Monday, December 29, 2008

What we Malaysians need to do to overcome the economic crisis

Regardless of our political affliation, we need to be one in dealing with the economy.

Thank you!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Will Anwar make a stand on hudud?

Anwar is in a catch 22 situation.

If he agrees to hudud he will lose the support of the DAP, a large section of PKR and liberal Malaysia. If he does otherwise, he alienates PAS and conservative Muslims. He is in this situation because of poor leadership. Spending time and resources in the wrong places instead of being focus in team building and team working within PR.

He is in trouble and PR may break up. Saying one thing to a group and saying another to a different group cannot work here. He will need to make his stand clear. Nothing short of a press conference with all the main leaders of PR coalition can save his day. Silence is no longer golden. Silence will add to the uncertainties, and leadership is about removing uncertainties.

Back in July to the anger of some Anwar supporters, I wrote( ) that Anwar is not a PM material (yet) as he still is lacking with what I coined Group-to-Group skills – a management idea I built and teach in a change management program.

Essentially, Group-to-Group skills is the ability to lead differing groups of people towards a common goal. In business it is the different business entities or departments, in Malaysian politics the various ethnic, territorial(like Sabah and Sarawak) and social groupings.

Basically, the number one job of a leader is to ensure every group move towards the goal at the same rate of efficiency but be faster than competition. I suggested then that due to Anwar’s lack of the skill the PR coalition will not last one year and this episode may just proof my point. But PR still has till March 8 2009

My sentiments about Anwar’s inability go back a long time, when he was still in the good books of Tun Dr. Mahathir and was a favourite in the Barisan Government. I predicted in the early 90s that his journey to be the PM is going to be real tough.

Instead I predicted then that Pak Lah was the likely candidate (though I was wrong then to suggest that he will last 3 terms!). The first time I saw Pak Lah’s likelihood to be a PM, I was 16 years old (1980). Then, I followed my father to an UMNO gathering in Kampung Syed Penang.

He was talking to a 100% Malay crowd and he nasihat that Malays must respect, take care and be sensitive to not just Malays, but also the non-Malays too. He said for the Malays to be successful leaders ‘kita jangan sakiti hati orang bukan Melayu’ and ‘mesti memimpin bukan saja Melayu tapi jadi pemimpin semua orang’ . I told my dad that he will be the PM ‘pasai dia tak kutuk China dan Hindu (Indians in Penang talk)’. My father just smiled – he had always thought that I am little too liberal.

I am not involved in PR-BN politics but just like many of you Malaysians we belong to THE THIRD FORCE (T3F). However, even if we are not involved, our lives will be affected by what they do.

What I propose is not based on party politics and I am not an Anwar basher – just someone who says a thing as it is. Anwar has many talents but unfortunately getting differing groups of people to work together is not his forte; it will be an uphill battle for him. He may try hard but he lacks the capacity. He may achieve some grounds as he did for March 8th, but it may not last long enough to make a real difference and create a two party system for Malaysia.

Until he does he will not become the PM and will not lead a really solid opposition coalition. He needs to check his framework and know that until he work on his Group-to Group skills, he will fail. Having a great drive to be the PM is not enough to raise him to the top. He needs to speak straight - and not cater his words on fundamental issues to grab votes and supports piecemeal making people happy in separation.

He needs the conceptual ability to marry not just differing groups and people in his coalition but also the country – we the T3F too. He has been busy trying to crack BN’s strength (an external force) spending time in Sarawak instead of working hard making his ‘loose’ coalition ( an internal force) into a solid PAKATAN – a United front that cannot be broken easily.

Weak leaders try to win by weakening his enemies, great leaders win by strengthening his own people first.

He lacks Group-to-Group attitude like powerful leaders in the past, Prophet Muhamad in Medina, Mao Tse Tung during the long march and pre 1949 revolution and Genghiz Khan who united the people with the analogy that an arrow in a bundle is unbreakable.

Personally, I would like to see Malaysia with a two party system. So I want PR to work out. The problem is Anwar may not have the capacity to lead it. Please understand, I am not saying he is of no good all together. He is the ‘Sun Yet Sen’ that roused people up, and he is really good at it, but today PR needs a ‘Mao Tze Tung’ to connect all the groups as like the Chinese revolution of 1949 and make things happen - methodically and clinically.

The opposition needs a stronger team, not a weakened BN.He may have outlived his leadership ability (unless he change and see the need to focus on his Group-to-Group skills) and PR may need a new leader.

Let me repeat, weak leaders try to win by weakening their opponents, strong leaders win by first strengthening their own team.

As a T3F member, I see March 8 2008 as one of the best things that have happen to the country. I have strong convictions that even BN members and supporters if they search deep inside; they will find that the losses in 5 states and not getting 2/3rd majority in parliament as perhaps the best thing that has happen to them. As Walt Disney said, “Sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing for you”.

DAP is forced to learn that it is not enough to talk but you must also do. That is good for all of us, even if DAP is a single term government of Penang, the lesson learnt will be of great importance.

PAS may just have to work harder to look deeper in the Quran and may find the answers therein. Don’t PAS ever wonder why The Prophet did the almost impossible and unite the tribal Arabs? He united 12 tribes who were at war for centuries and left a legacy of followers who went to conquer the world within 200 years.

The Prophet is a skilled Group-to-Group leader. A clear evidence is the Medina Charter . The Prophet did not seek to form the fashionable but shallow idea of an Islamic State or announced that he wants to implement the Hudud .

He managed to lead the 12 tribes even when Muslims were the minority - Group-to-Group skills at its best. To PAS, if you want to lead this country, I give you a little clue. The first part of the Medina Charter says that Muslims and Non-Muslims is one Ummah or community.

(1) This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.
(2) They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men.

Medina Charter.

Got it?

Look, I am one of the T3F member and I want the country to improve. A two party system will be good. But, to get there we need a stronger PR. To have a stronger PR we need great leadership. So PR will need a new leader if Anwar is not up to the task. Unless Anwar get serious and build a real coalition, this will not happen. Anwar may even need to make way for a better leader who can lead in a Group-to Group way. Is he up to it? Putting the country above self?

