All posts by Abdul Haq Musa

Islam Online Live Dialogue: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur – An Eyewitness Account

Islam Online Live Dialogue: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur – An Eyewitness Account

Assalamu ‘alaykum wr wb!

This is the transcript for the Live Dialogue held yesterday night [from 11:30 pm] at Islam Online pertaining to the Darfur issue.

The guest answering questions was Dr. Mansour Muhammed Hassan who recently returned from a 20 day trip to Darfur in Sudan where he was the head of the medical aid mission sent by Egypt’s Medical Doctors’ Syndicate between July 2 – 23, 2004.

Dr. Hassan also visited the south of Sudan with a similar mission in April.

He is a 1979 graduate of Alexandria University’s Faculty of Medicine and is currently a consultant in pediatrics in Alexandria, Egypt. He is also the secretary general of Alexandria’s Medical Doctors’ Syndicate.

Dr. Hassan welcomes your questions about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and in the south of Sudan.

Hope it is useful. Wassalam.

Ainullotfi/Murniati

Medicine – an Inalienable Right

Medicine – an Inalienable Right
by Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

Published in Malaysiakini and NST on the 7th June 2004

The straight As students and their families seem to think that 4As give them the “divine right” for a place in medicine. One dad had the audacity to write in the NST that his 4As son deserved a place in the University of Malaya medical school but was infuriated when given a place in the medical school of the University Sains Malaysia.. Everyone seems to be playing into the hands of the racial undertones of the mainstream media and the opportunistic politicians.

If you’ve been following the polemics in the United Kingdom medical schools, you’d realise that many are beginning to conduct their own mechanisms to select their “best choice” medical student candidate. Quite clearly 4 flat or straight As is but just one of the criteria; and not necessarily the pivotal criteria. The medical school in Cardiff only required 3Bs from me; and Sheffield even less 1B, 2C. Your teacher’s testimonial and forecast results, one’s extra curricular record, one’s leadership roles, one’s community service, one’s medical related activities, and one’s performance at the interview persuades the faculty whether you are a worthwhile investment and have what it takes. Then in the early 1970s, many did not survive the screening onslaught when foreign medical student selection were hyper stringent and medical places were scarce by today’s standards.

My orthopaedic colleague has written to the editor NST; suggesting that the 800 + 128 “budding docs” to just spend

2 weeks tagging the houseman on call and he is very confident that by the end of the fortnight at least 128 would have aborted this holy idea of ever becoming doctors !!!

I am appalled at how readily we bend our benchmarks in quality medical education to create more medical school seats.

How dare we compromise our educational gold standards and sway to the demands of the students, parents and society. The victims of all of these poorly thought, stop gap and quick fix measures are our unsuspecting patients, that is you and me. And we have not even begun to address the massive brain drain from the medical schools and the Ministry of Health to the “greener pastures” which is haemorrhaging quality teachers from these teaching institutions

I personally believe that many doctors in the private sector are keen to teach part time in the medical schools but the system is unfortunately not in place to harness and facilitate this process; a truly missed opportunity ! I myself will be doing 12 hours of teaching in the Law Faculty of UIA in their 6 months certificate in medical law and am presently engaged in teaching their master students in biotechnology and the law. So it has been done and can be done and most of us do not even expect any form of remuneration. It is simply the love of teaching which we have had to prematurely offset due to other considerations.

Why is it that our southern and northern neighbours can secure their best medical brains within the civil and educational service whilst we fail miserably? This is a classical case of human resource foul up.

In my daughter’s college, about 10 top notch students have failed to secure a place in the current UK medical school applications and have to either wait for clearing or apply locally. I dare say, that they are all much better and well rounded students in the program that they follow in the college compared to those doing form six who are obsessed with As and grossly exam centric. At the end of the day, the whole purpose and noble end points of education is lost in this adolescent rhetoric of As.

Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin
musa@mpf.org.my
Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist
Damansara Specialist Hospital
119 Jalan SS 20/10
Damansara Utama
47400 PJ
Tel/Fax : 03-77293173

Letter to the Press Regarding “SIS : Feminisme Islam warisan sunah Rasulullah”

Letter to the Press Regarding “SIS : Feminisme Islam warisan sunah Rasulullah”
by Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

Saudara Pengarang

Reaksi yang dicoretkan oleh Sisters in Islam bertema “SIS : Feminisme Islam warisan sunah Rasulullah”; didalam ruangan Forum bertarikh 23hb Julai 2003 memang telah dijangkakan dan konsisten dengan teras perjuangan mereka semenjak penubuhannya pada tahun 1988. Saya tetap menghormati kesungguhan dan ltizam mereka mengarus perdanakan isu-isu wanita dan menarik perhatian masyarakat kepada ketidakadilan dan penganiayaan yang berlaku dan berlanjutan keatas kaum Hawa.

Namun demikian, didalam keghairahan dan keasyikan SIS memperjuangkan agenda wanita, mereka tidak harus hilang pegangan dan pedoman kepada tradisi dan kesahihan ilmu dan fakta. Ini ternyata didalam suatu luahan Ketua Eksekutif nya yang mendakwa bahawa punca kebanyakan daripada wanita professional tidak mahu berkahwin ialah kerana sikap kaum lelaki masakini yang tidak bertanggung jawab dan menghambat si-isteri dengan bebanan kerja yang berlebihan dirumah disamping tugas kerjaya mereka.

Terbawa-bawa dengan emosi feminsime yang luarbiasa ini, SIS melemparkan suatu kecaman yang tidak bertanggung jawab dan tidak berasaskan ilmu dan fakta didalam nukilan mereka yang terakhir ini. Demi mendokong dan merasionalkan perjuangan  “feminisme islam”, mereka merumusakan secara membuta tuli bahawa penindasan wanita dan penafian hak-hak asasi mereka adalah berpunca “kerana kaum lelaki sahaja yang telah menguasai secara eksklusif hak mentafsir al-Quran dan bahan-bahan ilmuan Islam yang lain”.

Hujjah sedemikian rupa yang acapkali ditonjolkan oleh SIS tidak asing kepada mereka yang mengikuti secara halus sejarah dan evolusi pergerakan feminisme  didalam dunia Islam. Amina Wadud yang baru-baru ini telah mencetuskan kontroversi di-Konsultasi Pemimpin Islam SeDunia Kedua berkenaan AIDS/HIV, juga merupakan diantara pengasas SIS, adalah termasuk sebilangan kecil yang menganut fahaman “feminist revisionism” yang mencemuh mufassireen lelaki terdahulu, yang mereka dakwa bersikap “bias gender”; memihak kepada jenis mereka dan menganiaya hak wanita apabila mentafsser ayat-ayat suci al-Quran.

Wadud didalam penulisan nya “Warisan Aishah : perjuangan untuk hakhak wanita didalam Islam” mendakwa bahawa “Pada zaman Abbasiyah, semasa asas-asas Islam sedang dibina, kesemua ahli fikir dan ulama nya adalah lelaki. Mereka tidak menghayati wahi secara terus ( dakwaan ini agak pelik kerana hanya para anbiya yang menghayati wahi secara terus dan pilihan Allah eksklusif kepada pihak lelaki, dan jika mantik Wadud dilanjutkan apakah Allah tidak bersikap “gender neutral” ? ), tidak mengenali Rasulullah secara peribadi dan kadangkala terpengaruh dengan fahaman intelektual dan budaya moral semasa yang bertentangan dengan Islam”. Wadud dengan emosi feminisme yang meluap ini menekankan bahawa Allah mesti digelar dengan “He/She/It” ! Selaku anak murid dan rakan seperjuangan Wadud yang setia dan ta’sub kepada perjuangan “feminist revisionism”, SIS turut mengutarakan hujjah yang songsang ini, tidak amanah kepada fakta sejarah dan membelakangkan tradisi ilmu yang bersandarkan an-Nahjus Sahih..

