Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
Mine is filled with fragrant flowers. Welcome.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

As he stood on a podium facing a delegation of thousands of adults in half-slumber and heedless chatter, the man in blue, with his trusted songkok firmly in place, began reciting the contents of his heart--word by word--in every sentence ingrained mindful reminders for the most beloved subject of his ailing struggle. The adults were stunned to silence, moved. Hearts started to inflamed with a long-forgotten aspiration and shame ran down the faces of those who knew, deep down in their soul, how every word pierced through their shallow mindedness and greed like daggers. 

...Sejarah bangsanya yang lena

Tanah lahirnya yang merekah berdarah 

In perhaps one of his most memorable speech as a politician, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed recited a poem that later produced a staple phrase that captured one of the essence of modern Malay struggle--'Melayu mudah lupa'. Anyone who watched his presentation during the Umno General Assembly 2001 would remember hearing the sound of the former Prime Minister's voice breaking and his eyes tearing up as he recite, 

Wahai bangsaku 

Jangan mudah lupa lagi

Kerana perjuanganmu belum selesai

This post might put some ideas into your head--that I am a Mahathir-loyalist or someone who subscribed to the 'Mahathirism' philosophy. Well, both are not true. But a chance of stumbling into this classic political gem from our nation's rich modern history resonates with my frustrations, hopes and belief in this country all at once. Tun's chuckle towards the end was the soft kiss at the back of a perfumed envelope that contained his love letter to the utmost loved subject of his soul--more than his political career and wealth--the nation. 

It is a frustrating time to be a believing Malaysian. To be a citizen who still believe that the nation and its people can still be saved from what seemed like a downward spiral of our nationhood through the abandonment of the most pertinent issues affecting our society--racial intolerance and wealth inequality. It is more frustrating for those who have tried, are trying and wanted to try to address these issues when they realized that those who we seek to represent us do not put the interest of the nation above anything else, in fact, most of them, if not all, put their own self-interest--money, power, position--far above the nation. Our politicians rather bicker with each other pointing which of them is more racist, corrupt and while doing that forget to do what they were voted in for in the first place. This has been our 'tradition' for the longest time but for a while it seemed more restrained compared to now. 

We also have a group of people who rather thrive at highlighting, passing judgement, creating unnecessary uproar over the comments of low-minded people than to actually go to the ground and address our society's problems. We might jump to the roof at every sentence uttered by some of the bigots in Perkasa and Dong Zhong (and others behind closed doors and media's coverage) but we lack the courage to cross our own backyard to see that there are still children to Malaysian parents, pribumis in the rural areas of Borneo, who do not have birth certificates and are unable to receive education like the rest of us. We chant loudly and proudly for the rights of people to cross dress and we forget to look at the back alleys of our streets to see that human trafficking is a bitter reality that also involves the LGBT community, as well as at risk women and children. Getting ourselves embroiled in these issues, guided into our minds thanks to relentless media coverage and the social media are tiring and merely reducing us to manipulated subjects of political rivalry among those in power. Don't get me started on how hypocrite our society has become. Some of us  pretend to tolerate one another when we do not, only acting as passerby who happen to share the same environment and interact with different races when needed to. Most of us, won't admit that we are racist but tell me if you truly believe that 100 per cent. 

It pains me to admit that Tun's love for this country and his refusal to back down, even after his retirement, is a breath of fresh air. Somehow I wonder if this nation will ever see a true statesman as a leader again or do we have to learn the hard way that the stability of the nation, safekeeping our peace and prosperity must triumph over anything else. Hard to admit that the people who are going to face the consequences of our action (or lack of it) now would not be us but future generations. Maybe they too would one day look at Tun M's video of this poem recital and wondered what happened to this country--blessed with wealth, potential and sovereignty. I still keep some hope to myself--that change will come even if its going to be a long winding road for some. As it is, for the Muslims, god has said persistently in the Quran that those who seek to enjoin others to goodness and speak the truth will be met with resistance, ridicule and hardship, but none of the struggle will go to waste. The Malays, they are a forgetful lot and Tun was right. However, now I'm starting to believe that not only the Malays 'mudah lupa'...perhaps the disease has find its way into the rest of us. We are beginning to forget how it feels like to live together in harmony, our youth are shaped to be individualistic in nature, becoming victims to fault policies and corrupt leaders, our children are growing up segregated, not knowing the beauty of celebrating our diversity as a nation.