Or does PR need a new leader?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have A Meaningful Xmas : )

Wishing all who celebrate Xmas a Merry Xmas. Below is our (zubedy the company) message - an ad we featured in the Star today. This ad will start our " What Malaysians Want " series that we run for a year.

Have a Meaningful Christmas

What Malaysians Want:
Development Without Corruption

Malaysians want well planned, sustainable development. We want modern services and a better standard of living. We wish for up-to-date medical facilities at par with the best the world has to offer, available to every Malaysian. We desire strong and efficient infrastructure and support systems for a superior quality of life.

Malaysians want schools, roads, hospitals, offices, shops and homes. We want institutions of higher learning where our children can thrive and when they graduate, we want growth that ensures they have secure jobs with increasing incomes.

We want progress. We are united in wanting to move towards a brighter future for everyone, but we do not want the corruption that comes with it; corruption that saps our budgets and the integrity of our people and nation. We are not against building bridges and big infrastructure projects, we are weary when we hear of the equally big sleaze that comes with them.

When bribes are paid, when someone who should not get the job gets it because of corruption, everyone loses, even the very people that got the bribe and the work. The one with the bribe does not learn how to do his or her job well, the one that got the work does not do their best because they do not have to. When there's dishonesty, every Malaysian loses, you and me, every time there's corruption, we Malaysians lose. And we will not put up with it any more. Enough is enough.

As Saint Bonaventure (pic above) puts it: In the way of virtue, there is no standing still; anyone who does not daily advance, loses ground. To remain at a standstill is impossible; he that gains not, loses; he that ascends not, descends…

At zubedy, our programs draw strength from shared values and traditions. We believe all Malaysians want good things for themselves and for their fellow brother and sister Malaysian, simply because our nation cannot prosper as a whole if some of us are left behind.

Regardless of race and politics, all Malaysians want development, development without corruption.

Let us add value
Have a meaningful Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

A must read - best summary of our ethnic history that i have read so far!


If the ethnic temperature in the country has increased in the last few months, it is partly because few of us bother to explain to our own community the concerns of the ethnic other. If the influential stratum in each community makes a sincere attempt to understand and empathise with the other, it may be possible to reduce mutual distrust and forge better inter-ethnic ties.

Chinese and Indian Malaysians who have some knowledge of the ethnic situation in the country and command some moral authority should try to convey the following seven-point message to their communities.

Just as non-Malays should show some understanding of the Malay position, so Malays with moral weight should try to develop empathy within their community for the legitimate concerns of their non-Malay co-citizens. Malay empathy could express itself in relation to the following seven issues.

click here for full article

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Maths and Science in English? An alternative viewpoint

The debate if Maths and Science should be in English or in Bahasa Malaysia is missing the point.

It is obvious that it is not enough to have these two subjects to be taught in the language if our goal is proficiency. We need a reading subject too. I propose History in place of mathematics. History is nearest to reading a storybook. Loads of words, description of people, places, events and subject matters – including Maths and Science! As the Chinese would say “One leg kick “or in Penang hokkien “ hamplang” - meaning covering all.

Instead of debating for petty self interest and political expediency, we should put our politics aside and focus on what is needed for our people to not just survive but do well in the future. To really score, we need to be proficient in 4 languages in the future. So our subjects in school should be divided between these 4 languages. Let me elaborate.

For national unity - Bahasa Malaysia.

Let’s allocate South East Asian Studies and History of Malaysia ( yes this should be a separate subject to general history), Arts, Music, Civic (yes we need this subject back in full force) and Malay literature – should include an in-depth study of Peribahasa as it is the gems of Malay tradition.

To deal with the globalised world – English – Science because currently it is the language of knowledge and the main language today facilitating the World Wide Web. History as explained earlier should also be in English.

For business and socio-politics – Mandarin and Arabic – yes Arabic too unless you want a small group of people who claim to know the language to monopolise Islam and run policies that affects your lives without question. Being Arabic illiterate you will be deem to be not qualified to give your opinions. To make things work, the masses must be able to question policy makers. And, pls don’t think if you are not a Muslim you will not be affected – don’t be in denial, just look around you.

China most likely will be the most powerful nation in the world, so Mandarin is a must. Not just for the Chinese but all Malaysians. We allocate Mathematics to be taught in Mandarin. Yes maths should be in Mandarin, not English. Anyone who is familiar with the Chinese language or dialects would see how they are a superior platform for maths. Common sense will show you that the Chinese language and dialects has numbers in their DNA. Even in naming the 7 days of the week is by numbering – in hokkien Monday is ‘Pai It’ (day one), Tuesday is ‘Pai Ji’ day two, Wednesday is ‘ Pai Sa’ Day three, and so on.

My house number is 164, in Cantonese its ‘ Yat Lok See’ meaning ‘All the way Die!”. So my Chinese friends advise me to add a “B” by my address as “B” looks like the number 8 – a good number for the Chinese. So now my ‘mooi pai” (house number) is transformed into ‘Yat Lok See Fat” meaning ‘ All the way (mati-mati pun) good fortune!”.

For Arabic - geography. Like history, it carries a lot of words and stories too. Arabic will become one of the most important language (again).The Chinese are united by the language, the Muslims by the Quran and the Arabic language. Arabic used to be the language of science and knowledge but now has lost its glory together with the Muslim civilization. But the passion of the Muslim is burning (currently mostly still in the wrong ‘pots’) and Islam will make its impact felt – in both good ( eg - universal values of the Quran) and bad ( eg. Like the myopic banning of Yoga). Best we know the language too.

The above ideas represent a conceptual outlook. It will take a long time to deal with the needs, strategy and planning - like at what stage do we introduce which subject. But language is best taught during pre-school and earlier years – yes first start with the teaching of languages as the languages are the tools not the ends. In other words, focus on languages first as it will open future opportunities. Dont be parochial and sectarian. It is great for a malay to learn Mandarin and a Chinese and Indian to learn Arabic. Dont worry, all languages and cultures belong to God, so we all have a claim to them.

