Rethinking the Malaysian community

– Prof Dr. Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi
The Malaysian Insider
30 August 2014

When I was invited by my colleagues to deliver a talk to a group of final year architecture students at UiTM on the subject of Community Center for Malaysia, I ended up talking about what being a Malaysian community means to me. From the reaction of the 80 strong students, no one had ever given a talk closest to the one I delivered ever since they set foot at UiTM. The following is an extraction of my power point presentation set in an essay format. I want to share these thoughts with all Malaysians, particularly with my Malay and Muslim friends, relatives and colleagues. I am sorry to say that I have the perception that of all the races in Malaysia, the Malays seem to be the least in understanding what being a Malaysian is all about.

I want to say that I can understand if a Malay says that they want to be Muslim first because God is greater than country but that does not give a blank check in being ill mannered and obnoxious and downright threatening to other religious adherents in order to get a certain point across. It also does not mean keeping in a lock-up two young teenagers just for wishing Muslims the breaking of fast by eating Bak-kut-teh. It also does not give any right for Muslims to threaten to ‘slap’ an elected female representative or threaten to burn the holy books of the Christians. Malays and Muslims may disagree with me and even despise me but from where I am standing the loudest and most common bigots and racists in this country are…the Malays, especially from Perkasa and Isma.

The fact that these NGOs seem to get away with their unruly conduct is gravely disturbing indeed. But, on the ground, the fact that many teachers, head teachers, university students, professors, lecturers, taxi drivers and the many “Mak Ciks and Pak Ciks”, hang on their every word is the most frightening scenario for the well-being of the people of this nation. In my book, after 57 years of singing the Negara ku and filling televisions and youtubes with a feel good merdeka commercial, our grade is an “F” for failing to live up to the visions of our founding fathers like Tunku Abdul Rahman and Onn Jaafar. Plainly speaking, we are a divided nation…by ignorance…and worse…by choice.

Thus, it is with this sad and somber introduction that I offer my thoughts on how we should rebuild this country. I do not much care about the concerns of political parties on both sides of the divide because, again from where I am sitting, the two coalitions are simply fighting over who would own Malaysia and its wealth. Neither one is actually seriously putting across a viable concept and process of how to turn around this country on the path of moralistic, spiritual and cultural prosperity. Many Malaysians do not care two hoots about these three agendas for all their concerns is simply on a big house, a big car and a nice overseas holiday with a comfortable medical insurance expense as well as a good children education fund. But because of this ignorance, all that Malaysians covet will be meaningless and ultimately loss in a raging fire of hatred, mistrusts and civil unrest. The sparks have already began to flicker into life and is simply awaiting a small can of fuel to start the raging inferno of ethnic cleansing. Too dramatic a portrayal? I think not.

Henceforth, let us all ponder on the following words that I had put together in my definition of a Malaysian community:

“A Malaysian Community is a Community that comprises of people from different ethnic groups who reveres deeply their religious and individual cultural heritage and respects reverently other ethnic groups with their own religious and cultural inheritance in a spirit of democratic and civil harmony while believing fervently that their very differences are their strength and that these differences complete their social and spiritual assets. In short, One Malaysia is truly a Many Malaysia.”

There are two separate parts to the above mentioned statement. The first part is a basic necessity; that of respecting the differences of culture and belief of each race and adherents. The second part is the ultimate condition if Malaysia is to survive the storms of racial hatred and bigotry; that we all accept our differences to be our social and even spiritual assets.

With reference to the first part, we must ask the question ourselves, do we respect one another’s belief system and cultural norms? The Malays believe that other races must be subservient to them because of their Malayness and Islam. It is for this reason that many cultural, education and political policies are twisted towards these two items. Now, before the Malays call me a traitor to my own kind, and the Muslims call for my beheading a la Isis fighters, I beg please think awhile. Where has this policy gotten us? 57 years of failure. The attempt to only allow Islam to be taught in public schools and universities have resulted in a deep seated resentment by other religious adherents and the result is the proliferation of vernacular and Islamic religious schools that have deeply divided our society from its very core… the young.

The preference of the arts in emphasizing the dramas, poetry and songs of a single ethnic group again fuel this self-alienation. The fact that Dewan Bahasa does not publish adequate books that would bridge the cultural gap is greatly telling of the cancerous nature of our national malady. Just ask any university student a few question on cultural rituals of other races and they would fail miserably. After 57 years there is still no confidence of giving the Vice Chancellorship of a public university to a non-Malay. This is not respecting other cultures. How are we to proceed for the next 57 years if we cannot even bring ourselves to even get a passing mark in this first of all basic necessity?

Now forget about the second part of my statement. There is no way in this world that we, as a nation, would ever come close to the idea of thinking that our differences in religious beliefs, and cultural norms would be an asset and complete our earthly existence and bring us to spiritual enlightenment. Crazy, right? Especially to Muslims and Christians…I think. Both these fellows think everyone should be Christians or Muslims or else they will all go to Hell. So simplistic. So vulgar and So …arrogant. In my readings of spirituality, I studied many writings and speeches by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslim scholars, preachers and I also read Western spiritualists like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer.