Wahai bangsaku 

Jangan mudah lupa lagi

Kerana perjuanganmu belum selesai

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A reflection on 'I Want To Touch A Dog' controversy

As soon as news about an event that targeted Muslims participants to touch and cuddle with dogs hit the mainstream pipeline, it sparked heated debates among the various strata of society, each with their own contention of what the event represent, should and should not be. The flame that 'Touch a Dog' caused erupted out of control and reached a point where its organiser, a social activist by the name of Syed Azmi Alhabshi claimed to receive "severe death threats" and islamic authorities such as MAIS was called to make a statement. According to media reports, Muslims were said to be "outraged" at such an event that provoked their longstanding tradition of abstinence from contact with dogs, though I beg to differ at the word use as the reports, in my view, were highly exaggerated. However the real war, in a spectacle that reminded me of one too many in the past couple of years, was fought online. To the unseeing eyes, it was utter chaos. But was the truth entirely what it seemed?

First, to understand the nature of reaction from the Muslims, one need to know that an overwhelming majority of Malaysian Muslims subscribe to the Shafie mazhab--which prescribed dogs as 'major filth' (Najis Mughalazzah) and puts it in the same category as swine. It would require those who made physical contact with the creature to wash the contact surface with water 7 times, with one part infused with soil. In particular, major filth in the mazhab is a level higher than the medium filth category that includes alcohol, human waste and blood. For those who might wonder what exactly is the fiqh concerning keeping dogs, I suggest you read this short explanation first (this) and (this). The tradition of keeping a safe distance from dogs has been ingrained for many generations for Muslims here although this does not make them develop hatred or destructive behaviour towards the animal.

Hence, the so called 'shock' reaction from average Muslims when pictures of the events were distributed was expected and not surprising. What made the Touch A Dog event controversial was the media coverage that created a false sense of panic among the Muslims, an absolute abomination of Syed Azmi and pinning the two against each other, with the organiser eventually triumphing as an underdog versus the society. The international media was also quick to pick up on the sensation surrounding 'Muslims outrage over touching dogs event' with emphasis on the 'death threats'. Try googling 'Touch A Dog' event and you will find stories from TIME, NY Times on top of the list, followed by articles from TMI or TMMO, while news piece from other media organisations who might not have hyped up the event as much are not as easily accessible.

In a matter of days, the unknown social activist from TTDI was hailed as a hero, 'revolutionary' Muslim who was trying to change 'society's negative perception and treatment of dogs'--though he might not been aware of it himself. The events that unfold were nothing short of comical at times especially with a special appearance from social media lawyer extraordinaire, Syahredzan Johan who took it upon himself to defend Syed Azmi from the various backlash. According to the lawyer, 'Syed Azmi has been drowning under thousands of death threats and other hateful messages within hours of holding the controversial event' though a recent news article revealed that only one report was lodged by Syed Azmi's father on online harassment his son received throughout the incident. This makes me want to revisit Syahredzan's statement on the actual meaning of 'drowning in death threats' and whether most of them were just hype.

MAIS, the state religious body that issued a permit for the event to be held claimed that it was misled into granting permission when the activities and objectives lined up by the organizers in their proposal were different from what actually took place. An ustaz invited to talk at the event also posted in his personal Facebook page of the confusion that was started by the organizers and his shock over what took place at the event. There is dishonesty in its implementation from the very on set and my question is 'why should there be a need for such tactics in the first place?'

As the issue prolonged, it was becoming more clear that the objective of the event and forced sensationalism were never really about the position of dogs in the Shafie Mazhab nor ending the so-called prejudice against the animal. Those who questioned or criticized the event was immediately labelled as a 'conservative' and 'narrow minded' while  a band of Muslim apologists started to appear (there's no harm to it, why should it be considered wrong? why should the event caused discomfort as touching dogs is only considered 'najis' and can be washed afterwards? I'm sure that the organizer only meant well...etc ). Some of these self-appointed spokesperson of Malaysian Muslims fail to realize that most of them have no actual training in addressing Fiqh issues in the first place. Maybe its time for the Muslims, community leaders and activists to start looking into the mirror and reflect whether we know the religion enough before trying to change Islam and engage the public. Personally, I think what the event managed to achieve was igniting confusion among Muslims on matters concerning their own Fiqh and for them to rethink and eventually accept certain lifestyle choices in spite of the ruling in the sacred law.  I can't help but think that it is a suspiciously familiar theme being brought up in this country these past few years and I don't know how long can the Muslims be pushed and pulled into similar situations in the future.