This idea will take a lot of work, political will and throwing away of prejudices but once we know the ‘WHYs’ we will find the ‘HOWs’.

Go read Syed Akbar Ali's book ...

I made two interesting friends this December. One is Syed Akbar Ali. He has three book titles to his name. They are written in kinda fun way but dealing with serious subject matters. I highly suggest be you Muslims or Non- Muslims to read his second book MALAYSIA AND THE CLUB OF DOOM – The collapse of the Islamic Countries ( Only RM 38.00 ). I was informed that a particular church in Kl ordered hundreds of the book too. Both Muslims and Non-Muslims should be concern about the issues highlighted in the books, as they will affect all of us ... regardless of your creed.
His other two books are " To Digress A Little" and " Things in Common".
Selamat Membaca!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Working Together for Global Justice and Peace

Sometime in July, I was one of the panelists in an International Conference organised by USM's Centre for policy research (CenPRIS) - below is my write up on the talk. Another of my fellow speaker's article i posted earlier, he spoke from a Buddhist perspective ( )

This one is a little long for a blog, but do read on :)

Religious Communities Working Together for Global Justice and Peace
by Anas Zubedy

Default Settings and Framework

I attended a seminar on Islam and Scholarship recently. As one of the speakers mentioned about Shia Muslims, the person who sat behind me, another Muslim spontaneously uttered the words “Shia lak’nat’tul Allah” meaning “the Shias, may Allah curse them”. Now, this chap is a decent looking man, educated and holds a respectable position in his organization. Yet his spontaneous reaction to a fellow Muslim who does not belong to his mazhab or school of thoughts is one of hate not peace. What would his spontaneous reaction to people of the other faiths like Christians, Hindus and Buddhist be? How would he dispense justice?

Spontaneous reactions are important indicators as they act as a summary to what we have in our hearts and minds. An indication on how our brains are wired. Our spontaneous reactions are behaviors that have become habitual, when our minds respond without thinking. If our spontaneous reaction is always in the positive, we may lead a life with a positive outlook. And vice- versa. In short, spontaneous reactions are like a default setting.

Default setting is an end result. It has its beginning with our framework or worldview, the spectacles we use to see the world, how we see reality, a set of beliefs which we take as the truth. Our framework is almost always culturally constructed. Every society and culture has its own theory and set of beliefs which it takes as the truth. With time and practice, a particular behavior generated from the initial framework will form habits and default settings.

This article will argue that for Religious Communities to work together for global justice and peace, we need to have a practical step by step approach to change the framework and default settings of many people of the various faiths. A setting that has been set for centuries, accepted without much contest or reflections. Yet, this article will show that to be successful our change endeavor must start at the micro level - our focus is with the Individual – changing people one at a time. Starting with ourselves!

Approach and Limitations

Guide us the straight way (Quran 1:6)

Firstly, my aim is to sell that central to the idea of working together towards justice and peace is the need to first reframe our worldview towards God, religion and the hereafter from one that is exclusive to one that is all inclusive.

Secondly, we need to bear in mind this need to find a framework where we can work together for global justice and peace not just between people of different faiths but also intra-religious membership. As the example in the beginning of this article has shown, the problem has an intra-religious flavor that may sometimes prove to be more vicious. History has shown that this intra-religious failing towards justice and peace is not confined to the Muslim community alone.

Thirdly, as a base for the discussion, I limit myself to the Muslim community. Therefore to support my arguments I will use the Quran as the authority. This is the logical approach if we want to change a Muslim’s point of you as ultimately a Muslim must judge by the Quran (Quran 6:19, 16:64, 7:158, 5:44). In other words, my reasoning and claim will follow a Quranic perspective in order to deal with its Muslim subjects. As I draw my case from the Quran, I will offer some clues on how Muslims missed the central message of the Quran- that Muslims must follow an all inclusive world view. It is my deepest hope that our brothers and sisters from the other faiths will also follow suit in drawing similar conclusion from their respective traditions, history and religious sources. You will find that this framework to be not just crucial in our modern world but also the most practical.

Fourthly, this article will follow a change approach usually found in change management work in business organizations. While the aim is to change society, the focus will start with the individuals. The mantra of thinking small usually brings more sure profit in the longer run than big plans. Business people especially those marketing oriented ones see this approach as crucial. It is like this, if you buy my idea, you start practicing the ideas in your daily life, your family, your circle of influence – then we have already moved a step forward.

Finally, a short article as this cannot do justice to a topic with such a large import. We will not be able to discuss key issues in change like resistance to change, change processes, nature and agents of change. At best this article can serve as a trigger point to those who read and share its ideas to reflect and initiate personal change.

The Core Message

“There are many lamps, but there is only one Light”

My take is this: A framework that seeks to monopolize God ie the need for the various groups/religious communities to be exclusive is the core problem that hinders justice and peace. This exclusive framework towards God and way of life lead to the belief that only those who are belonging to their own groups will be saved.

This framework slowly procreates a deeper necessity to differentiate between one group from the other and at the end will lead to the need to draw clear lines between them. This gives birth to an ‘us and them’ approach– A precursor to ‘us versus them’ attitude that will give birth to injustice and war.

To work together towards justice and peace we must first provide a new framework, an all inclusive one that binds all of us at the final count as one single community.

VERILY, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]! But men have torn their unity wide asunder …(Quran 21:92-94).

Thus my core message is this.

If religious communities want to work together towards global justice and peace we must agree to adopt, practice and promote that;-


In other words, we must first agree that we are all venerating the same God in our own ways. Rumi summarize this framework nicely when he suggested, “While there are many lamps, there is only one light”.

The objective here is to make righteousness, faith and deed and not religious affiliation to any particular group as the criteria for salvation (Quran 5:48, 22:67, 7:26, 2:177).

In the next section I will attempt to show proof that this message is the message of the Quran. Later I will show that this awareness and knowledge of the Quranic message will form the initial steps to affect change towards working together for justice and peace.