Tidak dinafikan bahawa ulama, ahli falsafah  dan mufassireen “kebanyakannya” lelaki tetapi tidak eksklusif dan hanya lelaki sahaja. Terulung dikalangan pentafsir ayat-ayat suci al-Quran dikalangan kaum Hawa merupakan ummul mukminah Aishah, Ummu Salamah dan Hafsah dan lebih kontemporari ialah penulis Kitab Tafsir Al Bayan bil Quran nil Karim, Dr. Aishah Abdul Rahman yang lebih dikenali sebagai bint al-Syatie ( yang cerdik ). SIS seringkali kali bernaung dan merujuk kepada kitab tulisan Wadud “Quran and Women : Rereading the sacred text from a woman’s perspective” ( Quran menurut perempuan : Perempuan meluruskan bias gender dalam tradisi tafsir ) yang telah pun digazetkan haram oleh JAKIM pada tahun 2001 dan diharamkan penyebarannya oleh Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN).

Melemparkan fitnah sedemikian kejam terhadap mufassireen lelaki yang terdahulu adalah seakan menghina tradisi suci ulumul Quran yang diantara lainnya mensyaratkan bahawa setiap mufassireen, lelaki maupun wanita, mesti memiliki ciri-ciri seorang mujtahid. Sifat-sifat ini termasuk aqidah Islamiah yang sahihah, ahli didalam bahasa Arab, ahli didalam jurusan lain yang bersangkutan dengan ulumul Quran seperti ilmu al-riwayah, memulakan tafsir Quran dengan Quran sendiri, ahli dalam ulumul hadith, mengelak daripada mengutamakan pendapat fardhi, merujuk kepada sunnah sahabah, tabiin dan kepada ulama tafsir lain yang muktabar. Apakah SIS mendakwa mufassireen lelaki yang terdahulu cacat didalam kriteria yang diterima pakai ulama tafsir sejagat, tidak jujur dan amanah didalam usaha mereka menyelami dan menerokai ajaran-ajaran kitab suci al-Quran dan “hanya memperalatkan agama untuk membenarkan amalan dan nilai-nilai budaya yang menganggap kedudukan wanita lebih rendah daripada lelaki” ?

Kajian SIS yang merumuskan bahawa faktor lelaki didalam ilmu tafsir al-Quran menatijahkan tanggapan yang serong terhadap kedudukan wanita didalam Islam bukan hanya naive, simplistic dan feminisme ala barat tetapi juga mencernakan kedhaifan dan kedangkalan mereka didalam seni, sains dan tradisi ilmu-ilmu al-Quran, al-hadith dan syariah Islamiah. Wallahu alam.

Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

Letter to Malaysiakini

Letter to Malaysiakini
by Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

The current discourse on HIV/AIDS in the media, Malaysiakini included seems to suggest an obsession with the condom culture and safe sex paradigm. The libertarian occident in no uncertain terms advocates this as their main thrust in their crusade against HIV/AIDS and have seduced a substantial volume of support for this strategy elsewhere. To indiscriminately ape this modus operandi and transplant them piecemeal  into our national HIV/AIDS programs may turn out to be a folly.

Some 22 years into the syndrome complex, the WHO global summary document of the HIV/AIDS epidemic estimates 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Dr. Nafis Sadik, Kofi Annan’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific, said that (in stark contrast), the prevalence of HIV/AIDS remains low  in the Muslim world with rates well below 1% in countries with a Muslim majority and similarly in Muslim minorities in other countries.

These figures would therefore suggest that the infusion and practice of universal values derived from the Quran and prophetic teachings in individual, family and societal life must have endowed considerable prophylaxis against this deadly disease.

On the whole, I believe our citizenry continue to cherish the universal values of self discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity. A whole host of  human values, code of conduct and ethics shared and guarded enviously by the believers in our nation, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs or  other religious persuasions.

Addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic demands a comprehensive and integrated response which prioritises preventative strategies, provides therapeutics, care and support to the afflicted and their families and puts in place long term macro-economic and social interventions to redress the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS.

