Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Our future depends on how well many different kinds of people
can live and work together.”
                                     Tunku Abdul Rahman

I recently had the pleasure to attend Khazanah Megatrend Forum 2019 - “BUILDING OUR COLLECTIVE BRAIN” – from the past to the future. (read here )

“BUILDING OUR COLLECTIVE BRAIN” is based on Harvard Professor Joseph Henrich’s book, entitled, THE SECRET OF OUR SUCCESS. The gist of Professor Henrich’s proposition as I gather suggests:

1.    It is not our general intelligence, innate brain power or specialized mental abilities that can explain our success as a human species but it is our collective brains through cumulative cultural evolution – our ability to learn from each other.

2.    The power of our collective brains depends on in part on the size of the group of individuals engaged and on our social interconnectedness.

3.    The larger the group and the more interconnected – meaning the more inclusive we are, will result to a more powerful collective brain. And the reverse is true.

In other words when a group of people are secluded from others, they will have less technology and tools, less know-how, less skills etc. In fact, they are likely to slowly but surely move backwards. In a crude way of summarizing this, the more inclusive and connected a society, the smarter they get and conversely, the more exclusive and less connected the society, they get dumber and dumber. Do read the KMF link above about the Tasmanian and Melaka experience for better understanding.

4.    We don’t have culture because we are smart, we are smart because we have culture. The more we learn from different cumulated cultural knowledge, the more we amassed the collective brain – the bigger our cultural library. And, the more successful we get.
Being a student of the Quran, as I listened to Professor Joseph Henrich’s lecture, I cannot help but remember the inclusive and pluralistic call of the Quran. It seems the Professor has help us understand the Quranic truth better, with deep analysis, empirical data and well researched findings. He confirmed my thoughts and stand on the Quran’s call value our diversity and the stress for inclusiveness.

Let me share 2 verses.

Quran 49:13

O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.

Quran 30:22

And among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of [innate] knowledge!

We in Malaysia are very lucky as we are a supermarket of languages, culture, ethnic groups and sub-groups.  Our collective brain should burst with new ideas and technology, know-how, systems and processes. But, is this happening? Are we celebrating our Quranic gift? I have strong convictions we can do better. I am very certain we are not tapping our utmost potentials.

How can we ever grow our collective brain when there are many among us who prefer and promote exclusivity and the strong desire to be cocooned with their own community? Why are some among us pushing for more and more exclusiveness? Why are we not making full use of our diversity to build our collective brain? Why are we not making the best of our God-given diversity?

This is my take.

Before we can build our collective brain, we need to first build our collective heart. The brain will not come together when the heart is not willing. Sadly, we are a nation that is fairly rich and successful, but yet we are a nation with wounded hearts.

Allow me to repeat. We are a nation with wounded hearts.

Today, in Malaysia, every single group of people is feeling as though they are not being treated fairly. Every community feel that they have been short-changed. We are suspicious of each other and we have a trust deficit. We question each other's intentions. We are wary of each other’s actions.

Until we build our collective heart no amount of effort can ever foster or promote harmonious living and national integration. We need to heal ourselves. We need to heal the other. We need to heal the wounded hearts.

I am optimistic. I have to be. I believe, we can do it. And we must do it!

I would like to propose 5 key points. 5 good culture we must foster between us. I will try to support my recommendations with Quranic guidance and the Muslim traditions. This I do because I would like to convince my fellow Muslims first, those who are bias towards a more exclusive approach, so they may have a change of heart. For my Non-Muslim brothers and sisters, I am confident we share common values within our traditions.

1.    Practice the culture of fair play and be honest on both sides. The Quran chapter 83 verses 1-3 reads, “WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full. but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due!”

As an example, when we call for one stream schooling, we must not just choose to point at say the Chinese school system, but also pay attention to say, agama schools that also separate out children from the other. And vice versa.

When we do this, we build trust. When we do this, we heal hearts.

2.    Practice the culture of self-criticism. The Quran says at Chapter 4: 135, “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! –

In other words, say, “I will first be critical of myself and my own community. If I am Muslim, I will be critical of the wrongdoings of Muslims first. If I am Christian, I will be critical of the wrongdoings of Christians first, and so on.”

Similarly, at the ethnic front. Each community should first be critical towards their own ethnic groups who fail to work towards promoting harmonious living and national integration before pointing the fingers to the other.

When we do this, we build trust. When we do this, we heal hearts.

3.    Practice the culture that acts with empathy and mercy. The Quran says that the Prophet was send as the evidence of Mercy to all the worlds - Rahmatan lil Alamin at chapter 21 verse 107. Thus, we must practice mercy to everyone regardless of race, religion or background.

Our economic policy must help everyone that is needy and poor. No poor rakyat must be left unattended. I am not suggesting equality in the loose sense. Equality in the loose sense will favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. What we must do is to bias the poor. Period. All who are poor – Malay, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Kadazans, Ibans, Murut, and so on. All who are poor must be given full attention, adequate help.