The Quranic case for an all inclusive Islam.

“THE UNITY OF RELIGION AND THE QURAN – This great truth forms the primary basis of the Quranic call. Everything else that the Quran presents rest on it. If this fundamental is discarded, the entire framework of the Quranic message will get out of order. But the vagaries of history are strange. The greater the emphasis that the Quran lays on this truth, the stronger has been the inclination on the part of the world to sidetrack it. In fact no other truth of the Quran has been kept so deliberately out of sight than this”

Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad – (Tarjuman Al-Quran; the Opening chapter of the Quran pages 152-153)

And say: "The truth has now come [to light], and falsehood has withered away: for, behold, all falsehood is bound to wither away!" (Quran 17:81)

The Mawlana is right. Contrary to Quranic hidayah (guidance), Muslims today seems to not see Islam as a long lineage of religion starting from Adam and concluding with Prophet Muhammad (Quran 3:144). Instead Muslims today equate Islamic history with the advent of Prophet Muhammad thus making Islamic history almost synonymous with the history of the Arab people – negating all other spiritual traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc as emanating from the same Creator. The first step to an all exclusive Islam – a brand of Islam that breeds Muslims who slowly but surely draws clear lines with others to the point of cursing and branding even fellow Muslims who are not from their same school of thoughts as infidels not worthy of the Heavens.

Among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold [by way of tenets]. (Quran 30:32)

The Quran on the other hand suggest an all inclusive approach stressing Allah has sent messengers everywhere in the course of history; a few are named in the Quran, mainly those from the Abrahamic line while the rest are not mentioned at all. But definitely there were other messengers sent to other geographical areas like India, China, The Americas etc although the Quran strategically remain silent of any geographical locations so as to be all inclusive.

“We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee, and some whose story We have not related to thee. It was not (possible) for any apostle to bring a sign except by the leave of Allah …”(Quran 40:78 Also refer 4 : 164, 40 : 78, 21:25, 17:77, 43:6).

In fact, the Quran is so uncompromising of this all inclusive approach that it decreed that any Muslim, who does not accept even one of the messengers, named or unnamed, ceased being a believer! Muslims also cannot make any distinction between any of them.

Those who deny Allah and His apostles, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His apostles, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": And (those who) wish to take a course midway They are in truth (equally) unbelievers; and we have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment, To those who believe in Allah and His apostles and make no distinction between any of the apostles, we shall soon give their (due) rewards: for Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful - (Quran 4 : 150-153 also refer 2 : 136, 3 : 84).

Thus, from the Quranic angle, Islam’s history is world history, not the history of the Arabs. The Quran’s version of mankind’s history started with Adam the first civilized homo-sapien - one who is endowed with the power of conceptual thoughts and language(Quran 2:31 – 33).

When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): … (Quran 7:172)
NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favoured them far above most of Our creation (Quran 17:70 also refer 7:31,2:33, 2:37, 7:27)

To stress this all inclusive approach deeper, the Quran made it very clear that Islamic and Muslim history must not be seen as starting from Prophet Muhammad as the Prophet himself was made to declare that he follows the religion of Abraham

We have inspired thee, [O Muhammad, with this message:] "Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God; …(Quran 16:123 also refer Quran 16:20, 2:135, 3:95, 4:125, and 6:61).

From the Quranic standpoint Prophet Muhammad is not the founder of the religion. He was the seal, the final one, the prophet who came to conclude a long string of messengers from the very beginning of human history.

[And know, O believers, that] Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but is God’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets. And God has indeed full knowledge of everything (Quran 33:40)

To make it final, that Islam must be all inclusive, the Quran stressed that it is Allah not Prophet Muhammad who named Muslims, Muslim; long before the birth of the Prophet

And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); … (Quran 22:78)

If we use the Quran as its own witness, almost all of the history books on Islam whether written by Muslims or Non- Muslims that usually record Islam with the coming of Prophet Muhammad and making the Prophet as the founder of Islam run contrary to the Quranic stance. At best they are relating the history of the Arab people and how the Arabs impacted the world and built an empire base on their new faith, Islam. (Here is where the historian Albert Habib Hourani got it right by calling his book “A History of the Arab Peoples”).

It is the myopic view and basic assumption of Arab history as Islam’s history that over the years has steered Muslims to deviate from having a universal all inclusive approach towards Islam. Hence Muslims grew to be more and more exclusive rather than inclusive of all the other communities and spiritual traditions. This in turn makes Muslim society monopolistic towards God and the Heavens creating a clear dichotomy and an’ us and them’ approach negating the Quranic positionthat all who worship in the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques are in essence venerating Allah.

… if Allah had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in [all of] which Allah’s name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed … (Quran 22:40)

and anyone who “believe, and those who follow the Jewish, and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Quran 2 : 62, also refer to 5 : 69). The Quran declared and confirmed all previous scriptures and dictate itself as a ‘watcher’ over them (Quran 5:48).

What are the effects of this myopic framework?

A myopic ‘us and them’ worldview translates into day to day actions that can breed injustice. The inability to be fair to the other side as since they are not like us, they don’t deserve what we deserve – for example in distributing of the zakat, non-Muslims who are poor and entitled to zakat by Quranic ruling (Quran 9:60) are excluded as beneficiary when Muslims draw a line between a Muslim poor and a non-Muslim poor.

This narrow view governs the daily lives by default setting to the point of absurdity. For example, one may feel more emotional pain when a tragedy occur to their ‘own kind’ as compared to the ‘other’ – like when a child is murdered in a foreign land by gunmen. In fact it is a norm that when hearing news of a tragedy, an accident, the default setting is to ask which community does the victim belong to, and, the depth of the reaction is then apportion based on affiliation! This default setting without doubt is not confined to Muslims alone. Can such a setting nurture justice and peace?