The preventative strategies advocated by Islam and shared by virtually all other religious denominations emphasises the A for Abstinence from sex, the B for Being faithful in marriage, the C for Condom use, the D for Drug abuse avoidance and the E for Education of the public on the disease complex and her myriad of repercussions.

The avoidance of fornication and adultery is fundamental in the injunctions of the Shariah (and I believe most other religions too) to preserve the sanctity and purity of virginity, progeny and family. How may I ask would you respond to a speaker at the International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV/AIDS (IMLC) who arrogantly said “.how empty religious platitudes are in addressing the problem and how, even when those responses are based on the Quran and Sunnah they are ineffective to resolve the problem”. And with impunity she adds “In effect, what I present here emphasizes the ways that Islam and Muslims exarcebates the spread of AIDS .” Farish Noor in his current column on HIV/AIDS  would therefore be well advised to be prudent and careful in his baseless accusations or is he, like the associate professor of Islamic studies oblivious of the ABC of the priorities of the Shariah (Maqasid as-Shariah) and Islamic Family Law!

There are obviously circumstances when condom use is indicated but to suggest a national policy of liberal condom use would only unleash a  culture of sexual promiscuity and permissiveness. And we need to be reminded that the vast majority, in excess of 80%, of our PLWHA are intravenous drug users (IVDU). The government and all her agencies have failed miserably to diminish, if not eradicate this social scourge in our society. This however did not attract the press attention (or Farish Noor for that matter) during World AIDS Days – a stale and non-sensational issue by comparison with the rise in heterosexual transmission. I think a careful analysis of the women affected heterosexually is in order. Complete and comprehensive data collection is unfortunately not a forte of our major stake holders in HIV/AIDS work. Our experience with the well over 70 women whom we have sheltered in our Rumah Solehah project (Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia’s Half Way Home for Women & Children with HIV/AIDS) showed that  the majority acquired the virus heterosexually from their IVDU husbands or partners. And without exception all the affected children in our care acquired HIV vertically from their mothers who were themselves heterosexually infected by their IVDU husbands. This is the domino effect of the heroin culture in our society which the key players need to address equitably and judiciously.

Many of our western counterparts are beginning to awaken to the wisdom of this time tested and best practice strategy. The leading editorial in the British Medical Journal, 21st June 2003, entitled “Preventing HIV : Time to get serious about changing behaviours” writes; “But if behaviour cannot be changed then no amount of money is going to make a big difference in prevention because every successful form of prevention requires change in behaviour”. Arthur J. Ammann, president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention further writes “Data from developed and developing countries show that programs that incorporate abstinence, mutual monogamy, delayed sexual intercourse and condom work together to reduce the number of new HIV infections.”

An emotive issue as HIV/AIDS is bound to provoke a multitude of responses based on one’s religious, ideological and philosophical underpinnings. As Muslims, the Tauhidic paradigm envelops our responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is simply put a “back to basics” wholesome blueprint of action which espouses and celebrates universal values of self discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity and embraces a theology of  mercy, care and compassion, forgiveness, healing, benevolence, brotherhood of humanity and belief in the hereafter.

Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

Letter referring to “More Arab Than Arabs” NST article

Letter referring to “More Arab Than Arabs” NST article
by Adnan Mohd Tahir

12 May 2004

Adnan Mohd Tahir
10 Lorong Limau Kasturi
Bangsar Park
59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 22841289
Fax:22841981

Group-Editor-In-Chief
New Straits Times
31 Jalan Riong, KL

Attn: En Kalimullah Hassan

Dear Sir,

MORE ARAB THAN THE ARABS?

We refer to the above article which appeared in New Straits Times issue of 28 April 2004 which it seemed was intended to provoke the Muslim Malays.