Here I would like to suggest we do somewhat the opposite of what was suggested earlier in point two. Each ethnic group pay attention and practice mercy and empathy to the poor among the other ethnic groups instead of their own community. Perhaps the government can appoint a Malay to be in charge of the Indian poor, an Indian to be in charge of the Chinese poor, a Chinese to be in charge of the Eurasian poor, and so on.

When we do this, we build trust. When we do this, we heal hearts.

4.    Practice the culture of moderation. Moderation is the virtue of Islam. At chapter 31 verse 19 the Quran says, “Be moderate in your pace. And lower your voice, for the ugliest of all voices is certainly the braying of donkeys”. And at chapter 17 verse 29 the Quran says, “Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard's) to thy neck nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach so that thou become blameworthy and destitute.”.

At Chapter 2 verse 143, the Quran drew that the difficult test of those who are rightly guided are those who can be a community that practices the middle way.

Today many in Malaysia are fond of choosing the worst from the other community and make that person as the representative of the whole. The Chinese will choose the worst of the Malays and make him the standard. The Malays too will do the same. Similarly, the other ethnic groups and religious affiliation.

We are nuts.

We choose the extremes rather that choosing to look through the eyes of moderation. We should never give legitimacy to the extreme few who want to hurt the others or with hideous personal agenda. In choosing to do so, we too fail to practice moderation. There will always be those with more extreme views within each community. We should not give them power and make them the spokesperson for the whole community. We must always treat them as the minority and highlight the moderate majority.

Failing to do so makes us no different than the Islamophobic West who equate Islam with terrorism because they choose to give legitimacy to groups like IS and AlQaeda who are the extreme minority as representing Islam instead of the majority 1.6 billion Muslims who are peace loving.

We must practice moderation and choose to highlight the best among us, the moderate majority from all ethnic groups and religious believes and never give legitimacy to the few who are peddling exclusive, extreme and hurtful views.

When we do this, we build trust. When we do this, we heal hearts.

5.    Practice the culture derived from the Constitution and Rukunegara.
The Constitution and Rukunegara must be made our compass. Better still, integrate the Rukunegara and its Cita-cita as the preamble to our Constitution.

Recently, we proposed to add Integrity as the sixth Cita-Cita to the current five. I always find the opportunity to share these Cita-Cita.

               I.         to achieving a greater unity of all her peoples;

             II.         to maintaining a democratic way of life;

            III.         to creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;

           IV.         to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions;

             V.         to building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology, and the sixth, our recommendation,

           VI.         to foster a national identity grounded on integrity of thought, speech, and action.

Let us focus on Cita-Cita number 1 and 4 in this article – To achieve a greater unity and ensure a liberal approach to our rich and diverse cultural traditions.   

As I quoted earlier, Quran 49:13 suggests, it is God who have made us into nations and tribes, so that we might come to know one another. And, Quran 30:22 stresses that it is God who created the diversity of our tongues and colours: and these are messages for those of us who have innate knowledge.

The Prophet organized a social contract, the Medina Charter that includes Muslims, Jews, Christians and a myriad of clans that proclaimed all of them as belonging to ‘one single community’ or ‘ummah wahidah’.  The social contract offers a vision of a religiously multicultural society based on loyalty to each other, security and a mechanism to settle disputes among each community.

We too have a parallel social contract, our Malaysian constitution that proclaims us all as ‘one citizen under the Malaysian nation’. We need to carry the spirit and practice the culture of Ummah Wahidah under our constitution and stop hurting each other by calling the other pendatang or asking one or the other to balik somewhere else as we have no other home but Malaysia.

When we do this, we build trust. When we do this, we heal hearts.
To conclude, let me make a short review. We the Malaysian rakyat are sitting on a winning ticket but we are too afraid and wounded to cash it in. We have the right formula and opportunity to build our collective brain and win big locally and globally. But to build our collective brain, we first need to build trust, heal hearts. To build trust and heal hearts we need to practice a few new culture and habits. Namely, practice fair play, self-criticism, empathy and mercy, moderation and embrace the constitution together with the Rukunegara.

As a request, may I suggest, you and I be the first to start. We must take ownership, take responsibility. Let us not wait for others to act. We take the first step.

Last but not least,

May all of us guide ourselves with love, logic and wisdom. Love, because love makes us fair with our hearts; Logic, because logic makes us fair with our minds; and Wisdom, because wisdom leads us to combine our love and logic in the way of God and for the benefit of Mankind.


Our future depends on how well many different kinds of people
can live and work together.”
                                     Tunku Abdul Rahman
Anas Zubedy
Malaysian Movement For Moderates

Note: This is an adaptation to my presentation script as a panelist during HARMONY MALAYSIA’S 5TH Annual National Conference - Education and Culture in Promoting Harmonious Living and National Integration, last weekend,  October 19th, 2019 at IAIS, Kuala Lumpur.

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