We need to facilitate individuals to move towards an all inclusive framework. When one has a more inclusive framework, the ‘us and them’ barrier falls apart fostering ways to share common values that can promote justice and peace. In fact, it is practical to say that with globalization, we can work towards the formation of a global society in the true sense of the term. It is no longer pragmatic to cocoon oneself into an exclusive society devoid of an international community sharing the same destiny. We need to view everyone’s history, each community’s problems, joys and achievement as our own. A collective past, present and future, a shared destiny where we work together towards justice and peace.

This approach is not new and has precedence in history. Take for example early Arab Muslims and earlier converts after the advent of Prophet Muhammad. They understood this all inclusive approach. They identify Islamic history as world history and become one with the earlier generations of Adam’s descendents, absorbing human history as theirs.

Viewing history and Islam as all inclusive, they became God’s children in true sense. They developed into universal beings. With that framework, they became free of myopic, bigoted and narrow mindedness; free to learn, borrow, modify, rejuvenate, innovate and built upon knowledge, technology and life skills from all over the world be they from the east, the west the north or the south and made them their own. Creating a civilization of excellence at a time when Europe was still slumbering in the Dark Ages.

Change and making it a lasting change – The Four Steps plus One model

In order to change and to make it a lasting one we will need to first help the target group reframe their current exclusive worldview into one that is all inclusive. Subsequently, we need to reset and rewire how the brain work to the point that at the default setting level one will have a positive spontaneous reactions towards both his or her inter and intra religious communities. One of peace and justice. This will need some time and will need to cover Four Steps plus One model of change.

Step 1 - Knowledge

The first is change in Knowledge. Without knowledge one will remain ignorant and know not about inclusiveness, about shared values and common grounds. This is the easiest stage as a book, seminar, multimedia presentations (videos, movies, and audio programs) can provide change in knowledge. These channels can be made available without much difficulty. In short, immerse ourselves with the knowledge about our own and the other communities to know and understand them. Make inter and intra religious knowledge abundantly available to fellow religious communities.

Step 2 – Attitude

The second step gets a little more difficult, attitude change. This is because attitude can fluctuate and it depends on situations. For example, a Hindu may have a positive or neutral attitude towards Muslims in general but the recent bombing by terrorist in Mumbai may alter his or her attitude towards the community. As such there is a need to build a mechanism for resilience in order to help maintain a positive attitude. This can happen when the motivation is internal, coming from within without allowing external stimuli to affect us. In the Mumbai terrorist example we can equip the Hindus with the Gandhian attitude of hating the sin and not the sinner or with knowledge and understanding (from step 1) that Islam does not permit such killings in the first place (Quran 5:32) and the terrorist is not being Islamic in the act.

Step 3 – Individual Behavior

The third endeavor gets much harder. The act to change behavior, how people act, react and do things. Attitude is at a mental stage; behavior translates what is hidden in the minds and hearts into actual practice. There is a difference. One may have positive attitude towards someone or something but yet fail to take positive action. An easy example is the act of keeping fit. One may have the knowledge to exercise like walking, jogging swimming, yoga etc (Step 1) and be positive about the benefits of working out (Step 2) but may fail to take action by actually applying knowledge and the positive attitude in doing exercises three times a week.

This step will take more time, energy and hard work. While we may have the knowledge and positive attitude and feel greatly towards our goal of an all inclusive world view, we may not be able to take action due to old habits or patterns that we are so familiar and so very comfortable with. It is at this stage that we need to check how much intensity we need to expend and add value to the task, be persistent stay on course and find alternative actions to meet the target. It is at this stage that we need to push ourselves. This is a crucial stage as only by repeated action can we create new habits and new default settings that will make us have a positive inclusive default setting.

Step 4 – Group Behavior

Step four is the hardest part. Changing the group behavior, like changing a church, the Malaysian government, a Hindu or Buddhist sect, an NGO, etc. Changing group behavior is the most demanding and complicated task as it requires a behavior change of every individual in the group. The effort required to change group behavior increases with the group size and the differences among the members of the group.

Plus One – Awareness, to complete the Four Steps plus One Model.

The first job of any change agent is to trigger awareness. Without awareness there will be no catalyst to change and we will remain stagnant. Awareness opens our eyes and we help us see new truth, new framework, and new worldviews. It provides us with new hope and new roads, new future.

Awareness provides an opportunity towards experiencing new realities and makes us mindful of things that we are not conscious of. It has the ability for infinite growth. For example, an awareness of a new worldview may in itself trigger further awareness in infinitum making our life experience richer and richer.

Awareness can take place in many ways. Step 1, Knowledge can trigger awareness. A Muslim who reads this article and become aware of the Quran’s call for an all inclusive message may be moved to change. A non-Muslim who reads it may change their viewpoint on Islam too. Step 2 can also trigger awareness; when a community starts to accept another in an all inclusive manner, with empathy; it may trigger an attitude change by the receiver community to act in similar manner.

Verily never will God change the fate (condition) of a people
until they change it themselves (Quran 13: 11)

Religious Communities who wants to work together as change agents for global justice and peace must trigger awareness towards an all inclusive worldview – and the best way to do so is self practice. Stop monopolizing God and stop preaching that only those who belong to a particular community that will be saved. The focus of change should be inward, our own selves. While it is tempting to demand others to change, it is more productive to be inwardly focused.

Like this, to move forward and make change effective, we can cluster our change efforts to three segments or groupings. The first group is at the macro level which includes the governments, inter-governmental groupings and international based organizations eg The Malaysian government, the OIC or the Roman Catholic Papacy.
Secondly, we can focus on the organizational level which includes groups like the church, temple, mosque, national level NGOs, societies, government bodies, work place formal and informal organizations (like the surau committee and cell groups etc.)

Finally the personal level; focus on changing our own default setting and working within the circle of people that is closest to us like our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors or anyone whom we meet on a personal basis. It is this third level that we need to give emphasis on. When the focus is at the personal level, we will be working at our most effective sphere of influence. The act can be immediate. It’s very productive.