We thought that with the new Prime Minister with Islamic credentials and with the change in Group-Editor-In-Chief in NST, NST would be more responsible, credible and balanced. Unfortunately, on top of giving anti-hadiths group a media platform, you are now giving non-Muslim non-Malay writers the opportunity to criticize us. Have you ever published articles critical of the Christians who are turning secular and godless, or Indians who are becoming more westernized than the Westerners, or the Chinese who are getting more materialistic than ever? Are these articles (if any) written by Muslim Malays? Do you dare to publish if we submit?

Why are your non-Muslim writers paranoid about Muslim Malays wearing jubbah, kopiah or serban, and not when we wear bikinis, skirts or suit and tie in the hot weather, dressings which are not part of the Malay culture? Your writers should have interviewed Islamic scholars for a balanced perspective, instead of just hearing opinions of people in the arts field if they want to relate Islam to culture. Anyway your writers, being non-Muslims cannot possibly be expected to know and feel the beliefs and sentiments of Muslims. It is therefore dangerous and inappropriate for them to write on matters concerning Islam.

Finally culture evolves, and if with more awareness, the Malays decide to be more Islamic and discard ancient un-Islamic ignorant practices, so be it. It is not for others to comment.

Yours truly,

Adnan Mohd Tahir

Letter referring to “More Arab Than Arabs” NST article

Letter referring to “More Arab Than Arabs” NST article
by Azra Banu

8th May 2004

Azra Banu
1 Jalan Tebrau
Ukay Heights
68000 Ampang
Tel: 4260 4581

The Editor
New Straits Times
31 Jalan Riong
Kuala Lumpur

Dear Sir,
I refer to the NST article ‘More Arab than the Arabs’ dated 28th April 2004. I fail to comprehend how a paper that claims to hold such high standards can allow such a shallow piece through. It would seem not much thought was given by your writers (I hesitate to call them journalists) in writing it.

Why did they present only one side of the coin? Did they even think of asking the ones they are accusing of abandoning their culture, why? Why are they ‘Arabising’?

Why didn’t they interview a broader spectrum of people? Were they afraid of what they may discover? And some of the quotes were so void of deep thought that it left me dumbfounded as to how these people can claim to have an insight on the matter.

With the growing awareness of Islam worldwide, there will naturally be a different understanding of it. Some for the better and some not. With a better understanding of Islam, certain practices are no longer acceptable, some clearly defined, others requiring further insight.

Whether you want to admit it or not, a deeper and better understanding of Islam does cast a shadow on certain cultural practices of the Malays. And if you look beyond the Malay world, the same shadow is cast on other cultures. Would these same Muslims tell a Muslim in India the same if he decides to rid himself of certain practices that are so steeped in Hinduism? What about a Chinese Muslim?

What about some practices long abandoned? Like visiting ‘keramat’, ‘mandi safar’ and ‘puja pantai’? Shall we revive that?

As Muslims, we must keep increasing our level of piety. If a certain garment, language or music helps some, why should we impede that progress? The progress to not only a higher level of spirituality but ultimately, a sharpened understanding of Islam.

When a journalist puts pen to paper he must present as balanced an article as possible. He may take a stand, but he must allow views from all sides to enable the readers to form their own opinions. And with a topic of such importance and impact the writers must be able to feel for the issue. The choice of your writers and the partiality of the article don’t reflect well on the integrity of your paper and certainly cast doubts on your intentions. It is hoped that your paper will discharge the duties entrusted upon you in a more responsible manner.

Yours truly,

Azra Banu
Letters@nst.com.my
Rehman@nst.com.my

Practicing and Thinking Muslims

Born to British parents in Darussalam, Tanzania in 1964, Brother Green was educated at a Roman Catholic Monastic School called Ampleforth College and went on to study History in the London University. He grew increasingly disillusioned with the British educational system, which in his opinion was thoroughly Eurocentric, projecting world history in a manner suggesting that civilization reached its zenith in Europe. Having lived in Egypt proved pivotal. Being witness to some of the majestic ruins, he found the West’s interpretation of history totally deceptive. He then began a private study of histories of peoples of the world, including dissatisfied with Christianity from the age of eight, the crunch came when an Egyptian started questioning him. Despite his confusion about Christianity, he was still trying to defend it dogmatically. But he was completely stumped when he was led to accept that the God Christians worship died on the crucifix, laying to rest Christianity’s calm of an eternal and infinite God.

