Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Desiring Purity

There were many times many years ago when I prayed to Allah SWT to grant me all the good qualities a man can have and exterminate from me all that is bad. My intention was simple. I wanted to be a man free from all bad habits and characteristics and acquire all that is good as much as what an ordinary man can hope to have. I was hoping though that this purification process would be an easy and instantaneous one, something akin to waking up one morning purified from any sense of arrogance, vanity, greed, envy and all other deadly sins and bad characteristics, and at the same time engulfed by the purest of all noble qualities - sincerity, humility, honesty etc.

It just doesn't work that way, does it? You don't get all these qualities and exterminate all that is bad that easily. You can't even learn how to do this in schools and universities. No amount of religious and moral education can guarantee a personality of such purity. Education may help to a certain extent but ultimately it is one's experiences in life that matters. And often, they involve hard and difficult moments.

For example, how does a person acquire humility and sincerity and eradicate from himself arrogance and vanity. Of course there are many who profess to be humble and sincere but are these really valid pronouncements or merely delusions? On the other hand, how can someone possibly know he is not selfish and arrogant? You may think so about youself but does that mean others must share the same assessment?

When I was making that do'a, I probably thought I wasn't far off from the ideal personality I wanted. I wanted to get married at that time and prayed to Allah SWT to bless me with a companion to enable me to complete the purification process. I honestly thought that was the only missing piece in me and once I get it everything will be smooth and easy.

I know now that I was and still am far off from that ideal. There were times in the past I perceived my own actions as honest expressions of self-confidence, totally ignorant of the fact that others saw them as signs of arrogance. At other times, I saw myself as standing firm to my beliefs and principles when in fact I was stubborn, inconsiderate and insensitive towards the feelings of others.

Purification of one's soul is not, has never been and will never be an easy process - something for us to contemplate on as we seek forgiveness from family members and friends in this blessed month of Shawal. Eid Mubarak!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Revitalising Islamization (or Islamicization)

Discussions on Islamization of knowledge (IOK) have been revitalised in the last few months. Both the Kulliyyah of Economics and the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human Sciences have held several forums on the issue since early this year. Yesterday, a session was held at the Kulliyyah of Economics and the presenter for the day was Tan Sri Professor Dr. Mohd Kamal Hassan, a former Rector of the university who has been with IIUM since its inception in 1983.

Much of Kamal Hassan's presentation yesterday focused on issues often discussed in previous IOK talks I've attended over the years. These were namely the historical and philosophical background of the IOK project, the rationale behind IOK and a brief survey of the different IOK perspectives. An interesting and unique point however was made when he addressed an issue that cropped up towards the end of his tenure as Rector of the university: his personal preference for the term 'Islamicization' instead of 'Islamization'.

Several reasons were given and all these were highlighted in his paper which was distributed to members of the audience. The first was in support of the views of the late Professor Muhammad Hamidullah who said the term 'Islamization' is often understood in the context of religious conversion and proselytisation. This therefore may create some misunderstanding among Muslims and instill unnecessary anxieties among non-Muslims.

The strongest reason given is explained in the paragraph below:

"...while "Islamisation" conveys the idea of having to embrace Islamic theology or ontology or axiology or eschatology or epistemology as the case may be, the term "Islamicization" includes the idea that something is "acceptable by Islamic values, norms, standards or criteria", or something is "in harmony with the values and perspectives of Islam", such as the ideas or practices of good governance, excellence, professional competency, integrity, goodness, beauty, efficiency, punctuality, beneficence, best practices, harmless innovations or better ways of doing things, as long as those ideas, practices or institutions - many of which could also be found in non-Muslim personalities, organisations, cultures or countries - that do not conflict with the belief system, the law and ethics of Islam."

For me personally, although I am in agreement with all the points above, I would still prefer to stick with the term 'Islamization'. 'Islamization' is without doubt often understood to refer to religious conversion (especially in the study of history), but I believe can be argued today to have integrated the scope and meaning of "Islamicization" detailed in the above paragraph. On a more lighter note, the word "Islamicization" is quite a mouthful to pronounce. Many have struggled to pronounce it and that cannot be good if indeed we want people to talk and discuss about it more. The struggle to just get the pronunciation correct may put many people off.

Towards the end of his presentation, Kamal Hassan expressed his concern on the future of IOK at the university. IOK, or to be exact "Islamization of Human Knowledge" is IIUM's niche area "enshrined in the university's constitution as an important component of its sacred mission... As such it must remain as the core concern of the university which should never be marginalised or peripheralised."

I'm not sure whether Kamal Hassan was merely expressing a personal view, or was it in reaction to certain current developments at the university or the changing scenario in Malaysian politics. Whichever, I managed to put out a question on how we should respond to the argument that Islamization is a threat to nation-building and national integration in the context of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia. Kamal Hassan's answer dwelled more on a futuristic premise that nation-states will someday become obsolete but he did express his hope that future Malay-Muslim leaders in the country would see themselves as Muslims first, hence put priority on Islamic values and principles while governing the country. That is in fact the whole issue that requires some serious discussion for I know for sure it is an issue that many non-Muslims as well as Muslims liberals in Malaysia are currently questioning.

The talk was definitely a fruitful one. Future sessions are already in the pipeline and I am looking forward to attend them.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Independent But Still In Love

British rock legend Rod Stewart was once booked to perform an evening concert in Kuala Lumpur. The planned date was 31 August 1995. Since the date coincided with Malaysia's Independence Day, various sections in the society demanded the event to be cancelled. Many believed to have the concert on such an important occassion is inappropriate and insensitive to the feelings of those who had struggled for the country's independence. After all, Rod Stewart is British, and the British were the oppressive colonizers here.

The concert was eventually cancelled. Being a fan of classic rock music and a bit of a concert-goer at that time, I was extremely disappointed. I remember writing in my log book (I was taking an English language intensive course at the time) about how silly I thought the decision was. My contention was, yes, the concert happened to fall on Merdeka Day, but it was scheduled to be held in the evening, not during the day. All the talk and spirit of patriotism, nationalism etc are normally expressed in the morning. There won't be much anymore by night time so why not let some of us enjoy a good performance from a rock legend?

I must admit my attitude and viewpoints then were bad and immature. Yes, to have a rock concert held on the country's independence day is indeed inappropriate.

Having said that, I still can't accept the rhetoric about Rod Stewart being British and somehow represents the British colonizers and the colonial period. We Malaysians in fact are a strange lot. We talk about oppression under the British and hail our heroes who fought against them but in our day-to-day actions still embrace and adore their tradition and culture.

I have never understood for example why in a very warm climate country like ours, we still emphasise suit-and-tie as the utmost formal attire. If you walk to a departmental store and talk to the sales assistant in English with an immaculate English accent, the sales assistant will treat you like a king and serve you politely. And talking about departmental stores, has anyone thought about the irony of having shops in an independent Malaysia with the name 'East-India Company' and 'British India'? Was not the East-India Company the British company who cheated our sultans and took away many of our lands? Can anyone of Indian decent stomach a shop and clothing brand by the name 'British India'? Of course, this is Malaysia not India. But imagine, if you are a Malaysian visiting India today and you see shops with the name 'British Malaya'? That doesn't sound so nice, does it?

Someone once told me a joke: "if you throw a coin in London's Oxford Street (especially during the end-of-the-year shopping season), one-out-of-four times you will hit a Malay". A slightly different version says you will hit either a 'Datuk' or a 'Datin'. Whichever, the joke demonstrates how Anglo-philic we are despite the often-heard jibes and rhetorics against the British, and Western values and Western culture in general. After all, isn't our flag look conspicuously similar to America's?