In Conclusion

Unto every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship, which they ought to observe. Hence, [O believer,] do not let those [who follow ways other than thine] draw thee into disputes on this score, but summon [them all] unto thy Sustainer: for, behold, thou art indeed on the right way
(Quran 22:67)

In conclusion, I have suggested that the prerequisite of working together towards justice and peace, religious communities must first accept that not one community or tradition have a monopoly of God and the Heavens. That we all worship the same God in different ways. We may argue that our ways are more efficient but, all ways of life ought to be respected.

As agent of change we must first create an awareness of a need to not monopolize God. This we can do as I did here by going back to the religious text of the Quran. As I suggested earlier, I hope my Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and brothers from all the other traditions will do the same. Once we can trigger awareness, it is imperative that we provide knowledge, help change attitude, behavior and in the long run, group behavior.

I also suggested that it is best to start somewhere closer, by first changing ourselves.

O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any-one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (Quran 5:8)

O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God's claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do! (Quran 4:135)

Anas Zubedy

References and suggested reading;
1. The Message of The Quran ( A translation and explanation of the Quran) by Muhammad Asad
2. In Search of Human Nature – Mary E Clark - (2002)
3. The Opening Chapter of The Quran – Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad – (1962)
4. Major Themes of The Quran – Fazlur Rahman – (1980)
5. The Life of Muhammad – Muhammad Hussein Haykal – (1976)
6. Managing At The Speed Of Change – Daryl R. Conner – (1992)
7. Management: Task, Responsibilities, Practices – Peter F. Drucker – (1973)
8. The Concept of Belief in Islamic Theology – Toshihiko Izutsu – (1965)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Revisiting an article i read in 2006

Though written in 2006, i find this article by Dr C.M. relevant today


Ethnic controversies have become more frequent and more intense in recent times. What explains this trend? Is it possible to resolve these controversies to the satisfaction of the different ethnic communities?

Ethnic Consciousness : The Malays

If ethnic controversies have become more pronounced, it is partly because ethnic consciousness has been increasing among all communities since the early seventies. Within the Malay community, the New Economic Policy (NEP), especially in the seventies and eighties, with its emphasis upon ethnic quotas and the like in the economy and education, was partly responsible for this. So was Islamic resurgence which in a sense was linked to the NEP since rapid Malay urbanization in those decades reinforced the community’s attachment to certain religious forms, symbols and practices that set it apart from the non-Muslim communities in the country. A whole generation of Malays and Muslims (the two identities are interchangeable) socialized in the ethos created by the NEP and Islamic resurgence are now occupying positions of authority and performing roles of influence in society. By and large, they tend to be exclusive and ethnic centred in their outlook and approach.

The global environment has strengthened this exclusive outlook. The subjugation and oppression of Muslims in various parts of the world, often accompanied by their stigmatization and demonization, much starker today than ever before, has created a situation where Muslims are convinced that they are under siege. Consequently, a significant segment of the Muslim community ---the Ummah---has chosen to defend itself by re-asserting its religious identity. Malaysian Muslims, who are already acutely conscious of their identity, are part of that trend.

Ethnic Consciousness: The Non-Malays

Among the non-Malays and non-Muslims, negative reactions to both the NEP and Islamic resurgence have resulted in an upsurge of commitment to their own ethnic identities and interests. There are quite a few non-Malays in various sectors of society who partly because of their own experiences with the NEP in particular bear deep communal grudges which do not conduce towards social harmony. It is resentment whose significance cannot be underestimated since a huge portion of the Chinese and Indian populace is already third or fourth generation Malaysian and therefore more conscious of the promise of equality embodied in the nation’s Constitution.

These attitudes have been further aggravated by the situation in the school system. With the switch from English to Malay as the main medium of instruction in national schools in the early seventies, the vast majority of Chinese in the 7 to 12 age group now attend state run Chinese primary schools, thus depriving themselves of the opportunity to mix with Malay and Indian Malaysians at a critical stage of their lives. This lack of exposure to, and interaction with, ‘the other’ --- which is also true of the Malay student in a national primary school today --- has undoubtedly contributed towards the growth of the type of communal posturing that we are witnessing in the Malaysia of 2006.

As with the Malays, there are also global forces impacting upon the non-Malay mind. Islamic and Muslim demonization, propagated through myriad websites some of which are closely linked to the Christian Right and Zionism, is often accepted as the truth by many non-Muslims and non-Malays in the country. They refuse to see demonization as a tool employed by the powerful and their cohorts to not only denigrate their adversaries but also to camouflage their own hegemonic designs over the land and resources of the demonized. The tragedies of Palestine and Iraq--- and the diabolical Anglo- American- Israeli role in them---- bear testimony to this. If a lot of non-Malays are not prepared to acknowledge this, it is partly because of their entrenched antipathy towards the NEP and other such policies associated with a Malay helmed government.

Ethnicity and Politics

While we have attempted to understand some of the domestic and global factors responsible for increased ethnic consciousness in recent times which in turn has ignited certain current ethnic controversies, it is important to emphasize that there are also some perennial forces at work which tend to keep the ethnic temperature high in societies like ours. The political manipulation of ethnic sentiments is one such force. It has been shown that in most multi-ethnic societies politicians on both sides of the government-opposition divide just cannot resist the temptation of exploiting ethnic issues in order to enhance their electoral standing. In Malaysia this has been happening since the introduction of electoral politics in the fifties. It may even have taken a turn for the worse in the last few years since ethnicity itself has reached new heights of late.

In any case, it is not just to mobilize votes that politicians manipulate ethnic feelings. Manipulation sometimes serves to conceal and camouflage widening income disparities and social iniquities within a particular community. It is perhaps not a coincidence therefore that as intra-community disparities widen--- between 1999 and 2004, they had worsened among all communities--- the communal rhetoric of certain political actors is also getting shriller. Since these disparities are most serious within the Malay-bumiputra community, is it any wonder that some of its politicians are vying with each other to portray themselves as ethnic heroes?