His search finally led him to the Holy Qur’an and upon studying it, was immediately attracted and convinced that it is indeed divine revelation. He embraced Islam in 1988 and of this he says “I BELIEVE ONLY ALLAH GUIDE ME, NONE ELSE”.

In Islam, he sees humility and intimacy with God, placing all worries before HIM, and Islam has given him a higher purpose of in life.

Active in da’awah work since 1988, Brother Green is kept very busy with speaking engagements the world over. He also participates in debates and has been a regular voice in Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, for many years now. He is arriving here right after his tour of duty in Australia and will be kept to a tight schedule.

SO LEND US YOUR EARS DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AND DO TELL OTHERS.

NST COVER STORY: More Arab than the Arabs?

NST COVER STORY: More Arab than the Arabs?
by Sarah Sabaratnam and Loretta Ann Soosayraj

Apr 28:

Why are Malays turning to Arabic customs, speech and outlook to define themselves? SARAH SABARATNAM and LORETTA ANN SOOSAYRAJ explore the issue.
THE Malay community is the result of a diverse and distinctive mix of cultures and religions. However, of late, there has been the concern that many traditions and rituals previously associated with the Malay psyche are being rejected as un-Islamic.

Recently, a local daily carried an interview with Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim. Among issues discussed was the “Arabisation” of Malay culture. Rais talked about the rejection of many ancient Malay traditions and rituals considered un-Islamic, which resulted in the neglect of Malay culture.

His concerns could not have come at a better time.

Art forms such as wayang kulit, dikir barat and menora were deemed un-Islamic and banned in Kelantan after Pas gained control of the state. Some Malays reject the adat bersanding because of its Hindu origins.

Now, there is a worry that many Malays are replacing their culture with an Arab-slanted one.

The new “dress code” being adopted, says Dr Hatta Azad Khan, director-general of Istana Budaya, is definitely an example of this “Arabisation” of Malay culture.

Eddin Khoo, director of Pusaka, a non-profit organisation dedicated to cultural preservation, notes the change of head dress he sees following Friday prayers. “The traditional songkok appears to be less popular with congregationists, especially among the younger ones,” he says.

He has noticed that the songkok has instead been replaced by the ketayap (skull cap), the kefayih (head scarf) and Tajik (Afghan) caps.

If this is indeed true, why is it happening?

The new resurgence of Islam is one of the reasons, says Johan Jaafar, New Straits Times columnist and former Utusan Malaysia editor.

“It has had diverse effects on the mentality of the Malays,” he says.

“As they become more ‘Muslim’, they become less Malay. They discard old values associated with the Malays, and which are considered un-Islamic. They believe that cultural expressions like theatre and art forms like wayang kulit are un-Islamic because of their pre-Islamic origins.”

Ramli Ibrahim, classical dancer and director of Sutra Dance Theatre, agrees. “Performing art genres such as the makyong and wayang kulit have been banned from public performances due to the process of ‘cleaning’ Malay culture of ‘un-Islamic elements’.”

Khoo adds that a related factor is the “rise of religious, ideological politics over the past two decades accompanied by theological dogmatism and puritanism…”

Furthermore, some politicians use their power or perceived authority to make statements which “appeal to the most primitive and medieval impulses in belief.”

For instance, he says, “they claimed that people who partake in these traditions (such as wayang kulit, makyong, main puteri and menora) engaged in spirit and devil worship and ‘main hantu’ (playing with ghosts).”

He says “we must acknowledge that much of this thinking has been supported by political power”.

“The proscription of traditional theatre in Kelantan by Pas and the actions of one Minister of Education who ‘discouraged’ the teaching of music in schools on the grounds that such instruction was un-Islamic are significant…”

Johan contends that Malays should not fear that these traditions and cultural expressions will make them less Islamic, as they have been part of the Malay psyche for a long time and they are no less Muslim for it.