Sometimes it amuses me and enthral me at the same time to find out that the Western Spiritualists speaks of Loving all as the key to enlightenment whilst most Muslim Preachers call out for enmity with all non-Muslims. Deepak Chopra once observed that the institutionalisation of religion is the cause of world unrest. Eckhart Tolle maintains that once God is being compartmentalized into ‘boxes’ of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, then His Greatness and Magnanimity that crosses the boundaries of time, peoples and regions become as small and restrictive as the brains that think they understand Him. So much so that the name Allah can only be used by one group of people in one small country in this vast Universe. My own spiritual travel has led me to an understanding of Allah in Islam that loves all He created just like a father of five children who looks beyond the sullenness, the selfishness and all the negatives of the children but is still prepared to feed, clothe, nurture and be by their side in times of trouble. Why is this concept of a Beneficent Being so difficult to fathom?

Eckhart Tolle also maintains that human beings tend to create stereotype of things including people and they refuse to acknowledge that their conception and understanding is severely limited but they still go on deciding and making judgement on races, religions and events based on this very limited knowledge. Do the Malays truly understand the Chinese or the Indians and vice versa? How much knowledge do we have of one another? Is our knowledge enough to say that such and such a people are trying to do evil things to us? The truth is…We know nothing of ourselves between us the races, cultures and religious adherents. Perhaps we should exchange our university sons and let them become our foster children for a time and let one generation possess more knowledge than us so that for the next 57 years we would actually be stepping upwards towards a clear direction and not like what we are now… going in circles and being ….no where.

Thus, in this Merdeka, let us be merdeka from our bigotry and racist mindsets and set our goal to a higher calling. We should open our hearts and minds and allow our differences to settle home in our bosoms like lost children in the night. For he who shows kindness to others, truly God will show mercy and kindness to him. Happy Merdeka. – August 30, 2014.

  1. #1 by bangkoklane on Saturday, 30 August 2014 - 11:09 am

    We need to look at work places where there is a good mix of ethnic groups. They get on well with each other conversing in Malay and English. No one feels intimidated or marginalised. To achieve this balance the authorities must try to rebalance their workforce as well as enrollments in all institutions, especially in schools, colleges and universities. There must be opportunities for all Malaysians to access education and employment of their choice if they are qualified and capable. For a start UiTM needs to open its doors to candidates from other ethnic groups.

  2. #2 by Noble House on Saturday, 30 August 2014 - 11:56 am

    I believe it is the nature of slavery to render its victims so abject that at last, fearing to be free, they multiply their own chains. Hence, the saying: “You can liberate a freeman, but you cannot liberate a slave”. If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to an invisible ghost.

    But I am persuaded by the fact that Malaysian on the whole is more reasonable, restrained and mature than most of the religious bigots and racists in this country believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. And it is for this reason I stay true to my belief and from where I stand. I still have hope in this country of mine.

    Even in the darkest phase be it thick or thin, there is always someone marches brave here beneath my skin. Thank you, Prof, for the insightful inputs that serves as a timely reminder of where we are heading as a nation.

    To borrow these words of Edward R. Murrow:

    “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. This is no time . . . to keep silent.”

  3. #3 by Sallang on Saturday, 30 August 2014 - 12:29 pm

    Dear Prof Dr. Mohamad, the country needs people like you to be lawmakers, to change policies for a better Malaysia.
    Its better late than never.
    Although it may be an uphill task, hopefully, with your influence, you can turn some rusty knob up there.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 30 August 2014 - 4:48 pm

    It does not bode well when PAS Youth leaders can’t tell that their only difference with UMNO is that UMNO is confident of ruthless focus on money (materialism) while PAS is not – Just confidence, not they would not still be if they were in more power..

    There is no hope for such true Malayness when so many have long forgotten what it really means, Mahathir’s perversion so deep it confuses their religion even..

  5. #5 by good coolie on Saturday, 30 August 2014 - 9:37 pm

    At the personal level, Malaysians have no enmity towards each other, and do not hesitate to proffer kindness and courtesy to each other. As members of racial groups, however, we each have our fears and prejudices. Some politicians, especially those from the ruling party, take advantage of these doubts amongst us, and divide us in order to the more easily rule us. Religious extremism, too, has a part to play in the polarsation of Malaysians. The worst is the piecemeal destruction of the Constitution in the interest of narrow political and relgious interests.

    Let us, however, have faith in ourselves as idividuals, as brothers and sisters, children of the One Creator. All other things will fall into place, given our good intentions.

    Let us have faith in ourselves.
    MERDEKA! (The MERDEKA! of Tunku)

  6. #6 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Monday, 1 September 2014 - 12:03 pm

    Bravo, Prof.

    It all boils down to being human and humane.

    In Shakespeare’s words: “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases…..etc. etc.”

    It applies to Malays, Indians, Chinese et. alii.

    Think again, my brothers.

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