Possible Solutions

Having identified some of the causes for the deteriorating ethnic situation, we should now reflect upon some possible solutions. It would be too simplistic to suggest the rescinding of the NEP or the abolition of Chinese medium schools as the remedies. For even if the NEP is not there, the underlying fears and aspirations of the Malay-Bumiputra community related to its economic strength and resilience would still have to be addressed. Similarly, the Chinese school has become a metaphor for the community’s sense of ethnic security and identity. This is why any effective, long-term solution should seek to overcome fundamental fears and apprehensions of all communities.

The fundamental fears of the Malays are linked, directly or indirectly, to their position in what was historically a Malay polity. They are afraid that in spite of all the constitutional provisions and public policies, they could one day lose control over their own land because of their perceived inability to compete with the economically more robust Chinese. If that happens, not only will the Malays cease to be politically preeminent; some of the principal Malay characteristics of the Malaysian nation, such as the status of Islam as the religion of the Federation; the position of Malay as the sole official and national language; and the role of the Malay Rulers as constitutional heads of their respective states would also be jeopardized. Among some Malays, this fear has acquired an added dimension in recent times. As a result of rapid economic globalization and Malaysia’s own position as an open economy in this increasingly borderless world, the pressures upon the Malay community to compete in both the domestic and international arenas have multiplied. If anything, China’s success in the global economy has also made a segment of the community somewhat uneasy about the future.

Assuaging Fears

To assuage these fears within the community which are largely unfounded, Malay leaders in every sphere of society--- government, opposition, media, academia, business, labour---- have an important role to play. They should show the community through honest and rational analysis that the Malays have made tremendous economic and social progress in the last 49 years. In almost every profession today, Malay participation is significant, compared to the situation 30 years ago. Likewise, in the upper echelons of commerce and industry there are a number of Malays whose hallmark is their competence and ability. All this has been achieved not through ethnic quotas and special privileges per se as it is erroneously believed in certain quarters --- though quotas and privileges would have played a minor role. The primary reason for this success is the vast expansion of opportunities for the Malay masses through education. It is because of the state’s massive investment in education at all levels --- which any just and responsible government would have done even if it was not faced with the same ethnic challenges---that the Malay community has witnessed such a dramatic transformation in its socio-economic status in such a short while. To put it differently, it is the state’s commitment to social justice, and not its ethnic agenda, that is mainly responsible for the upliftment of the Malay community.

If the State is sincere about strengthening the Malay economy in the coming years, it is justice that should be its central concern. What this means is that it should harness all its energies to tackle what is undoubtedly the single most important challenge confronting the Malay economy: the challenge of widening economic disparities within the community. The state should also go all out to combat the pervasive rentier culture which has inhibited the growth of genuine entrepreneurship. Eradicating both corruption, which has emasculated the economy, and abuse of power should also be its national priorities. None of these goals would require ethnicizing the economy. On the contrary, an ethnic approach would prevent the state from coming to grips with the real problems facing the community and the nation.

At the same time, Malay leaders should assure their community that neither Malay political preeminence nor institutions such as the monarchical system, the Malay language or Islam are under any threat from the non-Malay populace. The vast majority of non- Malays accept that a Malay core within a multi-ethnic national leadership is vital for national stability and harmony. What is important is for that core to be just and fair to all communities. The non-Malays have never questioned the status of our Sultans as constitutional monarchs. Young Chinese and Indian Malaysians speak Malay with effortless ease. Since Merdeka ,no Muslim group has challenged the constitutional role of Islam as the religion of the Federation.

However, it is true that of late some non-Muslims have become concerned about certain aspects of Islamic law that impinge directly upon their interests. While this in no way constitutes a threat to the religion, Muslim leaders have an obligation to present the Islamic position on these legal issues in a manner that reflects the religion’s commitment to justice, compassion and mercy. Indeed, if Muslims demonstrate through deeds the universal essence of Islam, there is no doubt at all that the non-Muslim response to the religion will be more positive than what it is today.

The other fear that has been expressed about China’s role is also without any basis. China has sought assiduously to cultivate close ties with the indigenous leaderships of all Southeast countries, including Malaysia. The Malaysian government in particular has enjoyed a warm relationship with Beijing since 1974 when Malaysia became the first country in non-communist Southeast Asia to recognize China. The last thing that China would want to do is act as patron and protector for Chinese communities in the region!

Malay Fears: The Non-Malay Role

It is not just Malay leaders who should dispel the unjustified apprehensions of the Malay community. Chinese and other non-Malay leaders can also give a helping hand. Chinese Chambers of Commerce at national and state levels and other trade and manufacturing bodies operating within the community can take proactive measures to assist Malays, other Bumiputras and even Indians to establish small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Since non-Chinese business people have always found it difficult to access the production, supply and distribution networks of SMEs, aid from Chinese businesses could provide a breakthrough. Malays and other non-Chinese should also be given opportunities to occupy the upper echelons of Chinese dominated corporations. If concrete steps are taken to encourage Malays and others to progress in those segments of the private sector where Chinese Malaysians wield considerable influence, mutual trust and understanding between the communities will develop. It is worth observing that so far there has been no organized, sustained long-term effort at the collective level on the part of the Chinese community to help Malays and other Bumiputras in commerce and industry.

Chinese and other non-Malays should also develop a stronger bond with Malay --- a bond which goes beyond their present functional relationship with the language. If more non-Malays produce poems, short stories and novels in Malay, respect and even affection between the communities could grow. By the same token, more non-Malay media commentators, academics, NGO activists and politicians should endeavour to explain what Islam really is, what its stand is on violence, and why the centers of power in the West are demonizing the religion. When non-Malays begin to understand the motives behind global hegemony and its targeting of Islam and Muslims and display less antipathy towards the religion and its followers, the Malays --- hopefully --- will also become more confident about the non-Malays and their sincerity.

Non-Malay Fears

After analyzing Malay fears, let us now turn to non-Malay fears about their position in the country. Sections of the non-Malay communities have for a long while complained about discrimination against them in the award of university places and scholarships; in recruitment into the civil service; in promotions in the police and the armed forces; in the procurement of contracts; in the disbursement of import permits; in the allocation of low-cost housing units and so on. They regard the NEP and the constitutional provisions that underlie the policy as inimical to the interests of the non-Malays. It is not just discrimination in education or the economy that riles them; they are equally concerned about what they perceive as their lack of political clout. UMNO, they feel, dominates the ruling Barisan Nasional. Some non-Malays are also of the view that their languages, cultures and religions are not accorded the prominence they deserve.