“Yes, the wayang kulit tales are based on stories from Indian texts such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata but they have been given local colouring and the characters have been given local names. They have become a Malay thing.

“Our parents were less concerned with superficial things such as how they were dressed,” he says, “but that did not make them less Muslim.”

Khalid Salleh, an actor and director, reiterates this point. “If I buy a topeng tari from Bali and put it on my wall as decoration, does this mean that I am being influenced by Hinduism?”

Alternately, he asks, does putting on the kopiah, serban and the jubbah make one more Muslim?

“As Muslims grow older, they put on the … jubbah. This, to them, is the image of Islam. But who is to know what is in their soul? Anyone can wear clothes.”

He asks another question: “If someone wears that gear, and studies the Mahabharata, does that mean he has gone astray? Maybe he just wants to discover the parallels between the religions.”

Ramli certainly feels that Islam in Malaysia is seen as more conservative and “right wing” than in most other Muslim countries. “I have met Arabs who say that Islam in Malaysia is stricter than in some Arab countries themselves. There is a joke also that some Malays are more ‘Arab’ than the Arabs themselves.”

Johan says the Malays should consider carefully what they are rejecting.

“Malays in Malaysia are unique in that a Malay is defined as a Muslim unlike in Indonesia where an Indonesian can be non-Muslim. The Malays and Islam are considered one. There must be a reason why this is so. There must have been some compatibility between Islam and the Malays for them to have embraced Islam so easily and for them to identify themselves only with this religion. The values that the Malays had and the values of Islam must be very close. Why, then, discard them?”

He also says the Malays have adopted their own local brand of Islam that fits the situation in Malaysia and that is something that they need to treasure. “You don’t have to look like an Arab to be a Muslim,” he says.

Khoo says it would be of great consequence if we denied our past and neglected our culture.

“What this means is that entire communities are denied an anchoring in their past, and hence a sense of themselves. More importantly, they are denied the freedom to explore their history, culture and evolution; that is, denied the freedom to explore their sense of Self.”

As a result of this, he says, there will be a void in the individual and community sensibility that is then filled with politics and inflammatory ideology. “This is a phenomenon occurring especially among the young.”

On the other hand, he adds, the rituals and customs of the past are intimately bound and are inspired by a contemplation and understanding of self.

“A Self rooted in this understanding is able to adapt and accommodate change and transformation, which makes cultural dislocation all the more difficult.”

Producer and theatre director Faridah Merican feels that we are too quick to make decisions on what people like, reject and believe.

“I don’t think that is right. If the person can find enough reason within himself to reject his culture and if he is happy to be in that situation he should not be blamed or accused of being less Malay. It would be just like saying that a Chinese who can’t speak the dialects is not Chinese. We spend too much time looking for the negative things in each of us. We should instead focus on enriching our lives and our children … cultivate a race of people who read, who are cultured, who go to the theatre, who listen to music, and go to the museum and the art gallery.”

Meanwhile, others feel that the issue of the Arabisation of Malays and the cleansing of Malay cultural elements deemed un-Islamic remains a real threat.

Johan contends that no regulation can turn around this “Arabisation” process. Instead, he says, the moderate Muslim needs to speak up.

“Culture is about acceptability by a society. It is not about regulation. What we need is for moderate Muslim voices to be heard.”

Ramli says the ministry can play a part in protecting Malay cultural heritage by reviving cultural art forms that are being sidelined such as wayang kulit and makyong.

“I am pleased that the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage has the courage to face these difficult questions and take a positive stand to protect Malay culture,” he says.

In order to do this, he says, the minister needs to get people who are passionately interested in culture to help him.

“Most people in the ministry are there because they happen to be working in it … he should (also) consult those who are in the field and hear their views. Sometimes he has to beware of scholars too!”

Hatta suggests we be clear about what aspects of art forms are against the tenets of Islam. “Indonesia has been using wayang kulit and other traditional theatre forms to spread the teachings of Islam. Why can’t we learn from them?”