm

    So basically, isn’t Faris A. Noor’s article about politicians being untrue to their faith when they run the government like tyrants and dictators, suppressing dissent with draconian laws and using ethnic & religious issues to further their selfish political agendas?

  21. #22 by ekans on Saturday, 4 October 2008 - 4:59 pm

    One wonders how the home minister would feel & respond if RPK had invited him to perform prayers together at the Kamunting ISA detention centre during this Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.

  22. #23 by dat2108 on Sunday, 5 October 2008 - 9:12 am

    free our country from dictator and corrupted goverment (UMNO and barua2nya)! Wait for PRU 13.

  23. #24 by bennylohstocks on Sunday, 5 October 2008 - 12:57 pm

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