A significant segment of the non-Malay populace has concluded from all this that Chinese, Indians and other non-indigenous Malaysians are ‘second-class citizens’. Many are convinced that they will never attain equality with the Malays and other Bumiputras. Simply put, they are pessimistic about their future.

Addressing Non-Malay Fears

While it is granted that there are hurdles, some major, others minor, in the path of non-Malay progress, the overall situation of the non-Malay communities, especially the Chinese, is better than it is made out to be by some of their ethnic champions. The Chinese remain as ubiquitous in the economy as they were before the NEP was launched in 1971. A wealth profile of the nation would reveal that the Chinese rich continue to dominate the upper crust of the economy. Chinese dialects are still widely spoken in the country. Chinese newspapers are among the nation’s best selling newspapers. By recognizing Chinese as a medium of instruction in the national primary school system, the Malaysian government has accorded the language a role which it performs in hardly any other country outside China. Tamil is also a medium of instruction in primary school. Various aspects of Chinese and Indian cultures are practiced without hindrance while the Chinese lunar new year like the Buddhist Vesak, the Hindu Deepavali and Christmas are national holidays. Very few countries in the world have mainstreamed the religious festivals of their minorities the way Malaysia has. Needless to say, freedom of worship is both a constitutional right and a social practice.

Non-Malays are also actively involved in the civic and political life of the nation. Apart from playing leading roles in trade unions and NGOs, Chinese, Indian and other Malaysians are at the helm of a number of political parties both in the ruling coalition and in the opposition. Since Merdeka there has been substantial non-Malay representation in the federal parliament and in most state assemblies. Non-Malays also sit in the federal cabinet and in the state executive councils. In other words, non-Malays are integral and essential to the nation’s political process.

The Malay Polity

However, to appreciate the significance of the non-Malay role in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious life of the nation, one has to comprehend the context in which the Malaysian state was established. As we have alluded to before, Malaysia evolved from a Malay polity. This is an irrefutable, indisputable fact about our nation which every Malaysian should try to understand. We know that the basic features of the Malay polity--- the Sultans, the Malay language, Islam--- were incorporated into the Malaysian Constitution. In the Proclamation of Independence there are specific references to the ‘Malay States’ and the ‘Malay Federation’. The British colonialists recognized the Sultanates with which they entered into treaties as ‘Malay kingdoms’.
And indeed, right through the pre-colonial period there were Malay kingdoms which functioned as states with all the attributes of statehood: territorial control, domestic jurisdiction, external trade relations and diplomatic exchanges. Equally important, these Sultanates used a language, Malay, which was the lingua franca of the region, and adhered formally to a religion, Islam, which was the basis of law and administration. Together, Malay and Islam, provided an identity to the people.

It was a people with a Malay identity and a Malay history that acceded to the accommodation of recently domiciled immigrants through the 1948 Federation of Malaya Agreement which culminated in the 1957 Merdeka Constitution. What it implied in reality was that the Malays were willing to share their polity with communities with whom they has very little cultural or religious affinity. Because the numbers of Chinese and Indians who became citizens on incredibly liberal terms were huge --- by 1960, almost half of the total population of Malaya was non-Malay---the demographic character of the polity itself underwent a dramatic transformation. In a nutshell, the Malays who constituted a people, a polity, in the past became a community among communities in their own land. I have often argued in my writings that this diminution in the status of the Malays which has few parallels in the annals of human history is one of the greatest sacrifices that any people have made in the course of accommodating the other.

It was mainly because of this sacrifice that the affirmative action clauses were put into the Constitution. Since the Chinese and others now had citizenship rights, it was felt that the economically weaker Malays had to be protected in areas pertaining to land ownership, scholarships, business licenses and civil service positions. The Constitution also provided for rural electoral weightage which helped ensure Malay political preeminence--- again an attempt to safeguard the Malay position in a situation where everyone enjoyed equal political rights.

In fact, in a number of other places too, the Constitution attempts to balance the interests of the inheritors of the Malay polity with the interests of a democratic society which had conferred rights upon its new citizens. For instance, while Malay is the official and national language, the use and study of other languages is also guaranteed. While Islam is the religion of the Federation, there is freedom to practise other religions. Establishing an equilibrium between the demands of a Malay polity and the needs of a multi-cultural, multi-religious state that had emerged from that polity is one of the most remarkable achievements of the Malaysian Constitution.

Delivering Justice

This nexus between the Malay polity and the Malaysian Constitution, how it came about, and what it implies for multi-ethnic Malaysia should be communicated to the non-Malay citizenry, especially the younger generation. Those who wield influence and authority within the non-Malay communities, from business people to educationists, should make it a point to socialize the young into this understanding of how contemporary Malaysia emerged partly through the sacrifice of the forefathers of their Malay brothers and sisters. It is a pity that very few Chinese and Indians subscribe to such a perspective.

If it is important for non-Malays to develop some empathy with the idea of a Malaysian nation that had emerged from a Malay polity, it is imperative that Malay leaders convince the Chinese and Indian communities that they are committed to the evolution of a social order that will be less and less preoccupied with ethnic policies and more and more devoted to an all-embracing vision of justice that focuses upon our common humanity. We have observed that only when justice supplants ethnicity will it be possible to overcome the current challenges facing the Malay economy. It is an observation that applies with equal force to the non-Malay situation. Leaving aside some demands that stem from a lack of appreciation of the nature of our multi-ethnic society, there are many legitimate non-Malay grievances that revolve around issues of access and mobility that can only be resolved if the Malay leadership is passionate about delivering justice to all, regardless of ethnic affiliation.

It is only when such a notion of justice prevails that our ethnic fears will be laid to rest.

Dr.Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

31 October 2006